This article is authored by Laurent Poujol, Sales Director Mid Markets, LHH France, and Jessica Conser, Ph.D., SVP, Product and Innovation, LHH.
For many years, companies have been overlooking a key section of their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion policies: Neurodiverse Workers.
Science has shown no two brains are alike, and that means that each worker processes information, learns, and engages with their work in different ways. These neurological differences are just a part of the way the brain is wired to function. But these differences can be seen as an important part of the organizational growth strategy, allowing companies to harness each workers’ strengths and hidden talents.
There has never been a better moment or need for companies to consider the next phase in their DE&I and talent strategies. Talent scarcity accelerated transformations due to the global pandemic, the need for innovation, and new ways to solve increasingly complex problems, have created a perfect storm. We believe the next few years will be the years of fruition for neurodiverse talent.
When companies ignore neurodiverse workers, they are sending the message to all of their stakeholders that they don’t value those differences, and that those workers are deficient in some way. That’s why it is so important that organizations take another look at their DE&I policies to build a better work environment for everyone.
Companies that go the extra mile in their recruitment, development, and accommodation efforts can nurture neurodivergent workers and gain a competitive edge in their skills profiles, approaches to decision making, problem solving, and innovation.
Understanding neurodiversity in the world of work
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) policies are not just about people of color, race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and physical disability. Neurodiversity is included in those policies, too.
Neurodiversity commonly refers to the variation in human brain functioning, behavioral traits and preferences, such as learning, sociability, attention, mood, and other mental health conditions. However, like religious or philosophical preferences, neurodiversity is often less visible, making its identification or diagnosis challenging. A lack of awareness about this source of diversity often results in colleagues, leaders, or other professional collaborators not understanding the unique requirements and abilities of this population of talents – and ultimately, missing out on new ways of advancing the organisation.
While estimates vary for different types of neurodiversity, including with age groups, regions, and geographies, it’s estimated that anywhere between 20% to 40% of the population is considered neurodivergent. That’s a significant number to go misunderstood, unappreciated, and underutilized.
Neurodiverse workers in the corporate world
Do you know many neurodiverse colleagues in your workplace? It’s possible that a number of your colleagues may be neurodivergent but may not feel comfortable bringing their full selves into work each day. In recent years, some business leaders have started identifying as neurodiverse – and/or making space for neurodiverse workers to flourish.
John Chambers, Cisco’s former CEO, states that “25% of CEOs are dyslexic, but many don’t want to talk about it.”
Opening the channels of communication can be a great place to start. This way, anyone who wants to come forward and talk can do so in a safe space. Leaders and managers should take proactive steps to enhance their approach to talent management by:
understanding and valuing each employee’s contributions, strengths, challenges, and needs
ensuring clarity of roles and responsibilities that drive both business results and employee motivation
providing and receiving ongoing feedback about what’s working and what can be improved
co-designing a career development plan that supports the individual differences
and ultimately being accountable for a neurodiverse talent management approach for their team
Having leaders that champion neurodiverse approaches and opportunities, appreciate what makes these talents special – helps those in the organisation feel more comfortable about their giftedness and enables more workers to perform at their greatest potential.
The great thing about neurodivergent talents is that they are well suited for today’s business challenges. They often see solutions to complex problems that most neurotypical employees don’t consider. They have unique innovation capabilities and may be gifted in some skills that are essential in today’s complex environment, for example:
People with autism are said to be highly creative with exceptional concentration, logic, imagination, and visual thought. They also tend to be systematic, meticulous, and highly detailed. They share unique insights and perspectives in problem-solving.
People with ADHD have great imaginations and often score high on creativity tests. They have a rare capacity to hyperfocus; certain environments, such as video games, take less effort for them.
People with dyslexia demonstrate incredible abilities to think outside the box. They are stronger than average in reasoning, especially in understanding patterns, evaluating possibilities, and making decisions. It is commonly acknowledged that those with dyslexia have invaluable competence when it comes to viewing aspects from a broader perspective and assessing situations from multiple views.
Imagine some of the situations -- business transformations, strategic reviews, task forces, hackathons, or leadership summits -- in which having diverse perspectives and unique super skills would be beneficial.
Companies should think about neurodiversity as a mean to hack their toughest challenges, creating small groups of creative thinkers to bring fresh perspectives, and probably different ones too, where leaders and consultants often get stuck in classic ways of thinking using the same systems, the same concepts, the same tools to investigate and design the solutions.
Recently, Philippe Bazin, the CEO of Accor Hotels Group, launched a new initiative: to create a « shadow leadership team ». Each member of the Executive Committee (ExCo) was asked to nominate a young talent below 35 that would shadow the ExCo. The shadow team was asked to look at the company’s ExCo decisions, challenges, and investment opportunities -- and based upon their perspectives and experience, to challenge them. This initiative is all about leveraging special talents, a wonderful way to show leaders just how important it is for executives to explore new perspectives and have a fresh look at the company.
How can leaders embrace the neurodiverse workforce as a disruptive advantage?
It’s a real asset for an organization to have people who can help think outside the box.
For a number of years, organisations have invested in various programs designed to support and unleash the hidden talent of their employees. While most of these programs were created with the neurotypical in mind, some companies saw the unique value in neurodivergence.