Neurodiversity is a fairly new concept that was developed in the 1990s. It is the diversity of human brains and minds. This concept theorises that neurological differences such as Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the Autistic Spectrum and Tourette syndrome are simply a result of normal variations in the human genome and should not be viewed in any way as disabilities.
Neurodiversity in the workplace is gaining attention. It has been suggested that it provides a competitive advantage. The skills of people who are not ‘neurotypical’ are now being viewed as strengths. Although one cannot generalise:
- People with autism often have enhanced perceptual functioning, high levels of concentration and technical ability;
- People with Dyslexia often have strong spatial intelligence and entrepreneurial tendencies; and
- People with ADHD are often hyper-focused, creative and inventive.
About two years ago, EY embarked on a programme to hire individuals with Asperger’s. People with Asperger’s syndrome often have average or above-average levels of intelligence and are often highly educated, though they may experience significant social difficulties. These four new recruits were placed in the Accounting support function and were provided with training that included looking at soft skills, work ethic, expectations and how to communicate. The four individuals hired were found to be incredibly detail-orientated and good at process-driven work.
Seventy-five per cent of the employees at the Danish software company, Specialsterne, have some form of autism. The work required is routine and detailed, and plays to their strengths. Other organisations that have now begun including neurodiversity into the workforce are Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Ford and IBM.
The case for neurodiverse hiring is especially compelling given the skills shortages that increasingly afflict technology and other industries. For example according to a European Commission study, the European Union faces a shortage of 800,000 IT workers by 2020. The most significant deficits are expected to be in strategically important and rapidly expanding areas, such as data analytics and IT services implementation. The tasks in these fields are a good match with the abilities of some neurodiverse people.
While some time and resources are needed to identify ways to minimise any potential difficulties – such as relooking at the hiring process and creating an optimal workspace – there are clear benefits and competitive advantages to having employees who think differently.
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