Austin and Pizzano report that employee engagement has risen in areas where neurodiversity is implemented. The authors discuss how bringing new perspectives to your company offer positive and invaluable outcomes to productivity and considerable benefits and payoffs. They introduce ideas on how to implement neurodiverse inclusive practice by teaming with social partners, using non-traditional assessment and training processes, setting up support systems and tailoring methods for managing employee careers.

Below is an excerpt from Austin and Pizzano. Your can read the full article here:

Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage

Meet John. He’s a wizard at data analytics. His combination of mathematical ability and software development skill is highly unusual. His CV features two master’s degrees, both with honors. An obvious guy for a tech company to scoop up, right?

Until recently, no. Before John ran across a firm that had begun experimenting with alternative approaches to talent, he was unemployed for more than two years. Other companies he had talked with badly needed the skills he possessed. But he couldn’t make it through the hiring process.

If you watched John for a while, you’d start to see why. He seems, well, different. He wears headphones all the time, and when people talk to him, he doesn’t look right at them. He leans over every 10 minutes or so to tighten his shoelaces; he can’t concentrate when they’re loose. When they’re tight, though, John is the department’s most productive employee. He is hardworking and never wants to take breaks. Although his assigned workplace “buddy” has finally persuaded him to do so, he doesn’t enjoy them.

“John” is a composite of people whose privacy we wanted to protect—people with autism spectrum disorder. He is representative of participants in the programs of pioneering companies that have begun seeking out “neurodiverse” talent.

A lot of people are like John. The incidence of autism in the United States is now 1 in 42 among boys and 1 in 189 among girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And although corporate programs have so far focused primarily on autistic people, it should be possible to extend them to people affected by dyspraxia (a neurologically based physical disorder), dyslexia, ADHD, social anxiety disorders, and other conditions. Many people with these disorders have higher-than-average abilities; research shows that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics. Yet those affected often struggle to fit the profiles sought by prospective employers.

Neurodiverse people frequently need workplace accommodations, such as headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation, to activate or maximally leverage their abilities. Sometimes they exhibit challenging eccentricities. In many cases the accommodations and challenges are manageable and the potential returns are great. But to realize the benefits, most companies would have to adjust their recruitment, selection, and career development policies to reflect a broader definition of talent.

A growing number of prominent companies have reformed their HR processes in order to access neurodiverse talent; among them are SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Microsoft, Willis Towers Watson, Ford, and EY. Many others, including Caterpillar, Dell Technologies, Deloitte, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, and UBS, have start-up or exploratory efforts under way. We have had extensive access to the neurodiversity programs at SAP, HPE, and Specialisterne (the Danish consulting company that originated such programs) and have also interacted with people at Microsoft, Willis Towers Watson, and EY.

Although the programs are still in early days—SAP’s, the longest running among major companies, is just four years old—managers say they are already paying off in ways far beyond reputational enhancement. Those ways include productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and broad increases in employee engagement. Nick Wilson, the managing director of HPE South Pacific—an organization with one of the largest such programs—says that no other initiative in his company delivers benefits at so many levels.

Perhaps the most surprising benefit is that managers have begun thinking more deeply about leveraging the talents of all employees through greater sensitivity to individual needs. SAP’s program “forces you to get to know the person better, so you know how to manage them,” says Silvio Bessa, the senior vice president of digital business services. “It’s made me a better manager, without a doubt.”

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