By Kate Birch
November 23, 2021
More and more companies are waking up to the realisation that a diverse workforce is good for business. Globally, Forrester researchers found that diverse organisations were more profitable and innovative, and did a better job of retaining top talent to boot.
That’s good news for neurodiverse individuals – who make up an estimated 20% of the population globally – and good news for businesses too, who can benefit from the special talents and thought processes of those with cognitive differences.
In fact, more and more companies are seeing and harnessing the competitive advantage that someone with neurodiversity can provide.
And in the current ongoing climate of labour shortages, especially in tech, neurodiverse workers could be the perfect business solution to bridging the talent gap.
According to Jose Velasco, SAP’s VP of product management and leader of the company’s neurodiversity initiative globally, the war for talent only exists if we have our peripheral blinders on. “Take them off and you will see talent on the edges that you had never seen before.”
Why neurodiverse talent is good for business
Neurodivergence, aka neurodiversity, refers to a community of people who have cognitive differences, among them autism and autism spectrum conditions, dyslexia including dyscalculia and dyspraxia, ADHD, asperger syndrome, tourette’s, OCD and mental conditions such as bipolar.
While a link between certain neurological conditions and high performance has long been acknowledged, it is only more recently that business has begun tapping into such talent, recognising it as a competitive advantage and launching specific programs aimed at hiring and retaining neurologically different talent.
As Chevron’s neurodiversity program manager Twanna Hardy puts it, “the passion and creative minds of neurodiverse individuals enable them to think and resolve challenges differently, and that’s what every company needs”.
Those with cognitive differences, and especially with autism spectrum disorder, bring a raft of unprecedented benefits to business. Among them, a superior attention to detail, focus, observation skills, ability to retain facts, in-depth knowledge in their areas of interest, respect for rules, and integrity.
As a result, many excel in data analytics and software management that supports emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, automation, blockchain, cyber and more.
Consulting firm EY, which runs a neurodiverse program and has centres of excellence worldwide, has found that having those with cognitive differences on board has given them a creative edge.
EY measured the impact on innovation, by comparing the work quality, efficiency, and productivity generated by neurodivergent and neurotypical professionals. And while “quality, efficiency and productivity were comparable” the neurodivergent employees “excelled at innovation,” says Catriona Campbell, EY’s Client Technology & Innovation Officer, adding that “the diversity of thought and creativity they brought was a differentiator”.
And this is where businesses, and tech companies especially, can benefit by tapping into neuro-different talent.
Organisations facilitating the hiring of neuro-different talent
In the US, there are a number of organisations that help to facilitate big business on this front. While non-profit organisation Aspiritech hires autistic adults to help provide software testing and quality assurance services to businesses (Goldman Sachs is a client), Ultranauts outsource workers, of which 75% are on the autism spectrum, to enterprises who need software engineering and quality assurance.
Then there’s the startup Daivergent, a part of SAP’s iO program. This AI solution connects enterprise clients with adults on the autism spectrum in order to complete tasks in AI and machine learning data management and technology roles, and can introduce pre-vetted candidates to companies.
A number of tech companies offer their own in-house programs, some US-based, some global, delivering neurodiverse-appropriate recruitment practices along with best-practice in-house support and workspaces to ensure retention of talent.
From consulting to tech to banking, here are seven companies with neurodiverse programs.
One of the first companies to begin seeking out autistic workers, German IT and software firm SAP is known industry-wide for its neurodiversity recruitment initiatives. Unveiled in 2013, the company’s Autism at Work program is both about hiring neurodiverse candidates and also creating a more comfortable workplace for them once they are in situ. And the company’s 90% retention rate of employees on the autism spectrum proves it works. Mentors are there as a resource when needed, and program members can connect and share their experiences with each other.
Described as an “opportunity to rethink the traditional interview process” Dell’s Autism Hiring Program was designed in partnership with Neurodiversity in the Workplace to ensure that any barriers that would limit an individual to fully showcase their true capabilities and potential were removed. This means eligible candidates are pre-screened by both Dell staff and its Neurodiversity in the Workplace partner to gauge interest and experience, with those qualified then invited to participate in a two-week skills assessment. This provides a clear picture of the value the applicant can bring to the table. The program lets “us tap into a wide range of skills and people that align with our inclusion and talent goals”, Bob Feiner, Enterprise Services Senior VP, says.
3 Goldman Sachs
With a commitment to increase the proportion of its employees who are neurodiverse to 1% of its total headcount, in 2019 Goldman Sachs unveiled its Neurodiversity Hiring Initiative, an eight-week paid internship program for those who identify as neurodivergent. The program puts applicants through robust training, coaching and mentoring, positioning them for a long-term career path. The bank has partnered with non-profit organisation Specialisterne to help it shape an effective program from the sourcing candidate stage through to training. The program’s first virtual class achieved a 100% offer and acceptance rate in 2020. Interns can apply to work in engineering, operations and compliance and in its US offices including New York, Jersey City, Dallas and Salt Lake City. The bank further works with Aspiritech, a company providing autistic employees on a contract basis, to work on its manual QA testing.
Microsoft’s Autism Program was launched with the belief that traditional recruiting doesn’t allow individuals who are neurodiverse to demonstrate their strengths and qualifications. “We believe there is untapped potential in the marketplace and roles that would set future employees up for success,” Microsoft states. Designed to recruit and onboard individuals on the spectrum, Microsoft holds week-long hiring events where potential applicants engage in an extended interview process that involves working on technical skills, team building and interview preparation and meeting with the interviewing team both formally and informally. Events run across the company’s US cities including Redmond, Mountain View, Fargo, Cambridge and Raleigh. Once on board, the program offers training and multiple mentors to support the employee as they build their career here.
5 JP Morgan
Investment bank JP Morgan unveiled its Autism at Work program in 2015 as a four-person pilot and since then, it has grown to more than 150 employees in eight countries. Six months into the pilot program, the results were dramatic with autistic employees proving 48% faster and up to 92% more productive than their non-autistic counterparts – with common factors including strong visual acuity, attention to detail and a superior ability to focus. Not just that, but the program boasts a 99% retention rate. The majority of roles are tech functions including software engineering, app development and business analysts. As well as an adjustment of assessment techniques at interview. And recently, the company rolled out a series of pymetrics games – behaviour-based neuroscience games that objectively measure cognitive, social and behavioural attributes in order to better match job candidates with the job fit. The bank has trained its managers on how to understand autistic communication while program leaders have developed a buddy system of mentors and created a network to foster support.
Big Four consulting firm EY launched its neurodiversity program in 2016. The program includes a customised onboarding process along with a trained office buddy system to support new hires. The firm has also rolled out centres of excellence throughout the US and worldwide. Designed to drive growth and innovation by tapping into regional diverse workforces, EY applies the talents of neurodivergent individuals to meet clients’ business needs. EY US opened its first neurodiversity centre – Neuro-Diverse Center of Excellence – in 2016 in Philadelphia and has since expanded to six cities across the US, including its latest in Boston, opened in April 2021. It also has centres in both Canada and India, recently launched its first in the UK, and plans for cities in south America, APAC and Europe.
7 Google Cloud
In April 2021, the tech giant announced the launch of the Google Cloud Autism Career Program, designed both to hire and support more autistic talent in the workforce. Rob Enslin, the President of Global Customer Operations for Google Cloud stated it was Google’s intention to train and empower as many as 500 Google Cloud managers and others involved in hiring processes “to work effectively and empathetically with autistic candidates an ensure Google’s onboarding processes are accessible and equitable”. The firm has collaborated with experts from the Stanford Neurodiversity Project, which advises employers on opportunities and success metrics for neurodivergent individuals in the workplace. Stanford will also coach applicants and provide support for them and for their colleagues and managers once they join the Google Cloud team. The program also aims to “break down the barriers that autistic candidates most often face”, says Enslin like the traditional job interview which doesn’t allow someone neurodiverse to show their strengths.