Monday, May 17, 2021
While racial and gender inequality often sit at the center of diversity conversations, diversity & inclusion (D&I) includes far more than boosting representation with these two critical focus areas. Neurodiverse workers are an often overlooked but an important worker talent pool for any organization.
In celebration of Autism Awareness month, we’ve zeroed in on workforce neurodiversity, broadly defined as a variation of thinking styles and abilities regarding sociability, learning attention, mood, and other neural functions. Neurodiversity is often associated with individuals with Autism, OCD, ADHD, dyslexia, and more.
To get a better understanding of what companies are doing to boost neurodiversity, we spoke with Jeff Diegel, president at our supplier partner Infotree Global Solutions, a large professional staffing organization based in Michigan. Jeff shared his thoughts on the importance of building a neurodiverse workforce and what his company is doing to make tangible progress.
Q. Why is neurodiversity an important part of your overall D&I strategy?
A. We have always prioritized and valued D&I. In fact, we are a certified minority business enterprise. But when Infotree talks about D&I, our focus is really on inclusion. Our people have a lot to offer and we know first-hand that inclusive organizations that are representative of the communities in which we live, work, and play are more innovative and productive that those that are less inclusive. Whether an employee happens to be autistic or neurodiverse, has physical disabilities, or is part of the LGBTQ+ community, he/she/him/her/they/them deserve to be included in the talent pool and given the same opportunities. These employees are often a company’s top performers. We work with a wide range of service areas – IT, engineering, professional services, finance and accounting, and more – so we have the benefit of being able to match each candidate with roles that best fit their skills and strengths and consider them for a broad range of job functions.
Q. How does Infotree go about sourcing neurodiverse candidates?
A. We take a very proactive approach to sourcing people from all different groups. We don’t simply post a job and see who applies. We are members of several professional minority groups and industry councils where we can spread the word about available positions. We also are subscribers to websites like AbilityJobs.com and RecruitDisability.org which allow us to specifically target individuals based on their unique physical and neurological profiles. We only work with recruiters who put the same emphasis as we do on sourcing a wide range of diverse candidates, and we ensure our entire ecosystem shares the common goal of providing equal opportunities for all.
Most importantly is the training we provide our staff on diversity and incorporating these conversations into everything we do. We hold quarterly internal trainings where we discuss D&I industry standards, look at new benchmarks, talk about what other top leaders are doing, and why these efforts are important. And of course, we discuss our own progress, including tracking data like the number of candidates we hired in certain minority categories – which is increasingly something our clients are asking us. People want to see companies take action and companies are finally being held accountable for D&I progress. I’ve been in the industry for 20 years and have probably seen the most diversity hiring progress in the past 12 months. That stems in large part from people having meaningful, albeit difficult, conversations around diversity, building awareness, and being transparent about progress.
Q. What are some of the challenges associated with hiring neurodiverse candidates?
A. The biggest challenge is not knowing where to start when it comes to diversifying the talent pool. Understanding the markets rich in talent diversity is key. Focusing hiring efforts in these areas boosts representation earlier on in the recruiting funnel.
There can also be challenges associated with ensuring neurodiverse candidates are set up for success. Just like you would provide an individual using a wheelchair with special accommodations during an interview, the same should go for those on the spectrum or with other neurological diagnoses. This means adapting the traditional interview process to be more inclusive. When interviewing candidates with autism, hiring managers will want to put more emphasis on the actual skills required to do the job versus some of the soft skills that are typically expected from a candidate, such as a firm handshake, maintaining eye contact, and other ‘people skills.’ This might mean providing interviewees with a skills test, which gives the candidate a real opportunity to show off their abilities.
Q. How can employers retain neurodiverse talent once hired?
A. The accommodations I just mentioned shouldn’t stop after the final interview, but also be incorporated into the onboarding process and throughout the employee’s entire tenure at the company. Management should check in with these employees regularly, just as they would with other employees. For each candidate Infotree places, we facilitate touchpoints every 30 days to discuss whether the employee is meeting or exceeding expectations, making sure they feel part of the team, and addressing any issues that arise.
Employees will stay at organizations where they truly feel represented, so it’s important for organizations to continue to proactively recruit and hire neurodiverse candidates. Otherwise, these folks might feel like they were just a “check-the-box” diversity hire and seek other opportunities.
To learn more about autism and neurodiversity, check out our recent Q&A with Monique Gonggrijp-Bello, Workforce Logiq General Counsel and mother of a child with autism.