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The value of hiring people who think differently

Providing jobs for neurodivergent individuals – those with autism, ADHD and other neurological differences – can give companies and society a boost

Businesses have a growing need for strong problem-solving skills and unconventional thinking, especially in their ever-more-complex technology operations. Some of the most in-demand skills that employers are looking for, and expect to increase in demand over the next five years include analytical, creative and systems thinking, and technological literacyfootnote1.

But far too often, companies’ hiring processes tend to filter out those who have precisely the skills needed to make sense of an increasingly interconnected and intricate world.

Candidates who are “neurodivergent” — a term used to describe those with neurological differences such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD and dyslexia — can possess valuable, hard-to-find capabilities. Research indicates a correlation between neurodiverse conditions such as autism and dyslexia and above-average abilities in pattern recognition, memory and mathematics. These are all key competencies for roles that rely on distilling vast amounts of information into relevant solutions. These individuals’ skill at recognizing patterns in data and offering unexpected perspectives on business problems can be critical to many companies.

Nonetheless, neurodivergent individuals are often passed over in the traditional hiring process. In fact, the neurodiverse unemployment rate is estimated to be as high as 40%footnote2. This has implications in a number of fields, including cybersecurity, where it’s estimated 3.5 million jobs will be open by 2025footnote3. The good news is that a growing number of companies, including Bank of America, are seeing the value in hiring these employees. “It is not just the right thing to do, but it can actually be paramount in order to be successful,” says Craig Froelich, chief information security officer at Bank of America.

In cybersecurity, for example, it’s important to be able to anticipate the actions of an adversary and make sure the right defenses are in place long before the threat is on your doorstep. “That means you need to be able to think about that problem from all different angles,” adds Froelich. “This is why diversity and inclusiveness has got to be part of your talent management strategy.”

Opportunity in plain sight

According to an April 2023 study sponsored by Bank of America Retirement & Personal Wealth Solutions, Neurodiversity in the workplace: Building toward a more inclusive future of work, up to 33% of American adults may be neurodivergent, and it's reasonable to expect that the workforce should reflect that. Tapping into the talent of these individuals starts with the hiring process. Standard interviews traditionally rely on small talk, eye contact, speaking extemporaneously and reading non-verbal cues, any or all of which can be difficult for neurodivergent candidates. One way to adjust the process is to conduct and give appropriate weight to skills tests directly correlated to the needs of the position.

It’s also important to proactively manage bias in recruiting teams. According to insightsfootnote4 from Susanne Bruyère, a professor of disability studies at Cornell University, some reasons employers may not consider a neurodivergent applicant could include their inability to register social cues, applicants getting screened out of the interview process because of unpredictable behaviors, or applicants having nontraditional education paths. Training hiring managers to be more open-minded toward candidates who don’t fit the traditional mold can help create a more effective process while also providing an equal playing field for all candidates.

Finally, employers need to see to it that neurodivergent employees are fully supported once they’re hired. “The next generation is growing up with more pride and confidence to ask for what they need, and that includes neurodivergent individuals,” says Jill Houghton, President and CEO of Disability:IN, a global nonprofit organization that works with corporations on enterprise-wide disability-inclusion initiatives. “The key is that individuals need to be able to self-disclose in order to get the accommodations they need. And to do that, they need to feel welcome and supported in disclosing to their company.”

Creating more pathways for everyone

All industries, especially technology, should fully embrace the concept of neurodiversity – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because having a diverse set of minds can be key to success. A September 2022 reportfootnote5 by inclusive technology company Texthelp found that in addition to economic gains, greater neurodiversity in the workplace means access to a wider talent pool. Specifically, the study found that the neurodivergent workers (93%) would be more likely to apply for a job at, or continue to work for, a company. which they knew was supporting neurodivergent employees well.

“People tend to be most successful when the jobs they hold are well-matched to their skill set, so it should be no surprise that the same holds true for neurodivergent individuals,” says Houghton.

Bank of America is dedicated to creating more pathways for underrepresented groups in the tech sector, including neurodivergent individuals. Creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace makes all employees feel welcome and helps companies unlock more innovation.


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