Neurodiverse employees can give you a competitive advantage

Written on May 24, 2021 by Jason Horwood

Neurodiverse employees are employees who have neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and dyslexia, which can mean they struggle to fit traditional job profiles sought by many employers. However, these conditions can also mean that they have extraordinary skills and higher-than-average abilities in mathematics, memory and pattern recognition that could help to give you a competitive advantage in your industry.

Employees with neurological disorders will need the workplace to be adapted for their needs in order to leverage their abilities, with items such as headphones provided to help prevent auditory overstimulation. It will also mean that companies have to adjust both their recruitment selection and career development strategies in order to reflect a more diverse range of talent.

Many larger companies have already started to change their HR processes to be able to accommodate neurodiverse employees, for example, SAP, Microsoft and Dell Technologies. Although these programmes are still in their early stages, business leaders feel they are already paying off massively in terms of

  • Boosting innovative capabilities
  • Increasing employee engagement
  • Improving quality
  • Productivity gains

In fact, one of the most surprising outcomes of the introduction of more neurodiverse employees to companies is that managers feel it makes them a better leader for all of their employees. Getting to know your employees better so that you know how to manage them and are sensitive to their needs has got to be better for everyone involved, right?

How does neurodiversity present opportunities for businesses?

When we talk about diversity in the workplace normally, we tend to talk about things such as background, culture, gender and so on and the advantages that these can bring to the workplace. The benefits that neurodiverse employees can bring are very similar but tend to be more direct in that they can bring a new perspective to a business’s efforts to create value.

Unfortunately, the neurodiverse population remains one of the most under-used talent pools in the UK (if not the world). A recent report by the Office for National Statistics showed that just 21.7% of autistic people are in employment, for example. When they are employed, however, many have had to settle for non-skilled jobs despite having the credentials to achieve more.

Many neurodiverse people have degrees in subjects such as anthropology, biostatistics, computer science, computational mathematics, economic statistics and electrical engineering – with some even gaining a Masters. When these people do manage to get hired, they often turn out to be very capable and really great at what they do.

Cybersecurity is one area that is already benefiting from the introduction of neurodiverse employees, as their superior pattern-detection abilities are being applied to tasks such as examining sources of messy data for signs of attack or intrusion.

The case for hiring neurodiverse employees is further backed up by the skill shortage we are facing when it comes to the technology industry. For example, a recent study by the European Commission revealed that the European Union will face a shortage of 800,000 workers over the next two years.  The biggest shortages seem to be in the areas of data analytics and IT services implementation, which are both areas that seem to be a good match for the abilities of some neurodiverse people.

How can companies tap into neurodiverse talent?

  • Team up with a government or non-profit organization to help you with the expertise that you lack, such as navigating employee regulations, arranging public funding for training and provide ongoing mentorship and support
  • Use non-traditional, non-interview-based assessment and training processes to help neurodiverse employees demonstrate their abilities to managers in a more casual way
  • Train other workers and managers to help them to know what to expect from new colleagues and how they can help to support them
  • Set up a support ecosystem to help neurodiverse employees in both their working and personal lives
  • Tailor your methods for career management to set specific goals

The main benefit of neurodiverse employees is that they make both companies and their senior leaders adopt a style of management that places each person in a context that will maximise their potential, and therefore contribute to the business. It will be hard work for managers, and employees to begin with, but the payoff could be considerable – access to diverse perspectives that may help you to compete more effectively.