Why Hiring Neurodiverse Talent is a Competitive Advantage in Tech

Published January 26, 2022

Terms like “Autistic” and “ADHD” can be a red flag for the typical hiring manager. Many people believe that Neurodiverse individuals will underperform in the workplace – but JPMorgan Chase saw a 90-140% productivity increase from their Autism at Work initiative compared to Neurotypical teams. The statistics paint a very different picture.  

Neurodiversity is the modern understanding that people with neurological differences such as ADHD, Autism and Dyslexia are differently-abled rather than disabled. They work, learn and process information differently to their Neurotypical colleagues, and could benefit from minor workplace adjustments to help them succeed. For some roles in the tech sector where data-driven and out of the box thinking is essential, Neurodiverse hires can actually provide a direct competitive advantage. All they need is the right tools.   

Management consultancy Korn Ferry found that by 2030, the global tech industry could face a shortage of 85 million workers, equating to $8.5 trillion in lost annual revenue. A 2021 report by the UK Office for National Statistics also found a huge 78.3% of autistic people in this country are unemployed. But this untapped talent pool is far from just being an opportunity to meet diversity quotas; it’s proven that minor workplace adjustments for Neurodiverse people can boost productivity, accuracy and innovation beyond what a Neurotypical employee could deliver. The adjustments needed are often minimal, and can equally benefit the rest of the workforce. If we look at the specific skills gaps the tech sector faces, they match Neurodiverse personality profiles quite well.  

Coding can be taught, but characteristics can’t 

The stereotypes about neurodiversity are wrong. Poor time management and concentration challenges are associated with conditions like ADHD. But people with ADHD can sustain their attention longer than neurotypical people if working on something exciting or challenging – a trait called hyper-focus. They’re also 300% more likely to run their own business, and the condition is prevalent in many CEOs, including Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad. It is strongly associated with entrepreneurship and innovation. 

Dyslexia is associated with poor reading and writing skills but also with big picture thinking, design and pattern recognition. Dyspraxia is another specific difficulty related to coordination and organisation but also increased abilities in complex problem solving and strategic thought. The advantages of these “disorders” are highly valuable in many tech positions. The weaknesses arguably are irrelevant for many roles.  

Likewise, some Autistic people may have difficulty perceiving emotions, but this translates into highly logical and efficient workers. They can have an eye for detail and can retain a lot of information due to strengths in visual memory. This makes them great candidates for positions in data science and cybersecurity. 

Coding, web design and data analytics are all skills that can be taught. However, soft skills like creativity and critical thinking aren’t as easily learned. Neurodiverse hires at any level can bring a fresh perspective and new ways of thinking. And companies with existing Neurodiversity hiring programmes already see measurable benefits.  

Big Tech is already reaping the rewards 

JPMorgan’s findings of up to a 140% increase in productivity is not a one-off. Data from the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Neurodiversity programme also suggested that their testing teams were 30% more productive than average. Software company SAP achieved an estimated $40 million cost savings through a technical fix delivered by some of their neurodiverse workforce.   

An article from EY highlighted more comprehensive research proving the benefits don’t stop at operational efficiencies either. Talent retention and the costs involved in onboarding new hires are significant issues in the tech sector. They found that the US’s four largest Autism employment programmes had 90% higher retention rates than is typical in their industry.  

According to the Institute of Corporate Productivity, EY also notes that 86% of employers surveyed said employees with intellectual disabilities rated “good” or higher for motivation, dependability, engagement, and peer integration. The idea that Neurodiverse employees struggle to assimilate into existing teams or working practices is a myth.  

The costs are also minimal. Workplace accommodations could be as simple as providing written instructions after a Zoom meeting, allowing the use of headphones, or weekly 1:1 coaching sessions with a line manager. Remote and more autonomous ways of working are other accommodations that Neurodiverse employees may require, but organisations are already offering due to the pandemic.  

The main barrier is often a non-inclusive recruitment process and a lack of flexible working conditions. For example, placing emphasis on a strong handshake and making good eye contact takes away from the strength of technical skills otherwise displayed in an interview. These can sometimes be extremely difficult for a Neurodiverse person, but neither of these are a good measure of someone’s value at work. Minor changes to the recruitment process can break down these barriers. 

Unlock the potential of an untapped talent pool 

The benefits of hiring Neurodiverse talent are clear – not only for technology companies but any organisation going through digital transformation. The difficulty is how to attract talent, how to interview, and what the job profile should be. 

High unemployment or underemployment rates in neurodiverse individuals are not down to lack of ability. Simple language changes or skills-based assessments rather than competency-based interviews can help showcase talents that are directly applicable to the position. A data analyst role might not require presentation skills for example, so a typical interview process creates an unnecessary challenge. 

Brilliant Minds can help you get talent through the door  

Brilliant Minds Talent is a non-for-profit social enterprise with the goal of enabling Neurodiverse people to find meaningful and rewarding careers in tech. Using our network of Neurodiverse job seekers and partner organisations, we can help you: 

  • Recruit the best Neurodiverse candidates for open positions in areas such as data analysis, coding, cybersecurity, technology design and innovation
  • Advise on internal recruitment and onboarding processes  
  • Run nationwide hiring campaigns, such as Neurodiversity graduate schemes 
  • Help provide training for HR and other teams on Neurodiversity inclusion and how to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace 
  • Offer ongoing support to you and your new Neurodiverse hires  

If you’re interested in understanding more about how your business can benefit from hiring Neurodiverse talent but aren’t sure how to get started, please get in touch with us here and we’ll be able to help. Diversity may be a moral obligation, but Neurodiversity presents a real game changing opportunity, both for your organisation and for this untapped talent pool. 

– Liam Weedon, for Brilliant Minds