How embracing neurodiversity could give you a competitive advantage

Diversity is a hot topic at the moment. Employers of all types and sizes have been introducing policies designed to promote diversity and inclusion and ensure that gender, ethnicity, sexuality and disability are no barriers to being hired. However, one area that is still being neglected in recruitment is neurodiversity and those employers who can reach this potential new pool of talent could have a big competitive advantage.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a relatively new term which refers to the many different ways in which human brains can function. This encompasses many different and common conditions, including:

Dyslexia – a learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) estimates that 10% of the population are dyslexic; 4% severely so.

Dyscalculia – a difficulty understanding basic maths concepts or grasping numeracy skills. The BDA estimates that around 5% of the population are formally diagnosed with dyscalculia, but around 25% have mathematical learning difficulties.

Dyspraxia – a condition that impacts on movement and coordination. According to the Dyspraxia Foundation, 5-10% of children are affected, 2% to a severe degree. Difficulties continue into adulthood in 50-70% of cases.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) – a condition associated with hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattentiveness. ADHD Action states that 5% of children and 3% of adults are affected.

Autism (including Asperger’s syndrome) – a broad range of conditions which affect how people communicate and interact with the world. The National Autistic Society believes that 1.1% of the population in the UK may be autistic. Only 32% of autistic adults in the UK are in any kind of paid employment.

These conditions are collectively classed as ‘hidden disabilities. While none are defined as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, an employee would be covered if their difficulties are severe enough to impede efficiency in everyday activities.

There is a great deal of debate currently over whether neurodiverse conditions should be treated as disorders to be diagnosed and treated or as normal outliers on the curve of cognitive function. Either way, ‘different’ is not the same as ‘worse’.

How marketing teams could benefit from hiring for neurodiversity

Hiring people with neurodiverse conditions can feel like a challenge. How will they fit in? Will they be able to work with others effectively? But these conditions are called hidden disabilities for a reason. Chances are, you are already be working with people with dyslexia, dyspraxia or dyscalculia and don’t even realise it.

Candidates with obvious autism or learning difficulties tend to have much more difficulty getting hired. Affinity bias tends to kick in during recruitment, which means that we are subconsciously drawn to people like us. But could marketing teams be missing an opportunity by failing to embrace neurodiversity?

Increased creativity

Marketing is an industry that is constantly evolving and relies on creativity, new ideas and innovation. More diverse teams are more creative ones – able to bring different viewpoints to the table and bounce ideas off one another. In today’s crowded market, brands need to be constantly innovating to stay ahead. Putting together a team with different ways of thinking can really help to boost their productivity.

Tech companies already starting to take advantage – Hewlett Packard, Microsoft and EY are all now actively recruiting neurodiverse talent, and it’s helping to make them more successful. Internal research from Hewlett Packard has shown that their Australian neurodiverse testing team is 30% more productive than its non-neuro-diverse teams.

Better reflecting customers

Neurodiverse people also represent a significant percentage of the customer base for brands. Advertising is starting to feature more neurodiverse characters, but to really understand the needs and desires of these purchasers, they also need to be represented in the workplace.

Bringing in data skills

Marketing is becoming increasingly reliant on big data to produce customer insights and predict winning strategies, but this requires employees with the ability to sift through and analyse large volumes of information. According to the Professional skills census 2018 from the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM), data-related skills are a key skills gap that needs to be addressed. This includes areas like analysing customer data/insight, data analysis & reporting, data & database management.

Neurodiverse people, particularly those on the autism spectrum, are often highly analytical and can thrive when dealing with data analysis, problem solving tasks or projects that require a high level of attention to detail.

In a candidate-short market, every opportunity to widen the talent pool for vacancies should be embraced and if marketing teams can bring in new badly-needed skills by employing neurodiverse candidates, shouldn’t they be do so?

How to become more neurodiverse friendly

Employing more neurodiverse workers can require some adjustments to your recruitment process and working environment. For example, many people with neurodiverse conditions do not do well in traditional interviews. On the spot questions can fluster and confuse them and will not give a true picture of their abilities. Using tests, tasks to complete from home or work trials can all be better ways to assess these candidates.

Obviously, some form of interview is also likely to be required, as candidates will have to be able to communicate with their colleagues. In this case, it’s best to avoid hypothetical and open-ended questions and replace abstract language with very literal instructions, to avoid any miscommunication.

Opportunities to work from home or flexible hours also make it much easier for neurodiverse employees, as they can find busy commutes and noisy office environments overwhelming at times.

Many companies are now choosing to partner with not-for-profit organisations and charities to explore ways of bringing in neurodiverse talent. Employers ready to make changes to their hiring processes are already reaping the substantial rewards that come from bringing neurodiverse talent into their teams.

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