My son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in first grade. As a mother, it takes an ecosystem of support from schools, counselors and family members to ensure that we understand her needs and provide support for her learning and personal development.
Through my own journey, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges that people with neurological changes like autism face on a daily basis, but perhaps one of the biggest obstacles lies in society’s underrepresentation of this incredibly talented population. Have to overcome.
In my experience, people with neurodiversity are consistently underestimated for their knowledge and skills – but if my son is any indication of the value they can bring to the tech industry, business leaders are missing out unless they Do not prioritize cognitive diversity.
Why is neural diversity important in the technology industry?
One of the key factors in what makes each of us different is our neurological makeup. This difference can result in the way people interpret, understand and react to certain situations within personal and work life. And it often creates various skills and talents within people, such as heightened levels of analytical and creative processing.
The technology industry spans from data scientists to developers, analysts and many other roles and functions – not to mention jobs that have yet to be created as we approach the fifth industrial revolution and our world undergoes a significant digital transformation. passes.
As an industry, we need to work harder to educate how talent can be leveraged in different ways to fulfill these roles, as employees are often a company’s greatest asset.
Throughout history, we have relied on our ability to think differently as a society to survive and thrive. With differences in thinking, neurodivers can bring up alternative perspectives that may not have been explored before. It is important that businesses continue to prioritize cognitive diversity in their workforce, as each person brings unique knowledge, experience and skills to the table and can help drive progress in technological innovation.
How can the tech sector identify and recruit talent for neurodivers?
One of the first barriers to entry for neurodivers is the interview process. Traditional interviews take into account things like body language and awareness of social cues that can put a neurodiverse person at a disadvantage.
Neurodiversity can affect the way someone communicates; For example, the inability to read non-verbal social cues, resulting in limited eye contact and limited language softness. This behavior can lead to neurodiverse people being removed from candidacy on the basis of “cultural fit”. In reality, this is a huge miscommunication that is likely to drive neurodiverse talents out of positions in which they can excel.
The chemistry and character-based phases of the recruitment process are the first, where neurodivers can showcase their advanced skills, before digging into the more technical elements of a role. This prompts us to ask: Are businesses doing enough to support diversity, equity and inclusion if they are not giving neurodiverse people equal opportunities?
One way businesses can address this challenge is by partnering with community organizations to receive expert guidance, education and best practices around talent acquisition and talent nurturing.
For example, at Stanley Black & Decker, we are collaborating with the National Organization on Disability and Autism Speaks to establish a hiring program that helps us recruit and retain talent of all abilities. As a leading global company, we have a responsibility to ensure that our future develops for all, for all, and that means taking steps to ensure that our workforce is diverse and of all abilities. Infects people, including neurodiverse people.
By taking steps to understand how we can implement all-inclusive recruitment practices, the tech industry can greatly benefit from a talent pool that might otherwise go untapped. This technology may provide at least part of the solution to the talent shortage that continues to plague the industry.
Job dynamics and career advancement within the neurodivers community can also be explored and developed to ensure that career advancement is not limited to low-skilled positions.
We must take into account the limitations of soft skills and related attributes that are stereotyped in management and leadership roles, such as self-awareness and interpersonal communication.
When you look at the case studies of neurodiverse teams, there is a distinct uptick in productivity, especially in analytical roles. Therefore, I encourage leaders to identify opportunities for all talents to excel in their areas of expertise.
Can the tech sector help optimize the future of the workplace for neurodiverse people?
During the past 18 months, we have seen a dramatic shift from leadership to requirements. Employees have more autonomy than ever before, and the same goes for those who are neurodivers.
They now have the ability to request workplace accommodations that were not considered “essential” in the past – for example, more flexible work arrangements or the availability of options to support their needs to thrive in their work day. This may include diversity in their immediate work environment and limited social interaction, noise or distraction as well as the availability of headphones to limit auditory over-stimulation.
Not only that, but the virtual world we are living in presents an additional opportunity for those who are neurodivers as it requires less specific personal social skills that were previously expected within the workplace. This means that now more than ever, there are many flexible procedures and policies that organizations can put in place to meet with employees where they are.
A great way to provide additional support to employees is to encourage engagement in employee resource groups (ERGs). In 2018, I co-founded My Ability Network, a global ERG committed to supporting employees with disabilities, employee family caregivers of people with disabilities, and the greater global community. It provides them with an attractive environment where they can pursue advancement, self-employ and thrive.
It was my personal experience that inspired me to establish this ecosystem of support – I knew how important it was for our son to help our family advocate. I did this through a charity partnership like Autism Speaks. First launched in 2018, we wanted to provide guidance for our workforce and leverage the National Organization for Disabilities to enhance their education and progress in this field.
By developing these communities, we can start a conversation about neurodiversity and create a more inclusive environment in which all employees have the tools, resources and support they need to succeed.
It also allows us to support employees as the business adapts. For example, during the pandemic, we saw a large increase in employees suffering from anxiety. Therefore, Abilities Network partnered with Understanding Anxiety to provide support and tools to employees who need it.
It is important that we bring best practices into inclusivity to all elements of the business, from hiring to marketing and everything in between.
From a marketing perspective, this means, for example, creating an accessible website experience on a company’s digital platform to ensure that people of all abilities are able to access and experience company information. We have been successful in deploying multiple digital experiences with “Access by Design” capabilities through the support of Network ERG.
By tracking employee experience progress through employment data and employee objectives in the Disability Employment Tracker, we have seen a 54% increase in talent sourcing and a 20% increase in “people, policies and practices”, thereby increasing overall cultural outreach. developed. of 105%.
My son has been a tremendous help throughout this process, serving as a sounding board to help me move towards a more inclusive future, and I am forever grateful for his partnership. He has been the inspiration behind my passion to ensure that inclusivity remains at the heart of everything I do.
Neurodiversity presents business opportunities
Technology changes the world and shapes the future of all industries. As leaders in this field, it is our responsibility to ensure that this future is inclusive and representative of all of us. We must ensure that diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives not only help new talent, but neurodiverse people already within the talent pool.
My son, now 19 years old, is studying Biotechnology and Molecular Biology at a University of Technology. When he was first diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, we had low expectations for his personal and professional development – a collective underestimation of the value of his unique skills could bring to the table.
It has driven my passion and efforts to ensure that we at Stanley Black & Decker – and other companies – provide inclusive opportunities for all people.
Neurodiversity presents a great start for leaders to bring in unique talent with diverse skill sets to ultimately drive the advancement of the tech industry and beyond. And unless we are tapping into this pool of talent, companies are missing out.