Smart Inclusion: Why Neurodiversity Is the #1 Competitive Advantage Businesses Should Be Investing in This Year

Sylvia Dahlby, DE&I Champion at SmartSearch talks with Jeff Miller, CEO and Founder of Potentia Workforce, a consulting firm that delivers technology, analytics, and human capital services by leveraging the talents and skills of – and providing opportunities for – often overlooked neurodiverse individuals.

This conversation is a part of our Smart Inclusion series with our clients, vendor partners, industry advocates, and thought leaders on trends, challenges, and solutions for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the workplace. Watch the conversation here or read more for the synopsis.


What exactly is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a set of neurological and cognitive differences. It's a fancy way of saying the way different brains work. Neurodiversity makes up about 25% of the population, and many people are surprised by that statistic. Neurodiverse individuals are people who are just walking around with a different operating system.

So, they may have specific strengths and often has some areas of challenge, but they're not better or worse; they're just different. Neurodiversity includes autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and PTSD, among other conditions.

Neurodiversity also refers to a movement of generating inclusion for people who think differently and, as a result, may have some challenges in the workplace but also have terrific strengths if they can just be supported in basic ways.

How does neurodiversity deliver a competitive advantage for businesses?

Well, the first thing is that it's in the numbers. If 25% of the population is neurodiverse, companies that have inclusive processes to tap that population are in a competitive advantage versus the ones that don't.

The second thing is the nature of the candidates we're talking about. One of the stats that surprises many people is that your average neurodiversity program has 96% retention. When you talk about the great resignation and individuals jumping from jobs, specifically in the millennial and Gen Z strata, having individuals that want to stay with your organization is huge.

That's not to say that people who are neurodiverse don't turn over; of course, they do. But if they're in a good supportive environment, these are individuals that don't want to go across the street for an arbitrary reason.

Another thing that goes along with that is productivity. When you get candidates in the right roles, neurodiverse candidates are about 45% more productive than candidates of similar backgrounds and experience.

So now you’ve got workers who are more productive with higher retention.

A lot of neurodiverse folks make ideal employees in a lot of ways, but because of the way hiring processes work, a lot of times they don't get a shot. They may not even apply to the job based on how it's written or struggle with the interview or onboarding – if they make it that far.

What can businesses do to better recruit, support and retain neurodiverse workers?

I think the goal that you have when you're looking at neurodiversity and all the intersectionality that exists, you certainly want to have inclusive interviewing.

You also want to acknowledge that if this is 25% of the population, companies of any size will have current neurodiverse or neurodistinct employees who may not disclose but are currently working at the organization. If they don't feel like they can bring their whole selves to work, you would logically assume that they're not going to be as productive or engaged as they might otherwise be.

If you have inclusive programs, the idea would be that they would benefit your employees as a whole.

There's a range of goals that I would say that companies want to think about first when they think about neurodiversity and how it can be a real force multiplier for the entire population. If you're trying to hire more veterans, that group is at least 25% neurodiverse, so having a good neurodiversity program should carry forward in many other ways.

A lot of our training goes into those types of things you can apply to everybody. But it's the old idea, do I treat everybody the same? No, you treat everybody fairly because individuals' needs and motivations will be very different whether they're neurodistinct or not.

Investing in some training is what I would say is number one.

Is there anything else that you'd like employers to know about how people who Think Differently can contribute to building that more diverse workplace and the organization's bottom line?

Absolutely, I would say a couple of things. These are conditions that were diagnosed medically. They're part of what we call a medical model, so, understandably, medicine seeks to treat them. But the individuals in our community don't want to be “fixed.”

I've had this explained to me that for someone who's autistic, they look at it as central to them as the fact that they're female or that they're left-handed or have blue eyes. Those are things that we needed to negotiate and understand that the medical model is about helping somebody. Still, it also emphasizes the deficits and the areas of difference as negatives.

From a business perspective, we need to look at the individuals' strengths and what they're capable of. In a lot of cases, what I've learned is that they often outpace their peers. The hyper-focus and the ability to stay on a task make for some impressive and innovative employees and results. We always focus on that strength first model, and the medical model has been so inbred in all of us for so long that it's easy to see differences as less than, and we need to flip that script.


About our speaker: As an executive, business consultant, thought leader, and proud dad of an awesomely cool autistic teenager, Jeff Miller spends his time connecting organizations to neurodiversity through programs, projects, and products. He also has a proven track record of delivering innovative workforce management solutions for leading companies across the globe for over 20 years.

About the Smart Inclusion conversations: Through sharing insights, experiences, and conversations on diversity, equity, and inclusion, we can work together to move the needle forward in bringing more equity into the workplace.



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