By Jeff and Rick Miller
Articles and studies advocating diversity and inclusion programs in the workplace often cite the benefits of such initiatives on other business objectives. A 2016 Economist article noted that “Companies may starve themselves of talent” if they ignore diversity, while a recent piece in Forbes found that 85% of executives with diversity initiatives view those programs as “crucial for innovation.” A 2015 McKinsey study discovered that companies in the top quartile for diversity hiring were 35% more likely to outperform their competitors financially.
We can all agree that filling key roles successfully, improving innovation, and strengthening the bottom line are results any business would love to have. But while most large companies have pushed to be more inclusive in terms of race and gender, some pioneering firms are expanding their definition of diversity further—and enjoying impressive results.
Companies like SAP Software Solutions, Hewlett Packard (HP), and Ernst & Young (E&Y) are targeting individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as part of new “neurodiversity” recruitment programs. Individuals with ASD process information in ways that their neurotypical peers to not. They think differently. So do some of the companies that now employ them.
The results for these pioneering organizations have generally been very positive, and sometimes surprising. They include lower turnover as well as higher productivity and better overall employee engagement. HP has also had success with ASD employees in roles as diverse as product management and customer support, dispelling previously held notions about the social limitations of some ASD individuals. E&Y notes that they have seen their managers improve in their ability to get the most out of all employees by viewing individual differences as potential strengths. SAP has had such success that they have committed to the goal to make 1% of their workforce neurodiverse by 2020.
The neurodiversity programs themselves take time and expertise to construct. There have been some challenges and false starts for both employers and applicants. Interviewing and onboarding processes may need to be adjusted. Supervisor training and some amount of ongoing support are also critical. But organizations are springing up with the expertise to help companies who see these benefits and want to share in them.
This shift comes at a critical time. While overall unemployment is under 4%, ASD unemployment for college educated individuals is a staggering 80%. 50,000 new applicants with ASD attempt to enter the workforce each year. While misconceptions about this community persist, the data show that companies can benefit from broadening their inclusion programs if they adjust some of their current practices. Forward-thinking organizations have found they are well served to tap into this underrepresented source of talent. It’s good for the applicants and for the bottom line.
Could it be good for yours?
Jeff Miller is CEO and Founder of Potentia (potentiaworkforce.org), a social enterprise focused on matching top employers with talented applicants on the autism spectrum.