Neurodiversity: The New Frontier for Equitable Hiring in Education

by John Calderon on February 09, 2021

What do Greta Thunberg, Satoshi Tajiri, and Richard Branson have in common? 

Aside from being pioneers in their respective fields -- Thunberg, a teenage climate change activist; Tajiri, creator of the Pokémon series; and Branson, a billionaire entrepreneur -- all three are considered to be neurodiverse, or possessing brain functions that differ from the neurotypical. Thunberg has autism, Tajiri has Asperger’s syndrome (a condition on the autism spectrum, with generally higher functioning), and Branson is dyslexic. These conditions -- in addition to bipolar disorder dyspraxia, dyscalculia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and tourette syndrome -- have long been thought of as challenges to overcome. However, new research suggests that those with these conditions are uniquely skilled and can contribute significantly to success in business when their strengths are harnessed.

According to Gartner, only 14% of those with autism hold down a paying job despite the fact that 35% of those with autism attend college. This deficit proves that though many in the community are highly educated, they fall short in being able to bring their unique talents to the workforce. 

Just as is the case with ethnic and gender diversity, neurodiversity has demonstrated an improvement in an organization’s ability to innovate and achieve greater levels of productivity when compared to their less diverse counterparts. And, just as with ethnic and gender diversity, candidates’ eligibility status can be adversely impacted by unconscious bias. 

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Increasing your neurodiversity candidate pool

By actively recruiting neurodiverse candidates from organizations and job boards that focus on this community, as well as reexamining the criteria that make up the evaluation stage of recruitment and hiring, institutions can make way for a candidate pool that is more diverse among all criteria, which may lead to greater innovation down the line.

In addition to making outreach and evaluation standards more equitable, HR should assemble a team to work with prior to the job posting stage that involves Diversity & Inclusion, IT, Finance, and/or any other department that will be a primary stakeholder in the prospective employee’s performance. Once aligned on the primary functions and needs of the position being filled, present a case that speaks not only to equity, but also the business advantages of seeking out neurodiverse candidates, which may require more time, effort, and advertising budget than typical.

Educational institutions can take inspiration from some private sector organizations that have already begun integrating a strategic outreach plan to the neurodiverse community as a part of their larger commitment to diversity and inclusion. The results have been telling: Chevron reported that their neurodiverse software teams were 30% more productive than their neurotypical counterparts, while Microsoft has hired over 100 employees with autism after a pilot program targeting neurodiverse candidates for engineering roles proved successful (source: Gartner).

Whether you have specific needs related to the strengths of neurodiverse candidates or are just looking to advance equitable hiring practices at your institution, there are countless benefits to actively pursuing neurodiversity.

John Calderon

John Calderon is the Content Strategist at NEOGOV. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from University of California, Los Angeles and has spent over a decade creating content as a marketing professional and journalist. Contact John: jcalderon@neogov.net