Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Harnessing neurodiverse potential can help with digital talent shortage

Out-Law Analysis | 14 Jul 2021 | 3:42 pm | 2 min. read

The battle for talent in technology and digital markets has intensified as a shortage of digital skills is exacerbated by increased demand as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The sector is no stranger to inclusion and diversity challenges, but the need for specialist digital talent presents an opportunity for employers to tap into the potential presented by neurodivergent thinking.

Neurodiversity refers to the variation in human cognitive function. It is estimated that as many as one in five people in the UK have neurodevelopmental differences which result in a less typical way of learning and processing information. Dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are all forms of neurodivergence, and there are many others.

Associated with the different forms of neurodivergence are common skills and attributes well suited to work in the technology industry. For example, dyslexia is often associated with creativity, communication and ‘big-picture’ thinking. Individuals with dyspraxia can display empathy, leadership and problem-solving skills.

Those with autism are often efficient, analytical thinkers, with keen attention to detail, while people with ADHD can be innovative, enthusiastic and hyper-focused.

These qualities would be an asset to all organisations, but they should be of particular interest to technology employers trying to fill the skills gap and win the battle for digital talent. With Office for National Statistics data suggesting that people with autism are significantly less likely to be employed than the disabled population generally, the technology sector is uniquely placed to lead others in neurodivergent inclusivity.

Some digital companies are already tapping into the skills offered by neurodivergent individuals. The likes of Dell and SAP have for some time had in place hiring programmes specifically targeted to tap into the potential of individuals on the autistic spectrum and allow people to properly demonstrate their abilities.

Hewlett Packard provides autism awareness training to staff to enable better support and understanding. Meanwhile, and in addition to an autism hiring programme, Microsoft also openly supports those with dyslexia, signing up to the Made by Dyslexia pledge as long ago as 2018.

However, there are still high levels of unemployment among those with neurodiverse conditions. Many organisations see the employment of neurodiverse individuals as a diversity and inclusion initiative rather than a business transformation project, but expanding recruitment to a wider group can reap significant rewards for a company despite the effort involved in making it happen.

It is also often viewed through an altruistic lens with organisations only really recognising the business benefit of having diversity of thought and experience in their organisation when they get closer to it.

Companies committed to meeting their legal obligations to neurodiverse employees, attracting more talent, creating a truly inclusive culture and achieving better business performance on a whole host of metrics, should put effort in alongside their advisers in a range of areas.

Data collection is key, but understanding diversity data and translating it into action is even more important.

Businesses should also carry out audits of recruitment practices, review contracts and policies to improve accessibility and inclusion, provide legal support in relation to workplace adjustments, and develop and deliver practical neurodiversity training designed to improve confidence in speaking about and dealing with neurodiversity in the workplace.

With some or all of these pieces in place, there are plenty of opportunities to tap into the neurodiverse talent pool and reap the benefits of creating a more diverse workplace.