The Mentra Publication
A Guide to the Untapped Strengths of Neurodivergence & its Role in the Workforce of the Future
Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment?
- Harvey Blume, author
Oftentimes, it is society that dictates how we define a "gift" and how we define "disability". Neurodivergence is an umbrella term for people who historically were thought of as having a disability, such as autism, ADHD, and/or dyslexia. Now, the term “neurodivergent'' is being recognized and reclaimed to celebrate the benefits of thinking differently.
The problem is that, since the industrial revolution, and even as far back as the agricultural revolution, society has built systems and workplaces that make it harder for many neurodivergent individuals to thrive. Although when given the right support and environment, neurodiversity can be a huge asset in today’s world. If you have any doubts, here are the top reasons to make hiring neurodiverse individuals a priority in your workplace:
When it comes down to the bottom line, hiring neurodivergent talent makes business sense, driving overall company growth and success.
1. Increased Market Reach & Resonance
Neurodivergent individuals often understand how to design products and services for usability extremely well. The truth is that psychiatric diagnoses are not binary. Autistic, ADHD, dyslexia, etc. traits exist throughout the population in varying degrees. Often only those individuals that display a large number of these traits receive a diagnosis.
Therefore when designing products with accessibility in mind, everyone across a target market benefits. For example, when educational psychologists tried to design techniques to help dyslexics learn how to read, they found these techniques helped everyone learn how to read better.
Luckily, neurodivergent individuals often take this accessibility first approach to their work as they understand first-hand how products and services can leave them feeling disadvantaged.
Having this diversity of thought and leadership on your team leads to the scalable growth of your product or service due to a 360 understanding of the differences and barriers consumers may be facing.
Additionally, conscious consumerism is on the rise, especially with younger GenZ and Millennial shoppers - individuals wish to support brands that display their own values. By showing ethical hiring practices centered around diversity and inclusion, brands are offering another opportunity for consumers to buy into and support the brand.
2. Enhanced Company Culture & Productivity
Countless studies have proven the case that happy employees make better employees. Productivity, engagement and motivation follow alongside a company culture that promotes collaboration and employee well being.
Fostering a space within your organization for neurodivergent talent helps three-fold in promoting this positive workplace culture.
The first, is the statement of commitment towards value driven action from top-down leadership. Actions centered around inclusive hiring and accommodations speak louder than company emails or bulletin boards in creating an inclusive culture; they prove that the company has a social goal, with human centered values beyond just capitalism.
Secondly, neurodivergent individuals often require accommodations to excel at their job. Asking for accommodations is vulnerable, and not always easy to do. But giving an employee accommodations can make all employees more comfortable asking for help. An environment where employees receive accommodations is one where not being “good” at everything is normalized, because it is normal! Other employees will likely be more willing to discuss their own areas of weakness when they see the company is supportive, and ask for help from others. This creates a teamwork orientation in the company in general.
Lastly, this inclusive culture is brought forward by the level of inclusion neurodivergent talent display to others. Some studies actually suggest that autistic individuals (a subtype of neurodiversity) are less likely to be swayed by racism, homophobia, etc. than neurotypicals, even at the subconscious level. This would be because forms of descrimmination are social phenomena, which autistic people are more unaware of in general.
This unawareness doesn't translate to indifference, however. In fact, many neurodivergent people are extremely passionate about social causes, such as Greta Thunberg and Mike Jung. Due to personal experience of being “othered”, they are often more understanding of other’s weaknesses, and often more willing to help and accommodate.
3. Long-term Employee Retention
Studies show working at a company with employee-employer value alignment aids in employee retention. Having fostered an inclusive culture built upon shared human-centered values, as described above, employees will naturally be more engaged and committed to their work, leading to long term employee retention. Additionally, studies show that neurodivergent individuals tend to be more loyal employees, as a whole. As neurodivergents people tend to dislike change, it makes sense to prefer to stay at the same company.
This value add of saving the company time and monetary costs from employment gaps, training, and sourcing new talent, is essential now more than ever. Entitled the Great Resignation, people are leaving their jobs en masse to find places they feel valued; competition for top talent has never been higher. Now on the brink of an economic recession, mitigating these risks are essential.
Individual & Team Benefits
Of course, company-wide benefits begin at the micro-scale; every hire that enters a company’s door impacts the organization’s day to day operations and success of each internal team. Neurodivergent individuals possess character traits and talents born from their divergence that allow them to shine as top contributors and all-star employees when equipped with the proper accommodations to set them up for success.
1. Outside the Box Thinkers
Psychological studies show that people with ADHD and/or dyslexia are more creative on average compared to their neurotypical counterparts. Psychologists believe that a neurodivergent’s difficulty with mainstream practices and rules, such as following directions, stems from reduced working memory; however, rather than being a deficit and hindrance, these traits evolved to keep these individuals away from the mainstream. ADHD and/or dyslexic individuals create new solutions and approaches towards everyday problems to compensate for the differences in how their brain processes the world. These traits allow these individuals to be more creative and do things differently than the rest of the group was doing.
Children are a great example of this in which they display higher forms of creativity than adults to compensate for their poor attention. Because they might have difficulty learning and hanging onto the procedure of knitting, for example, a child is more likely to find their own way to knit than an adult. People with ADHD and/or dyslexia just never grew out of being creative.
ADHD is labeled as a disorder precisely because institutions such as schools, and some workplaces, care so much about doing things the established way. But at a company that values the unique insight that neurodivergence can bring, their approach to the world is a huge asset. A mix of both organized brains that prefer the established way, and ADHD/dyslexic brains, can create a dynamic workplace.
2. Pattern Spotting
Studies show that autistic people are better at spotting patterns on average. This is likely because of a detail-orientation that other people don’t have. This is a gift that helps a company through figuring out everything from why there’s been a drop in sales to understanding animals in agriculture to fixing and patterning a disorganized retail space.
Similarly, studies show that people with ADHD are better at divergent thinking, which means spotting patterns between disparate topics. For example, divergent thinking might include connecting knowledge of biology and knowledge of math to create a new theory. If you need help noticing things or seeing new angles at your company that you might not have been able to on your own, consider hiring more neurodiverse people!
3. Subject Matter Experts
Many anthropologists argue that neurodivergent individuals were the “first specialists”, able to focus on a particular skill for an elongated period of time. This is because they tend to get fixated on certain topics.
While most people “like” many things, neurodivergent individuals tend to love a few things. This is called “hyperfocus”, or “repetitive and restrictive interests”.
Likewise, many neurodivergent people love to amass tons of information about their topic or topics of interest, in addition to sharing that information with others. Therefore, if you want to hire an expert in, say, botany, research, technology– or anything else– the neurodiverse population should be one of the first places to look!
4. Hardworking & Persistent
Oftentimes, neurodivergent people have trouble “switching gears” and thinking about something else after they’ve started on a problem. This isn’t pathology, this is called persistence. If a company is able to give their workers problems they are passionate about, neurodivergent people are pretty much guaranteed to do a great job and get the job done!
Studies actually show that neurodivergent people get anxious if not given enough to do. This is because of a literal mindset, and if neurodivergent individuals aren’t given 8 hours of work to do when they’re told to do 8 hours of work, they feel like they’re lying. All in all, a neurodivergent employee is reliable, hardworking, and truly wants to do a good job for you.
Neurodivergent talent can benefit your organization, in both a macro and individual level, regardless of industry or job title. Have positions you are looking to fill? Check out Mentra’s page to learn more on how you can get started in building out neurodivergent hiring in your organization today.
About the Author
Mikaela Marinis is a “quirky” #actuallyautistic professional writer for the technology industry, with backgrounds in neuroscience and computer science. She’s always loved to learn, from world religions to animals, and to share what she learns with others. Mikaela frequently volunteers to help neurodiverse people in their work life, as she is neurodiverse herself and hopes to use her successes and failures to help others.
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