Shining a light on neurodiversity research

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Way more than a buzzword in the modern workplace, the topic of neurodiversity is being covered by the likes of Forbes, Bloomberg and the World Economic Forum. Here’s why it’s important for astute employers to incorporate these new skill sets into the mix, writes Jeremy Bossenger of BossJansen Executive Search.

Define: “neurodivergent” – an umbrella term describing a range of conditions in which people’s brains work fairly uniquely. Yes, this modern term covers autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Tourette syndrome, and medical professionals believe it is possible to have more than one of these conditions simultaneously.

While these conditions were originally considered to be “disorders”, the research of today is rapidly uncovering the particular strengths that they may offer – to individuals and companies – over and above their apparent challenges.

Essentially, HR departments and executive search firms may be prepared to make significant changes to their processes when dealing with a senior neurodivergent individual who has already proven their brilliance in whatever form (e.g., an amusing mentor to juniors, or a smart contributor at board meetings). Yet these same inclusive practices should ideally be extended to all new applicants – so that body language and eye contact do not have to count so highly in interviews and high-contact scenarios.

The message we are hearing from HR researchers is that now is the time for companies, big and small, to break down barriers and implement programmes aimed at creating a more inclusive workplace – where everyone feels heard and appreciated.

Fascinating studies from global consulting firm Deloitte reveal that those companies intent on kicking neurodiversity stigmas to the curb, are benefitting from as much as a 30 percent increase in productivity and a third higher profit margins than their competitors in the marketplace. Why? Because neurodivergent professionals often have such brilliant “visual thinking, attention to detail, pattern recognition, visual memory and creative thinking” to offer, these traits can assist their neurotypical teammates to notice opportunities that they might otherwise have skipped over.

“Over one billion people across the globe have a disability – and it is a strength. We are leveraging this – by hiring inclusively, contracting with disability-owned business enterprises, and creating accessible tools and technologies for all. We are doing this because it’s the right thing to do, and it makes good business sense,” a group of 150 CEOs revealed in a recent Disability:IN letter on disability inclusion.

The problem is that 85 percent of those with autism in the US, for example, remain unemployed. So, clearly more can be done to subvert traditional workplace processes so that neurodivergent individuals can thrive alongside their neurotypical colleagues.

Adjust workspaces to cater for different sensory needs, or offer noise-canceling headphones; encourage managers to use as clear a style of communication, both written and verbal, as they can; reinforce the expected standards of workplace etiquette, so all are on the same page; refrain from changing roles/tasks on a whim; and check in with employees as to their unique needs and goals in a kind and patient manner – is the advice from the World Economic Forum in partnership with the Harvard Medical School.

Once the executive search and other hiring processes have been opened to the entire population, and neurodiversity is viewed as a competitive advantage, so the benefits of hiring inclusively are likely to shine through.

The Harvard Business Review cites lower defect rates in products and services, significant innovation, improved communication, enhanced loyalty and employee engagement, and reputational benefits, even awards, as being the tangible and intangible benefits.

There’s no way to miss the extensive boon that inclusive hiring will bring to society at large and your very own workplace, once you’ve put the requisite accommodations and levels of support in place. Just consider the hyperfocus, creativity, innovative thinking, detail processing and authenticity that employers taking part in the latest Birkbeck Research Centre for Neurodiversity at Work have reported.

It’s a win-win approach for highly accommodating companies and their executive search partners.

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