Bringing neurodiversity into the workplace

Business News | 8 Sep |

“I’m bipolar,” Robert Maynard, co-founder of identity theft protection company LifeLock, said. “I don’t look at it as a handicap, I look at it as a secret weapon because… I see opportunities where people don’t necessarily see them.”

Now, at his surcharging software company SurchX, Maynard is building a culture based on neurodiversity.

“Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome,” John Elder Robison, a scholar in residence and a co-chair of the Neurodiversity Working Group at the College of William & Mary, wrote in a blog on Psychology Today’s website. “Indeed, many individuals who embrace the concept of neurodiversity believe that people with differences do not need to be cured; they need help and accommodation instead.”

And that is the exact mindset Maynard brings into his companies.

“The good thing about the culture I’m trying to build is that we accept people as they are, and we provide assistance the same way we would provide assistance if someone were dealing with cancer or some other major illness,” Maynard said.

The unemployment rate for individuals with a disability is 8 percent, more than double the 3.7 percent unemployment rate among individuals without a disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While hiring a neuroatypical individual comes with its complications because neurodiverse people frequently need workplace accommodations, they also bring a lot of benefits.

“Hiring individuals with disabilities brings a multitude of benefits for companies that go above simply filling vacancies,” Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) Public Information Officer Jillian Seamans wrote about the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities. “A diverse workforce can boost creativity and innovation within a team. Staff who work for an inclusive employer often have a greater sense of employee morale.”

Maynard said two of the biggest benefits are the unique experiences and perspectives and return on investment.

“People ask me, investors or outsiders ask, ‘why are you investing in this neuroscience or neurodiversity?’ and my answer is ‘because I need fewer people.’ It’s a good investment because the number one reason for sick days is depression, and if I offer help to my people with depression I don’t have to have 20 percent more people because my team members can be open and honest and don’t have to miss work,” he said.

So, why aren’t more companies tapping into neurodiverse talent pools?

According to the Harvard Business Review, it comes down to how companies find and recruit talent because most larger companies have human resource processes developed with the idea of having a wide application across the organization.

But that’s changing.

For example, Microsoft decided they wanted to create a solution that helped those with autism spectrum disorder and launched the Autism Hiring Program in 2015.

“Today, when most people interview, it’s one day, and it’s back-to-back-to-back interviews. What we realized is that wasn’t the best experience for someone on the spectrum to showcase their skills,” Neil Barnett, director of inclusive hiring and accessibility at Microsoft, said. “We created what we call a five-day cohort, where we bring folks in through a different door. We changed the shape of the door — we bring folks here and they get to showcase their skills over multiple days in front of multiple hiring managers, and they get comfortable with the culture, they get comfortable with the teams, and they’re really able to shine.”

Another problem is that companies believe conformity to standardized approaches is the best practice, but with the increased desire to be innovative, employing individuals whose brains work differently than the norm can be greatly beneficial.

“If we’re allowed to be who we are and we have that freedom to be who they are then a lot more ideas come out, a lot more discussion happens, a lot more initiative is in place. So the best thing I have is people thinking differently about solving problems rather than doing tasks,” Maynard said.

While many organizations are focusing on creating programs benefiting those with autism, neurodiversity includes anyone with brain functions and/or behavioral traits that differ from what is considered the normal variation of the population such as ADHD, dyslexia, social anxiety disorders and other neurological disorders.

“My higher calling is not building another billion-dollar company, my higher calling is this — evangelizing for neurodiverse people and showing the business world that it’s a good investment to promote neurodiversity and accept it,” he said. “It’s just good business and I think it’s the right thing to do, so when you can add good business with the right thing to do, it’s pretty powerful.”

 

This story was originally published at Chamber Business News.

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