Guest Commentator: Nick High, Regional Director of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Community Options, Inc. @COINATIONAL

How does inclusion of neurodiverse individuals give organizations a competitive advantage?

The comparative advantage that comes from diversity within an organization can be understood as a means of expanding opportunities. In any organization, each team member is an asset. Each team member brings their own talents, past experiences, and unique approach to the table. Successful organizations find a way to both maximize the individual talents of each of their employees while also compensating for areas where there is still room for growth. When organizations recruit employees from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds, they are casting a wider net to bring aboard the most talented staff, especially those that may be overlooked by competitors. Organizations focused on diversity are broadening their opportunity to onboard employees that best compliment their current teams while also bringing new ideas into the fold. Ultimately diversity is important because the challenges organizations face are diverse. The best way to meet unique challenges is to field a roster with unique talents. Diversity within an organization isn’t just about professional or cultural backgrounds, it’s about diversity in how we think and the benefits that come from that.

While the term may be less understood than other forms of diversity, Neurodiversity is a form of diversity that deals precisely with this matter — how we think. Author and scholar John Elder Robison describes neurodiversity as “the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome.” In the workplace, Neurodiversity allows us to look at candidates with various neurological diagnoses through the lens of their unique abilities as opposed to their limitations. At Community Options part of our mission is to place people with disabilities in competitive employment. Too often we see that hiring managers are more concerned with the limitations and perceived liabilities of the people we support, as opposed to the benefits they would provide to the team. A large part of our mission at Community Options is to bridge this gap between perception and reality-to get our employers and stakeholders to see the people we support as uniquely skilled as opposed to tragically limited.

For example, a hiring manager may look at a candidate with Asperger’s syndrome and be apprehensive about extending an offer. Maybe the candidate didn’t look them in the eye throughout the interview. Maybe the candidate had a monotone voice, maybe they missed some social cue that the hiring manager understood as early as age 5. These are all common behaviors associated with Asperger’s syndrome. Other characteristics associated with Asperger’s syndrome include a higher than average IQ, savant-like mastery of various tasks, and rigorous attention to detail. The former apparent social mishaps can be overlooked or accommodated, the latter abilities would prove valuable to just about any organization in any field.

Neurodiverse organizations are also able to connect with a wider audience of clientele and stakeholders. After all, our world is neurodiverse, wouldn’t we want our organizations to understand how to connect with the widest clientele possible? Our organizations will be offering products and services to both neurotypical people and people with diverse neurological diagnoses such as autism and ADHD. Would we not want team members that have a unique understanding of these potential clients, customers, and partners?

Too often we talk about diversity in terms of nobility. Organizations want to be diverse because it’s the right thing to do. Organizations want to advertise their own diversity to show they are progressive and socially responsible. While these factors are important, we need to move the diversity discussion past a singular notion of nobility and into one that incorporates comparative advantage. Neurodiverse organizations are organizations that are maximizing their own opportunities. They are broadening their talent base and increasing their reserve of intellectual capital. They are increasing their opportunities to hire better new staff while maximizing the capabilities of their existing staff. Finally, they are giving themselves a chance to reach a wider base of stakeholders and clientele. The challenges organizations face in the 21st century often require unique and abstract modes of thinking. It is time these organizations recognize the comparative advantage they gain by practicing neurodiversity and hiring employees with unique styles of thought.

Upcoming Event

Activating Neurodiverse Workplaces: A Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program
Tuesday, February 25, 2020 | The Conference Center at the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia

Meet employers who are updating their recruitment practices to accommodate a neurodiverse workforce that respect and acknowledge neurological differences.