My son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the first grade. As a mother, it took an ecosystem of support from schools, counselors, and family members to ensure we understood her needs and supported her learning and personal development.
During our own journey, I have seen first-hand the challenges that people with neurological variations like autism face on a daily basis, but perhaps one of the biggest hurdles is overcoming the under- society’s estimate of this incredibly gifted population.
In my experience, people with neurodiversity are consistently underrated for their knowledge and skills – but if my son is any indication of the value they can bring to the tech industry, then business leaders are absent until they prioritize cognitive diversity.
Why is neurodiversity important in the tech industry?
One of the key factors that makes each of us different is our neurological makeup. This difference can cause people to interpret, understand and react differently in certain situations in personal and professional life. And this often creates different skills and talents within people, such as increased levels of analytical and creative processing.
The tech industry spans various roles and functions, from data scientists to developers, analysts and many more – not to mention the jobs that have yet to be created as the Fifth Industrial Revolution approaches and our world. is undergoing a significant digital transformation.
As an industry, we need to redouble our efforts to learn how talent can be harnessed in different ways to fulfill these roles, as employees are often a company’s greatest asset.
Throughout history, we have relied on our ability as a society to think differently in order to survive and thrive. With differences in thinking, neurodiverse people can bring alternate perspectives that may not have been explored before. It is essential that companies continue to prioritize cognitive diversity within their workforce, as each individual brings unique knowledge, experiences and skills and can help advance technological innovation.
How can the tech industry recognize and recruit neurodiverse talent?
One of the first barriers to entry for a neurodiverse person is the interview process. Traditional interviews take into consideration things like body language and awareness of social cues that can put a neurodiverse person at a disadvantage.
Neurodiversity can affect the way a person communicates; for example, the inability to read nonverbal social cues, resulting in limited eye contact and limited softening of language. This behavior could result in the withdrawal of neurodiverse people from the application on the basis of a “cultural fit”. In reality, this is a much bigger communication problem that is likely to exclude neurodiverse talent from positions in which they could be good.
The chemical and character-based steps of the hiring process tend to take place first, before digging into the more technical elements of a role, where neurodiverse people can display their advanced skills. This begs us to ask: Are companies doing enough to support diversity, equity and inclusion if they don’t provide equal opportunities for neurodiverse people?
Businesses can meet this challenge by partnering with community organizations for expert advice, training, and best practices in talent acquisition and development.
For example, through Stanley Black & Decker, we are working with the National Organization on Disability and Autism Speaks to establish a recruiting program that helps us recruit and retain talent of all abilities. As a leading global company, we have a responsibility to ensure that our future is developed for everyone, by everyone, and that means taking action to ensure our workforce is diverse. and inclusive of people of all abilities, including people with neurodiverse.
By taking steps to understand how we can all implement inclusive hiring practices, the tech industry can greatly benefit from a talent pool that would otherwise have gone untapped. This could provide at least part of the solution to the tech talent shortage that continues to impact the industry.
Job mobility and career advancement within the neurodiverse community can also be explored and developed to ensure that career advancement is not limited to less skilled positions.
We need to keep in mind the limits of soft skills and associated characteristics stereotypically sought after in management and leadership roles, such as self-awareness and interpersonal communication.
When you look at case studies of neurodiverse teams, there is a marked increase in productivity, especially in analytical roles. As such, I encourage leaders to identify opportunities for all talent to excel in their areas of expertise.
Can the tech industry help optimize the future of the workplace for people with neurodiverse?
Over the past 18 months, we have seen a dramatic shift in the demands of leadership. Employees have more autonomy than ever before, and so do people with neurodiverse.
They now have the ability to request workplace accommodations that may not have been considered ‘essential’ in the past, for example more flexible working arrangements or the availability of choices to meet others. requirements to be successful in their workday. This could include variety in their immediate work environment and spaces for limited social interaction, noise or distraction, as well as the availability of headphones to limit auditory overstimulation.
Not only that, but the virtual world we live in presents an additional opportunity for neurodiverse people as it requires less of the typical in-person social skills that were previously expected in the workplace. This means that today more than ever there are many flexible processes and policies organizations can put in place to meet employees where they are.
A great way to provide additional support to employees is to encourage engagement in Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). In 2018, I co-founded our Abilities Network, a global ERG committed to supporting employees with disabilities, family caregivers of people with disabilities, and the global community at large. It offers them an engaging environment where they can pursue their advancement, devote themselves fully to work and thrive.
It was my personal experience that inspired me to establish this supportive ecosystem – I knew how essential it was to help our family stand up for our son. I did this through charitable partnerships such as Autism Speaks. First initiated in 2018, we wanted to provide guidance to our workforce and leverage the National Organization of People with Disabilities to improve our education and progress in this area.
By building these communities, we can open conversations about neurodiversity and create more inclusive environments where all employees have the tools, resources and support they need to be successful.
This also allows us to support employees in adapting the business. For example, during the pandemic we saw a sharp increase in the number of employees suffering from anxiety. Therefore, Abilities Network has partnered with Understanding Anxiety to provide support and tools to employees who need it.
It’s important that we apply the best practices in inclusiveness to everything in the business, from hiring to marketing and everything in between.
From a marketing perspective, this means creating, for example, accessible website experiences across a company’s digital platforms to ensure that people of all abilities are able to access company information and to experience it. We have been successful in deploying many digital experiences with “accessibility by design” thanks to the support of the ERG Abilities Network.
By tracking employee experience progress through employment statistics and employee goals in a disability employment tracker, we saw a 54% increase in talent search and an increase in 20% of “people, policies and practices” leading to an overall increase in cultural accessibility. by 105%.
My son has been a great help to me throughout this process, acting as a sounding board to help me move forward towards a more inclusive future, and I am always grateful for his partnership. He was the inspiration behind my passion to keep inclusiveness at the heart of everything I do.
Neurodiversity presents business opportunities
Technology is changing the world and shaping the future of all industries. As leaders in this space, we have a responsibility to ensure that this future is inclusive and representative of all of us. We need to ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives help not only new talent, but also neurodiverse people already in the talent pool.
My son, now 19, is studying biotechnology and molecular bioscience at a technological university. When he was first diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, we encountered low expectations for his personal and professional development – a collective underestimation of the value his unique skills could bring to the table.
It motivated my passion and effort to ensure that Stanley Black & Decker – and other companies – provide inclusive opportunities for all.
Neurodiversity offers leaders a huge opportunity to bring in unique talents with different skill sets to drive advancements in the tech industry and beyond. And unless you tap into this talent pool, companies are missing out.