Diversity has ratcheted up the boardroom agenda as companies increasingly recognize the potential that a rich mix of different backgrounds, attitudes and experiences bring to innovation and decision making. But most companies are still laggards in the key area of neurodiversity in the workplace, which means hiring individuals that think differently.
According to a recent poll by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), at least 10 percent of the population has dyslexia, is on the autistic spectrum, has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or has some other neurodivergent way of thinking that sets them apart from the neurotypical majority. Yet, according to the same poll, only one in 10 U.K. firms say neurodiversity is included in their organization's people management practices.
There's a massive pool of talent that many organizations are overlooking because as a recent CIPD report outlines, different neurodivergent groups have unique strengths. Autistic people, for example, often have a talent for problem-solving and analytical thinking. Dyslexics, meanwhile, are often highly inventive and creative—famous figures with this condition include Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and director Steven Spielberg, both of whom have made tremendous contributions in their fields. And, those with ADHD are often skilled at taking calculated risks and thinking innovatively, so it's no surprise that many entrepreneurs, such as JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman, fit this profile.
Organizations such as SAP, Microsoft and JPMorgan Chaseare already reaping the benefits from neurodiversity initiatives. Here's how to make neurodiversity in the workplace a talent management priority.
There are a number of barriers that can trip up neurodivergent candidates during the recruitment phase, starting with the job description. Companies often aim to hire generalists—people who have many skills and are adaptable—but there is also room for people with narrower, deeper skills.
When putting together a job description, recruiters need to distinguish between the 'must-haves' and the 'nice-to-haves' for each role to attract more neurodiverse candidates. It's tempting to include phrases such as "excellent communication skills," for example, in every job description, but this could scare off talented applicants who are autistic or dyslexic. If it's not a core skill, then make that clear in the job description.
Interviews can also serve as a disadvantage to people that struggle with social interactions as a result of their disorders. Generally, interviews test a candidate's social competence rather than their ability to perform a particular role. A better way to test abilities may be to bring individuals in for a work trial or assessment.
HR teams also need to train interviewers in neurodiversity and inclusion to ensure that they can look beyond any social awkwardness and find ways to enable candidates show their skills.
Tweak the Workspace
Making small adjustments to someone's work environment can make a big impact. For example, allowing individuals with certain disorders to use a quiet area of the office to work or providing them with headphones can improve the productivity of people who find noise stressful or distracting.
It's also worth asking employees about the specific accommodations they might need to ensure they have the necessary tools to perform their best. Then, managers can follow up on whether or not employees are thriving with their accommodations and make changes as needed.
Managers can make or break neurodiversity efforts because they are the ones who put neurodiversity theory into practice. To help all individuals thrive under their leadership, managers need to think about each employee's strengths and challenges, including their preferred channel of communication, how they like their workspace and other preferences.
HR needs to give managers the neurodiversity training and tools they need to make them more aware of neurodivergent thinking styles and continue to assess managers to ensure that they have the skills needed to manage employees' individual needs. By focusing on managers' people skills, HR teams can ensure that they make the work environment positive for everyone, not just those with neurodivergent thinking styles.
Ultimately, we are all different. It's time for smart employers to recognize that sometimes it pays to adapt to employees' needs rather than expecting them to conform to an arbitrary standard.
Photo: Creative Commons
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Workplace Diversity: ’The Era of Colorblindness is Over’
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Dear ReWorker: Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Dear ReWorker, We recently had a sexual harassment complaint about an employee. Out of curiosity, I Googled this person and found several websites that list his name and include details about his inappropriate sexual activities and relationships. Aside from the internal complaint of sexual harassment in the workplace, the internet posts bother me very much. The situation certainly does not make the company look good and it tells me a lot about the employee's moral and ethical standards. Can I fire him for the complaint as well as what I found out on the Internet? Sincerely, Tempted to Terminate ___________________________________________________________________________________ Dear Tempted to Terminate, You are making this more difficult than it needs to be. If his offense at work was serious enough for termination, you fire him, regardless of his internet persona. It doesn't matter what he does outside of work or what he posts online—he misbehaved at work and should be punished. Now, this does become more complicated if his offense isn't necessarily fireable. Let's say someone complained that he made one dirty joke. That wouldn't (generally) be enough for a termination. If that's the case, here are a few other questions to consider. Is His Online Behavior Just Icky, or Is It Illegal? This is important because in some states or cities, you can't terminate someone for doing something controversial outside of work if it's legal. So, if you find his behavior objectionable but happen to live in one of these jurisdictions, you can't terminate him for that behavior. If you live outside these areas, employees don't have the right to do icky things and brag about them on the internet, even if it's outside of the workplace. There's no free speech in the workplace, and as long as his questionable behavior didn't include him starting a union, you can terminate him for outside activities. Are You Discriminating Based on Gender or Sexual Orientation? If a woman were saying the same things online as the employee in question, would you be okay with it? If your answer is yes, then you're discriminating illegally. If he were a different sexual orientation, would you be okay with it? If so, then you need to be extra cautious. The courts have reached mixed verdicts on whether you can legally discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation, but the reality is, even if your bias falls within the law, you shouldn't act on it. You should be judging people based on their work. Does the Behavior Reflect Badly on the Company? Assuming that his behavior at work wasn't serious enough for a termination, and assuming that it's not illegal to terminate him, should you still do it? Generally, managers should stay out of their employees' online lives. You wouldn't invite yourself over to dinner at their house, so why should you invite yourself onto their Facebook pages? With that said, you should take action if the employee's behavior reflects badly on the company. If there's nothing online linking him to your company, you should probably let it go. If it's easy to link him to your company, however, that's another story. Regardless of your decision you need to do two things: consult with your employment attorney and enforce the same standard across the board, regardless of age, gender, position or tenure. Your ReWorker, Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady Photo: Creative Commons
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Why Starbucks' Unconscious Bias Training Probably Won't Change Much
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