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India Inc. needs a neurodiverse workplace

Organisations embracing neurodiversity enjoy a competitive edge in several areas such as efficiency, creativity, and culture

Organisations embracing neurodiversity enjoy a competitive edge in several areas such as efficiency, creativity, and culture

In the last few years, words such as “inclusion” and “diversity” have assumed importance in the vocabulary of most organisations. A 2019 McKinsey study revealed that companies with gender diversity were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability while those with ethnic diversity out-rival their competitors by 36%. Another report titled ‘India’s Best Workplaces in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion 2021’ states that diverse teams perform better, boost leadership integrity, heighten trust in the organisation’s management and multiply revenue growth. It is no wonder then that organisations are building a more inclusive workforce by hiring employees from different ethnic groups, across gender and social backgrounds. Yet, lacking in this exercise is the absence of workers suffering from neurodiversity.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity in the workplace refers to including people with neurodivergent conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Asperger’s Syndrome. Harvard Health Publishing defines neurodiversity as a notion that every person interacts and experiences their surroundings differently; there is no right way of thinking, learning, or/and behaving. These differences should not be construed as defects or disorders.

It is, therefore, unjust that even with all the necessary skill sets and degrees, these persons are denied a job because they may react to situations differently from non-neurodiverse persons. While part of the problem could be lack of awareness about neurodivergent conditions, it is time organisations created a more accommodating environment.

According to a recent report, nearly 2 million people in India suffer from this neurological and developmental disorder and are therefore identified as autistic. Another study by Deloitte estimates that nearly 20% of the world is neurodiverse. In the U.S., it is estimated that 85% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed compared with 4.2% of the overall population. Hence, there is an urgency to create a work environment that welcomes neurodiverse individuals.

More efficient and creative

Organisations embracing neurodiversity enjoy a competitive edge in several areas such as efficiency, creativity, and culture. A study by JPMorgan Chase shows that professionals in its ‘Autism at Work’ initiative made fewer errors and were 90% to 140% more productive than neurotypical employees. Moreover, studies have shown that teams with both neurodivergent and neurotypical members are far more efficient than teams that comprise neurotypical employees alone. Neurodivergent individuals possess excellent attention to detail and an uncanny ability to focus on complex and repetitive tasks over a more extended period than their neurotypical peers. A study by the University of Montreal found that in a test involving completing a visual pattern, people on the autism spectrum could finish their task 40% faster than those who were not on the spectrum.

Additionally, people with dyslexia have more robust spatial reasoning — they can think about objects in three dimensions and analyse such objects even with limited information. They have problem-solving capabilities which allow them to see multiple solutions to a problem. They are often out-of-the-box thinkers with average or above-average intelligence.

Companies such as Deloitte, Microsoft, SAP, JPMorgan Chase, and E&Y have introduced neurodiversity hiring programmes. Indian-origin companies Hatti Kaapi and Lemon Tree Hotels have also included a neurodiverse workforce. Human resources and leadership teams must work together to ensure that the workplace is mindful of and cooperative towards neurodiverse individuals. The process of building an inclusive culture includes customising interviews, ensuring day-to-day assistance for these specially abled individuals, and providing proper infrastructure so that they can perform at their optimal levels. Thus, organisations must not only remove barriers that obstruct the progress of such individuals but also create conducive conditions for them to achieve their true potential.

Mentorship programmes can benefit some, while others might require professional training on shared social and communication skills. Many employees with neurodiversity may find the hustle and bustle of a traditional office disturbing. Therefore, neurodivergent friendly offices catering to the employees’ diverse sensory responses can help ensure that these employees are comfortable in office spaces.

However, creating the right environment is an ever-evolving exercise that requires openness and a will to change on the employer’s part. This flexibility can result in exceptional benefits with minimal or no additional costs. To ensure higher profitability and be respected as a responsible employer globally, companies need to widen their definition of inclusivity by providing higher participation of a neurodiverse workforce.

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