Neurodiversity in high growth technology companies
Over the past year, a great deal of attention has been paid to the advantages of hiring for ‘neurodiversity’. The published articles, and the corporate HR programs on which they report, are largely focussed on employees with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the fact that the largest software companies, such as Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, Amazon and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), are leading the way in bringing such talent into the workplace in a sustainable manner.
Studies and programs to date have quite conclusively demonstrated that people with ASD can be highly effective in areas such as mathematics, analytics, pattern recognition, programming and completion of repetitive tasks, and can make innovative and dedicated employees. Furthermore, individuals with ASD are being overlooked for jobs, because archetypal recruitment processes, relying heavily on high-pressure interview situations, are far from favourable when it comes to demonstrating their technical abilities.
At the same time, it is more important than ever for the younger, high growth tech companies to consider all avenues when it comes to quickly finding talent – although estimates of the global ICT skills shortage have recently been amended to reflect a more positive outlook, there is a still a notable shortage. This is combined with the creation of new categories of jobs, for example in cloud computing and cyber security, that are competing for talent. So, is it possible for tech start-ups and scale-ups, who do not have the budgets of the largest global software companies, to hire neurodiverse talent?
There are certainly challenges which must be overcome. However, as the name autism spectrum disorder suggests, there is a range in the disorder and the difficulties it presents. It may be easier and cheaper to overcome the challenges than one first thinks – for example, by using noise cancelling headphones or different lighting, creating a safe working environment, ensuring sufficient support to deal with neurodiverse issues (for example, by having an assigned ‘buddy’), allowing for part-time work, taking steps to reduce the level of day-to-day change, educating other members of the workforce and much more.
Taking things a step further – neurodiversity does not just mean ASD. It could include someone with, for example, ADHD, dyslexia or social anxiety. Again, these individuals are often overlooked for jobs because they do not excel at interviews or because they are not considered a ‘cultural fit’ for a business.
As summarised by Forbes (“The End of Culture Fit”, March 21, 2017), the term ‘culture fit’, which was previously a foundation of corporate recruiting processes, is falling out of favour due to it being fraught with unconscious bias. Facebook have prohibited use of the term when giving interview feedback, and we are aware of many other large companies having taken the same approach. Looking beyond cultural fit will promote diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age and sexual orientation, but it will also allow for neurodiverse talent to be recognised. Why? Because confidence, persuasiveness, emotional intelligence and demonstrable willingness to socialise, characteristics which employees often focus on to report positively on cultural fit, are exactly the criteria that could screen out a neurodiverse individual in an interview.
By looking beyond ‘cultural fit’, making small adjustments to the recruitment process and being actively open-minded when it comes to candidates who are ‘different’, a growing tech company could benefit from a relatively untapped pool of neurodiverse, but technically very strong, individuals who are seeking their next (or even first) career move.