Advantages of a Neurodiverse Workplace

The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, sought to bring about sweeping change by prohibiting employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities. It was a good beginning. While some organizations embraced it with open arms, many have implemented policies akin to a compliance checklist for hiring employees with disabilities.

Some 27 years later, we have yet to level the playing field by fully integrating individuals with disabilities into the workforce. The good news is that the tide seems to be turning as more employers are embracing the idea that hiring neurodiverse individuals provides a competitive advantage.

Increasing Interest in Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity refers to the fact that some individuals are neurologically different than others, which includes those on the autistic spectrum. ‘Differently abled’ individuals, who are often described as being ‘wired differently’, perceive, understand, and experience the world in ways that are distinct than neurotypical individuals. Suffice to say, these individual differences should be valued and respected. Shrub Oak Co-Head of School and Head of Clinical Services, Gil Tippy, Psy.D. outlined how some companies are benefitting from employees on the spectrum in his recent blog, The Value of Autistic Employees.

These and other sentiments were discussed in a Harvard Business Review article, co-authored by Robert D. Austin, Professor of information Systems at Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario and Gary P. Pisano, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Neurodiverse individuals can help organizations view business situations and challenges with a fresh lens. Indeed, the advantages that businesses have achieved by hiring neurodiverse employees:

“…include productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and broad increases in employee engagement.

Perhaps the most surprising benefit is that managers have begun to think more deeply about leveraging the talents of all employees through greater sensitivity to individual needs. SAP’s program ‘forces you to get to know the person better, so you know how to manage them,’ says Silvio Bessa, the senior vice president of digital business services. ‘It’s made me a better manager, without a doubt.'”

Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage
Harvard Business Review, May-June, 2017

Changing the Corporate Mindset

To date, the neurodiverse population remains a largely untapped talent pool with unemployment running as high as 80%, according to Austin and Pisano. That’s why preparing for a world where neurodiversity is widely integrated into society and the workplace is central to Shrub Oak International School’s mission.

We’ve found that in successful companies, business executives work in lock step with their human resources counterparts to ensure that there is an alignment of business and talent strategies. The first step is to address important questions, the answers to which often make the case for integration of a diverse workforce. These questions range from defining organizational strategy, organizational structure, and the positions to support them. Then, has the organization appropriately identified a true diversity of skills, talents, capabilities, and experiences that will enable the work to support key strategies?

Answers to those questions are as unique as the organization reviewing them. More and more forward-looking companies are beginning to realize how leveraging the unique talents of neurodiverse individuals help achieve key strategies while enhancing their managers’ leadership skills. (See also, Samuel, Alexandra, What My Son With Autism Taught Me About Managing People, WSJ, February 16, 2018.)

Moreover, as the world of work evolves and as artificial intelligence expands in its application, job requirements will change. Jobs of the future will require innovation, fresh thinking, and diverse ways of addressing emerging challenges.

In this evolving environment, neurodiverse individuals offer unique sets of talents, perspectives, and approaches that will provide companies with a whole new set of compelling competitive advantages. Shrub Oak International School will work with its students, as well as with organizations to help drive this momentum, which should have started before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Its time…


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