Embracing neurodiversity in Tech to gain a competitive edge
As a diversity consultant in Tech, I’m asked increasingly more often to offer a diversity training specifically on neurodiversity and to share information on what exactly neurodiversity is. More HR professionals in the technology sector are curious about neurodivergent talents and how they can better support them in the workplace. Organisations that want to adopt neurodiverse inclusion should look at nonverbal learning disability (NVLD), as well as autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), because including people with NVLD or ASD can help a company's bottom line. The NVLD condition is characterised by poor visual, spatial, and organisational skills; difficulty recognising and processing nonverbal cues; and poor motor performance. The strengths of NVLD people include excellent verbal intelligence, superb long-term memory and an attention to detail. What is becoming more recognised is the unique value NVLD employees bring to the workplace. Over a two year period, Hewlett Packard Enterprise program for neurodiversity inclusion had placed more than 30 participants in software-testing roles and preliminary results suggested that the organisations neurodiverse testing teams were 30% more productive than the others. So what exactly can neurodiverse employees bring to a Tech organisation?
Clarity and detail-oriented thinking
A neurodivergent perspective helps catch things neurotypical employees might miss. NVLD people see the connections other people don’t see, because they’re looking at how it’s supposed to be. Thanks to their NVLD view of the world, neurodivergent talents can make sure instructions are clear to their colleagues. In his book NeuroTribes, Steve Silberman indicated that the incidence of autism is particularly high in places like Silicon Valley. He has hypothesized that many of the Tech industry’s “nerds” might have been “on the autism spectrum”. Hiring for neurodivergent talents in Tech could be an extension of a culture that recognizes the value of “nerds”.
Problem solving skills and adaptability
Neurodivergent people are excellent at solving difficult problems and thinking outside the box because they have had so many challenges they have had to overcome. NVLD employees are used to adapting to difficult situations, because that’s what everyday life looks like. They are forced to acclimate themselves to the neurotypical world. Leading Tech organisations such as SAP and HPE reported examples of neurodivergent employees’ participating on teams generating significant innovations; SAP’s neurodivergent employees helped develop a technical fix worth an estimated $40 million in savings.
NVLD people constantly have to work twice as hard as neurotypical people to live in a neurotypical world. They constantly have to push themselves to the limit to go through their day. Resilience is the norm for many neurodivergent employees, which is a sought-after skill in our organisations. When 99% of neurotypical employees fail to solve a problem, it could be the other 1% who discover the solution. Autistic people’s IQ tends to be above average and there are competitive advantages to having a workforce that thinks differently.
A common misconception about neurodivergent people is that they lack good social and communication skills. Whilst it is true that they might struggle to understand nonverbal communication such as body language, neurodivergent people can use this to their advantage. Neurodivergent employees are not involved in office politics because they miss social cues so they become a steady influence and help regulate office culture. Neurodivergent people’s hyperfocus capabilities can also be a soft skill too. Since they can focus in detail for longer periods of time, this means that when they discuss with someone, they make them feel like they’re fully focused on them. In summary, neurodivergent people can regulate office politics and make colleagues feel heard and special. Implementing an unconscious bias training can help reduce common stereotypes about neurodivergent people and reduce micro behaviours impacting these minorities.
Another strength of neurodivergent employees is their capability to sustain focus over longer periods of time compared to neurotypical employees. Some workers on the autism spectrum are able to focus longer on details and patterns and can outperform neurotypical people on repetitive tasks, like software QA, image analysis, or cybersecurity. Systematic thinkers can see patterns and connections more easily, and this may explain why some individuals with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) show improved performance in pattern recognition and data analysis. These skills are critical to “big data” and cybersecurity.
The benefits provided by neurodiverse employees demonstrate that hiring for neurodiversity isn’t a matter of pity, but of business opportunity. Tech companies can better attract and retain neurodivergent talents by working with diversity consultants and by joining groups on neurodiversity in the workplace. In fact, an increasing number of Tech companies have upgraded their HR processes to access neurodivergent talents, including SAP, Amazon, Salesforce, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), IBM, Dell and Microsoft. To find out how to better attract and retain neurodivergent talents today, book your free 60 minutes diversity consultation here.
Find out how you can nurture neurodiversity at work by registering to our neurodiversity webinar here.