Why is neurodiversity a new buzzword in Tech?
22 November 2021 • 4 min read
"Neurodiversity refers to the different ways the brain can work and interpret information. It highlights that people naturally think about things differently." - ACAS
The majority of people you meet in your day to day life are neurotypical. This means the way their brain functions and processes information is aligned with normative societal expectations. However, there is a significant minority of people (statistics vary on the actual percentage due to research still being in its infancy), whose cognitive processes differ from the norm: this group is what is known as neurodiverse.
In recent decades, neurodivergent people have sometimes been portrayed in pop culture as “geeks" who are extremely smart and focussed but are not able to fit comfortably into a general social mould due to their lack of social skills. Although the reality is that anyone can be neurodiverse, it’s perhaps no coincidence that Silicon Valley is home to one of the largest clusters of autism diagnoses in the US. This underlines the fact that the qualities of neurodiverse people are particularly valuable to the tech industry.
Chandra is speaking at Neurodiversity AND Tech: Celebrating Differences in the Workplace on Wednesday 24th November.
Learn more here.
The benefits of neurodiversity for organisations
The usual diversity metrics in businesses often focus on diversity in the sense of age, gender, and ethnicity.
However, there is a completely different dimension of skills that neurodiverse individuals bring to the workplace, especially when it comes to building hi-tech products.
A neurodiverse workforce can drive innovation in products and services
According to a The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a team with diverse backgrounds and perspectives is able to build more accessible and inclusive products for their customers. It is almost a given that when employees who are different from one another - when they are heard and enabled to flourish - a company will benefit much more from their ideas and skills.
Further evidence (like this from the CIPD) also points to higher than average productivity amongst neurodivergent teams.
Neurodiverse teams bring a diversity of thought; this leads to greater innovation and creativity and results in better products and services being developed. It should also allow a better understanding of a given customer base, biases and blindspots. This ensures that products and services being developed are made accessible to all sections of society.
Neurodiversity and technology skills
The tech industry can benefit greatly from the skills brought to the table by neurodiverse candidates. This opens up a whole new pool of untapped talent for the tech industry.
Neurodivergent candidates possess skills and qualities that lend themselves particularly well to working in a digital tech environment. Some of the highly in-demand skills that tech industry employers are looking for that are often present in neurodiverse candidates. Specific neurodiverse diagnoses in people often demonstrate certain characteristics or qualities.
- Autism – Logical thinking, attention to detail, dedication
- ADHD – Hyper-focus, entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation
- Dyslexia – Entrepreneurship, pattern spotting, creative problem solving
- Dyspraxia – Strategic thinking, problem-solving, highly motivated, dedicated
Tech has taken over most - if not all - aspects of our lives. Everything around us, be it the way we shop, travel, communicate, work or receive news is dependent on technology. Hence it would not be wrong to think the organisation building that technology will need to be diverse and promote greater inclusivity within society.
Giving the responsibility of building products and services to a team belonging to similar backgrounds, ethnicities, beliefs and demographics is not in the best interests of anyone, especially when we live in a diverse society. The technology we build and use should respect that and be reflective of diversity at all levels.
Increasing the talent pool
The pandemic has almost made it essential for just about every business to go digital. This has resulted in the tech industry going through an acute shortage of skilled professionals. Every business - whether it’s a scale-up, SME or a public listed company - are competing for top talent. This has led to job vacancies skyrocketing in the UK with the number of jobs on offer to be close to 862,000 earlier this year between April and June.
Given this environment, improving diversity and inclusion in the industry will be valuable to any company. It will increase the size of the talent pool and reduce the skills shortage across the board. It’s not just about bridging the skills gap and increasing productivity; it has been widely reported that retention rates among neurodivergent employees are extremely high. For example, Hewlett Packard Enterprises has seen a 98% retention rate amongst its autistic workers.
Building a welcoming and inclusive brand
At a macro level, focussing on equality and inclusion can have a hugely positive impact on an organisation’s reputation. This will make it a more attractive proposition to potential recruits, customers, and clients. It can also make current employees feel more positive about their employer. A lot of employers will miss out on highly skilled employees if they are not viewed as inclusive places to work.
Given the speed at which information flows today, things like this can escalate quickly; it can have a very direct and immediate impact on an organisation’s brand value.
But diversity shouldn’t just be done to protect a brand. It should be done because it is right, and because all people - however they think, and however they like to work - should be able to contribute to the way the future is being built.
Chandra Sharma is a Product Analyst at AND Digital.