Finding qualified and adequately skilled tech workers remains one of the industry’s key challenges. According to a survey carried out by Gartner, of around 18,000 employees conducted in November and December 2022, 86 percent of CIOs reported more competition for qualified candidates and 73 percent worried about IT talent attrition.

One of the solutions to combating the current tech hiring challenges is expanding the talent pool and considering how neurodiverse individuals could thrive in tech roles.

While many modern tech companies are getting better at ensuring workforces are diverse, it’s worth highlighting that if a company has an inclusive culture, it's six times more likely to display increased innovation and agility. One earmark of an inclusive culture is how neurodiversity in the workplace is handled. 

Fortunately, we’re becoming better educated about how human brains work. As a result, people are more able to receive a diagnosis, treatment, medication, and so forth.

However, implementing systemic support is also crucial. Many leaders are unaware that neurodiverse individuals are often more successful in tech jobs. This alone is a compelling reason to embrace neurodiversity in the workplace, especially within tech roles.

Benefits of neurodiversity in tech

One in every eight people could hold neurodiverse characteristics or traits. Due to barriers to diagnosis and treatment, many neurodiverse people have not been identified as such. 

However, awareness of neurodiversity is becoming increasingly common in the workplace. More people are now diagnosed and aware of how their brain actually works. 

Take ADHD, for example. Many ADHD people have a gift for thinking outside the box. When hyper focused, they can often churn out more work in a few hours than most people could in a much longer time period. They also have increased empathy and creative problem-solving, and often help illuminate ideas that would be otherwise ignored. 

The overall goal is to ensure that everyone is supported and valued as a human being despite their cognitive variation. However, it's also beneficial because of:

  • Diverse, wide-ranging ideas
  • Different approaches to work
  • Creativity
  • Increased innovation and agility 

Many neurodivergent people cite visual thinking, visual memory, creative thought processes, pattern recognition, and attention to detail abilities - all of which are typical skills needed in many tech jobs. As many workplaces begin to prioritise diversity, it's important to remember that there's more than one way to reach a goal or accomplish a task.

The technology industry is made up of numerous diverse roles, from developers, cyber security experts, IT managers to software engineers plus many more. All of which can benefit from the skills possessed by many neurodiverse candidates.

With differences in thinking, neurodiverse people can bring alternative perspectives that may not have been explored before. It’s critical that businesses continue to prioritise cognitive diversity in their workforce, as every individual brings unique knowledge, experiences, and skills to the table and can help drive progress in technological innovation.

Why neurodiverse workforces matter

When looking for strong candidates for tech roles, what are some of the most common soft skills? More often than not, job listings ask for candidates that think outside of the box, actively strategise fresh approaches, and so forth. 

These are often skills that neurodiverse people excel at. Of course, it's necessary to take note of the advantages associated with a neurodiverse workforce.

Considering diversifying your workforce and introducing neurodiverse workers is the right thing to do. No one should be excluded from a meaningful career because of how their brain is wired. 

Additionally, neurodiversity should not be exploited for corporate gain. It's crucial to highlight, support, and develop systems that allow neurodiverse people to flourish, instead of merely hiring someone because you think their brain wiring will allow you to make more money.

How to promote neurodiversity in tech jobs

In many cases, supporting neurodiversity in the workplace starts during the recruitment process. Many tech jobs have a rigorous hiring process, one that ensures that potential employees have the hard, soft, and social skills necessary to thrive in the workplace.

However, it's time to expand the hiring pool. Start by considering how you are finding potential candidates. 

Many neurodiverse candidates are seeking jobs that will support them, and provide the systems necessary for them to flourish and do good work. No one wants to hide who they are at work while struggling in circumstances that seem to work against them. 

Start by revisiting the language that you use during the hiring process - do you make real accommodations for neurodiverse candidates? Are neurodiverse people allowed to be open in your workplace? And even more importantly, do you allow neurodiverse people to make changes and alterations that work for them?

Supporting neurodiversity

Many neurodiverse individuals have sensory issues. Working in a loud workplace with harsh lighting is a sensory nightmare for them. Do you allow these employees to wear sound-cancelling headphones, or do you adjust the lighting for example? All of these small adjustments make for a more comfortable working environment.

Highlighting your approach is a great way to ensure potential applicants that this is a safe space.

It's also vital to revisit the hiring process. Often, recruiters and algorithms hold implicit and explicit biases against candidates. 

Often, AI systems for example can be coded using data from neurotypical candidates, which presents an issue when it comes to hiring neurodivergent people. For instance, autistic people sometimes have atypical speech patterns or expressions. 

The AI hiring system could work against them. It doesn't mean they don't have value to bring to the table as employees. Instead, it means they were eliminated from the process without being given a chance. 

Educating hiring managers

It's also essential to educate your hiring managers or recruitment teams/partners. Many neurodivergent people have issues with holding eye contact or may not want to shake hands. There's no reason to discriminate against people based on these 'atypical' job interview behaviours.

Refresh, renew and tailor your candidate hiring process experience. Some employers are now co-creating the interview process with employees. Some would rather meet you face to face, while others would rather do it over video call.

Benefits of a neurodiverse workforce

Here are some of the benefits to incorporating neurodiverse individuals into your workplace: 

  • Heightened mathematical skills 
  • Increased technological skills 
  • Extreme attention to detail 
  • Hyper focus
  • Excelling at repetitive tasks 
  • Skilled in pattern detection 
  • Retaining information well 
  • Strong loyalty to mentors, organisations, employers, and so forth

However, in order to reap these benefits, it's best to tweak your workplace to meet the real priorities that people have. For example, one person may be able to succeed when given clear instructions once. Someone else may be able to take a broad task and break it down by themselves. 

Not everyone can work in this way. A supervisory approach that works for one employee won't work for another. Adjust your style accordingly. 

You may find that neurodivergent employees are far more productive when you take the time to adapt your communication for their needs. Many ADHD people say that it helps when specific verbs are included: write, solve, etc.

Tweaking language is a small thing to do. But for many, it makes a huge difference when it comes to day-to-day productivity and morale.

Creating support systems

It's also vital to provide the appropriate support systems for neurodivergent employees within your organisation. 

One of the hallmarks of inclusive work culture is seeing diversity when it comes to positions of power. That's why mentorship programmes are so important. 

When companies provide mentors to neurodiverse professionals, productivity and profitability boost by 16-18%. Of course, mentors should be providing more than career advice.

Their role is also to create opportunities, help their protege build relationships, and forge alliances with other professionals across other departments. 

The goal is to make your neurodiverse employees feel seen and empowered. It helps them develop a network of people who may think and work as they do. Instead of feeling like a square peg in a round hole, employees no longer feel like they are constantly swimming upstream.

This is another reason why neurodiverse employees may thrive in technical roles. With the sense of community fostered around them, it's a great opportunity to forge better collaboration.

Allowing flexibility

If you're looking for peak productivity from a neurodiverse workforce, it's also crucial to embrace some of the lessons of the pandemic. 

For many neurodivergent individuals, flexibility is key. Mornings are notoriously tough for many people with ADHD. But if given the chance to set their own hours and work late into the night, they can be some of the most productive people in the company. 

Understanding work from home vs. in-office policies is a must. Sometimes, a hybrid approach works best to balance socialisation and networking needs. It's important to place trust in the hands of their employees and let them tailor the environment they need.

Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace

By seeking out diverse individuals, your company will be able to come up with the most creative ideas, out-of-the-box strategies, and winning approaches. 

When you create support systems for a neurodiverse workforce, everyone wins. You are supporting the humanity of your employees while reaping concrete corporate benefits like increased productivity, revenue, and so forth. 

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