This article by Nish Parikh, Rangam Co-founder & CEO, was originally published on LinkedIn.
Even though several major companies have launched large-scale neurodiversity hiring programs over the past five years, the number of hires still represents a minuscule percentage of the overall neurodivergent population ready to work. In 2020, six of the world’s leading employers in IT, financial, and professional services sectors managed to hire fewer than 800 neurodivergent individuals, which amounts to a paltry 0.014% of the total number of adults on the spectrum in the U.S. alone.
These figures clearly indicate that despite the best intentions and investments in autism at work initiatives, something is still not working.
Neurodivergent talent sourcing is driven more by personal connections than by structured processes. Employers often rely on a combination of internal and external partners to find the talent they seek. This approach is fundamentally slow and requires a lot of legwork. Using technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), on the other hand, not only expedites the sourcing process but also helps eliminate unconscious bias.
Many employers are focused on hiring neurodivergent talent to fill technology roles. This notion completely ignores the fact that only one in three neurodivergent job seekers has a STEM degree, according to Integrate. In fact, neurodivergent individuals are no less capable than their allistic peers to excel in other career fields.
The traditional hiring process doesn’t work very well for neurodivergent candidates. Interview questions that typically assess a job seeker’s abstract/analytical thinking skills may induce anxiety for a neurodivergent person, even when they have the necessary competencies to perform the actual job. In addition, existing talent selection processes are designed to put an increasing emphasis on social skills, which unfortunately leads to the exclusion of many qualified candidates with autism.
Are supervisors and coworkers receiving regular inclusion and awareness training to effectively collaborate with neurodivergent employees? Organizations looking to improve their neurodiversity hiring outcomes must provide ongoing inclusion and awareness training to managers, supervisors, mentors, and other employees across the board. Job coaches may be invited to these training sessions to facilitate transition to the workplace for new hires.
Retention and career development processes are still in a nascent stage of development. Given that neurodiversity hiring initiatives are still relatively new, few companies have figured out a long-term roadmap to successfully retain their neurodivergent employees while also offering them a clear pathway to career development. As a result, sustaining these programs remains a challenge. More and more employers are focusing on providing ongoing support to neurodivergent talent through employee and business resource groups (ERGs/BRGs), periodic reviews of the employees’ accommodation needs, and additional coaching when needed. It’s also a good idea to engage employees with autism in recruiting and training activities.
The Road Ahead
It’s indeed heartening to see that today’s employers are more intentional than ever in their approach to neurodiversity hiring. We have the right mix of leadership, culture, and innovative practices to sustain and build on the work that has already started. We also have the technology at our disposal to build extensive databases and community networks to quickly find qualified talent. Businesses are looking at neurodiversity as a competitive advantage not just for today but also for the future. Recruiters and hiring managers are willing to radically change interview and screening methods to cast their net wider. Most importantly, corporate America is ready to make neurodiversity an integral part of its strategic vision and priorities.