Fostering diversity and inclusion isn’t just a moral obligation for business; it’s a strategic necessity. Yet many companies are still overlooking a key diverse population: the 20% of people who identify as neurodiverse.

Neurodiverse individuals often see, feel and experience the world differently. Their atypical brain function helps them offer unique perspectives and creative approaches to problem-solving. Neurodiverse individuals often excel in areas such as pattern recognition, visual thinking and attention to detail, making them valuable assets to any organization.

We recently brought together five experts at an Elevate event in London to discuss how to think differently about recruiting, developing and rewarding teams. These panelists issued a call to action for employers, encouraging leaders to take a thoughtful, inclusive approach to overcome stigma and support neurodiverse talent in the workforce.

Based on this conversation, here are five steps you can take to embrace neurodiverse talent—along with real-life examples of how organizations have benefited from neurodiversity initiatives.

1 Build a culture of inclusivity through education

Neurodiverse talent tends to face barriers at work, including unemployment, underemployment, pay disparity and undue discipline. That’s why it’s important to educate all employees about neurodiversity to increase understanding and acceptance. Training programs and workshops can dispel myths and build a more inclusive culture.

To start, employees need to understand that neurodiversity is a natural variation in human brain function and behavior, and it can manifest in many ways. Neurodiversity may refer to clinical diagnoses such as autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It may also include personality disorders and social anxiety disorders.

Embracing neurodiverse talent starts with understanding that these differences are not deficits but unique attributes that can benefit your organization. In fact, companies that have made neurodiversity a focus of their DE&I efforts have seen increased engagement, performance and profits.

Microsoft pioneered a hiring program aimed at recruiting individuals on the autism spectrum. To accommodate these candidates’ needs, it stretched its interviews from one to five days and avoided a traditional interview format. These sessions focus on technical skills and workability, and new hires get an external job coach to ease the onboarding process.

2 Adopt inclusive recruitment and hiring practices

Hiring managers typically look for certain characteristics that reflect societal norms regarding apparel, appearance and behavior. But these hiring biases may weed out neurodiverse individuals, who may not present as a prototypical “good employee.” For instance, an employee with ADHD may have difficulty managing their time or paperwork. An autistic individual may avoid eye contact and easily get on conversational tangents.

To accommodate these differences, organizations may need to overhaul their recruitment processes from start to finish. Interviews can be particularly stressful for neurodiverse candidates. To relieve that pressure, some employers give candidates questions in advance so they can prepare. This can be especially helpful for candidates who struggle with communication or linear and chronological processing.

Leaders should focus on the characteristics and talents needed to excel in a role rather than looking for personal connections. An objective approach to hiring matches neurodiverse talent with job responsibilities that suit their skills and raises the likelihood of hiring candidates most likely to succeed in a role.

Keep in mind that traditional interviews might not be the best way to assess the competencies and potential of neurodiverse candidates. Use work samples, skill assessments or trial periods to evaluate candidates’ abilities accurately.

3 Make reasonable accommodations for neurodiverse individuals

Employers should explore reasonable accommodations that promote inclusive design. A reasonable accommodation adjusts the work environment or process, so individuals are enabled to carry out a role’s function without lowering the standard of the output.

Providing noise-cancelling headphones, quiet workspaces, additional time for tasks and decompression spaces are examples of reasonable accommodations for people with sensory sensitivities. Remote work arrangements, flexible hours and additional breaks may also allow neurodiverse individuals to create the optimal workspace to meet their need for structure, comfort and routine.

Remember that what works for one person might not work for another, so individualize the accommodations you offer.

IBM founded its neurodiversity program in 2015. Today, it’s a global program in more than 20 countries. The company’s goal is to incorporate neurodivergent-friendly hiring strategies into the mainstream, so it’s not targeting a specific talent pool—it’s the way the company hires everyone. 

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4 Establish mentorship and support programs

Organizations should consider how their talent development programs can nurture the unique strengths of neurodiverse individuals. Specialized training, mentorship and career advancement opportunities can foster neurodiverse employees’ professional growth.

For example, a mentorship program could pair neurodiverse employees with more experienced colleagues. An employer could form a support network where neurodiverse employees can connect, share experiences and offer advice.

Cultivating relationships with outside organizations can also be beneficial. Partnerships with educational institutions and vocational training centers can help identify and nurture neurodiverse talent at an early stage. By actively participating in community initiatives, businesses can create a more diverse talent pipeline.

JPMorgan Chase implemented a Business Solutions Team (BeST) that matches neurodivergent employees with jobs suited to their abilities and skills, such as inputting data and verifying addresses. These employees are reported to be 48% faster and as much as 92% more productive than their peers, perhaps due to their strong visual acuity, superior ability to concentrate and high attention to detail.

5 Monitor your approach

Don’t operate in a vacuum. Seek feedback from neurodiverse employees about their workplace experiences. Conduct anonymous surveys or provide a safe space for open discussions. Use this feedback to continuously improve your policies and practices.

Data analytics can help you assess the effectiveness of your organization’s neurodiversity initiatives. Monitor key metrics such as employee satisfaction, productivity and retention rates among neurodiverse employees. With this data, you can refine your strategies and create a more inclusive work environment.

SAP’s neurodiversity program increased innovation within teams and raised employee morale. Neurodiverse employees also reported higher job satisfaction, leading to improved retention rates.

Harness the potential of a neurodiverse workforce

Embracing neurodiversity fabric isn’t just a step towards a more inclusive future; it’s a leap towards a workplace where diverse minds collaborate and drive success. By adopting a holistic strategy to support neurodiverse employees, businesses can create a workplace where every individual thrives and pave the way for a future where diversity and innovation go hand in hand.

Reach out to learn how Korn Ferry can help your organization benefit from the positive potential of neurodiversity.

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