By Patrick Bardsley, co-founder and CEO of Spectrum Designs Foundation, an enterprise of businesses employing and integrating workers on the autism spectrum.
One great advancement that came out of 2020 was a heightened focus on how organizations (and their followers) are actively viewing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). According to the World Health Organization, over 1 billion people are currently living with a disability. Yet this population is severely underrepresented in today’s current DEI efforts. We can change this by shattering some of the myths and focusing on the benefits.
My business enterprise is primarily comprised of employees on the autism spectrum and people with other developmental disabilities. The advantages of hiring and retaining a neurodiverse workforce are significant and far-reaching. Hiring neurodiverse employees increases diversity, stimulates the economy, fills skills gaps to an underserved group of workers, solves big problems and so much more.
Benefits To The Company
Like any other candidate, a neurodiverse employee brings their own unique skill sets and strengths to the table. It is common for individuals to possess many or some of these valued traits: honesty, attention to detail, excellent memory, reliability and high motivation. They also may be quick learners and appreciate structure, routines and organization. Furthermore, hiring individuals with varying abilities creates a culture where all employees are respected and valued for their opinions and problem-solving skills and are celebrated simply for being themselves.
When consumers think a brand has a strong purpose, they are four times more likely to trust the company, and 79% of Americans feel a deeper personal connection to companies with values similar to their own. When clients or customers work with a company that embraces a neurodiverse workforce, they naturally boost their own image, build loyalty and achieve corporate social responsibility objectives.
An additional benefit is the low turnover rate, as purpose-driven companies have 40% higher levels of workforce retention. As any leader can attest, a company would much rather dedicate time and resources to teaching new skills and promoting from within rather than continually training new hires.
Benefits To The Economy
Disabled people and their dependents account for 13.8% of total Social Security benefits paid annually. Gainful employment generates taxpayers, diminishes the need for Social Security and stimulates the local economy where the employee works and lives. The national unemployment rate of over 80% for those with disabilities is disproportionately high, and in some states, like New York, the disabled population is twice as likely to live below the poverty line — a poverty gap likely widened by the global pandemic. A DEI initiative that includes and embraces a neurodiverse workforce helps bridge this disparity one hire at a time.
Benefits To The Community
Discussing the benefits of neurodiversity, serial global entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson remarked that “The world needs a neurodiverse workforce to help try and solve some of the big problems of our time.” And he’s right, not just in business but our community at large. At my company, we have been presuming competence and seeing only ability for over ten years. That ethos has permeated our community and customer base, and now they champion and celebrate neurodiversity alongside us.
Benefits To The Employee
Sometimes I think about our neurodivergent team members and how different their lives would have been had they been born even a generation earlier. The landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which finally and comprehensively protected the civil rights of those with disabilities, was only passed in 1990.
It takes time and action for patterns of thoughts around stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions to change. Employers in our communities have the opportunity to speed up that process and help foster true inclusion, the one that includes all kinds of minds.
Like many other employers, continuously investing in the growth and development of your team members is crucial to the success of the organization, and watching them prosper is one of the most satisfying parts of your role. In my experience, for this population in particular, not only does holding a job provide a strong sense of purpose and contribution, but incentivizing through pay raises and promotions exponentially raises self-esteem. Intangibles like friendships, social activities, structure and financial independence are the benefits to employment often overlooked. I’ve witnessed firsthand how a job, and all that comes with it, can be life-altering.
Hiring a neurodiverse team can truly change you and your business — current employees, clients, community members, shareholders and peers will see the benefit, as will those whose lives will change. Employees want to contribute to society and help businesses grow, and goals on both sides can be achieved with the integration of employees from different backgrounds and abilities.
In 2021, we have an opportunity to “build back better,” and it is my sincere hope that we do so with the contributions and capabilities of neurodiverse individuals at the forefront.
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