I am not a neutral party when it comes to neurodiversity. I am a parent of an autistic teenager, and my work is also related to the topic. Neurodiversity is the different ways we as humans think, communicate and see the world. It’s the fact that variations in the human genome that include autism, ADHD, OCD, and dyslexia, among others, are simply variations of the brain. Neurodiversity also implies that these differences, while presenting certain challenges, also contain often untapped strengths for the individual, for businesses, and for society overall.
I believe that we have never needed neurodiversity more than we do today. Let me explain why.
Inclusion & Equity
Neurodiverse individuals represent at least 20% of the adult population and that neurodiversity cuts across race, gender, and orientation as well. This “intersectionality” means that we cannot really talk fully about diversity, equity, and inclusion, without neurodiversity taking its rightful place at that table.
One of our clients, Baker Hughes, has a Potentia STARS (Spectrum Training, Recruitment, and Support) program in place to hire neurodiverse employees across its business.
“As an energy technology company, Baker Hughes must recruit, engage and develop a diverse range of talent – different ‘thinkers’ and ‘makers’ — as we seek to transform the industry with digital and low-carbon solutions for people and the planet,” says Deanna Jones, Baker Hughes chief human resources officer.
With up to 85% of college graduates on the autism spectrum unemployed or underemployed, placing neurodiverse individuals in the right job with the right company is Potentia’s mission and purpose.
For instance, one of the employees Baker Hughes recently hired through Potentia’s STARS program is now a high performing software patching specialist at the company, after struggling to find work in his field, despite having graduated from the University of Texas with a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering. Previously this individual had been remarkably underemployed working as a grocery store deli clerk.
Neurodiversity is a powerful tool to address much of what we face today. By harnessing the gifts of people who literally think, process information, and often see solutions to problems differently, we open ourselves and our businesses up to new possibilities at a time when we very much need a different point of view.
By engaging, embracing and developing neurodiverse talent, we all can tap into potential resources and solutions that society and businesses have traditionally missed.
SAP is one of the most advanced technology companies in the world. Yet when they focused intentionally on hiring and supporting their neurodiverse workers more effectively, they saw a significant increase in patents awarded as well as filling more than 20 different types of positions.
“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,” says José Velasco, SAP’s vice president of product management and leader of their neurodiversity initiative globally.
Communication & Connectivity
Good clear communication has never been more vital to business success. Over the last eight months, COVID-19 has changed a good deal about the way we work. Managers are now tasked with motivating their teams, keeping them on track, and ensuring that employees are engaged, productive, and healthy enough to contribute – and doing it all remotely in many cases.
Companies embracing neurodiversity training Potentia offers cite better communication among all their employees. This is due to the need that neurodiverse people have for clear, unambiguous instruction and feedback. This emphasis reminds everyone, especially managers, to make sure their messages are received and understood. When Chevron, another current Potentia client, was surveyed, 100% of respondents strongly agreed that communication had improved in both manager-worker and peer-peer relationships as a result of neurodiversity training they received.
The program resulted in high-performing new hires and a significant increase in current employees, who now feel comfortable disclosing their neurodiversity and engaging with both their managers and peers at a deeper level. Twanna Hardy, manager of Chevron’s neurodiversity program remarked, “We are very proud of leading the way with this program. The passion and creative minds of neurodiverse individuals enable them to think and resolve challenges differently, and that’s what every company needs.”
Moreover, because neurodiversity programs focus on individuals’ strengths, challenges, and blind spots – all employees feel more encouraged to bring their full selves to work, to admit challenges — like when they are stressed and need to seek support.
The old days of “grin and bear it” do not work when employees are pushed to their breaking point – as many are today. Our clients report an increased level of openness and connectivity allows for more constructive dialogue and better productivity overall as workers feel more supported, are better able to manage stress, and other challenges, and receive help and support when they need it.
Be inspired to “Think Differently”
This week, as we acknowledge globally December 3rd as International Day of Persons with Disabilities — with a 2020 theme of “not all disabilities are visible” — I encourage everyone to celebrate what makes us different and unique and to speak up and out about what we need to be supported. As a society, we need to become more fluent in neurodiversity and encourage open dialogue around the topic. (Believe me, whether neurodiverse employees are disclosed or not, they exist within your organizations.) For companies seeking new talent, don’t overlook “different thinkers,” as the benefits for all of us can be profound. Now, more than ever is the time for us to create a more inclusive and supportive culture for neurodiverse individuals to reach their potential.
Jeff Miller is a proud father, speaker, author, and entrepreneur. He is the CEO of Potentia Workforce, a social enterprise that connects organizations to neurodiversity through innovative programs, projects, and products. He can be reached at [email protected].