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  • Posted October 24, 2020

Incorporating Neurodiverse Individuals into your Diversity & Inclusion Initiative

In recent years, many companies have onboarded a much needed Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiative to their hiring practices. However, a good number of them have left a significant group out their diversity models, the disabled. This group of individuals represents approximately 61 million American adults in the United States alone. Many in this group have been struggling with sustainable employment for decades. Of this diverse and ever-growing group of humans, there is one particularly large group of disabled individuals that have been denied employment based on social difference, the neurodiverse.

Neurodiversity, like biodiversity, is the concept that variations in the human are a natural part of human evolution. It is the idea that people who think and learn differently are not less than others, but rather, different. We now take a strength based approach to neurodiversity, celebrating strengths instead of “fixing” deficits. There are at least six neurodiversities according to current definitions, that include autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and Tourette Syndrome.

We call your attention to this group of different thinkers because they represent some of the most innovative, detail-oriented, loyal workers out there, and yet, the neurodiverse, almost ironically, have one of the highest unemployment rates out there, a startling 85%. The incongruity comes from the fact that, traditionally, those who don’t conform to “societal norms” were considered poor hires regardless of their talents and abilities.

Fortunately, we now know better. We know that a disability doesn’t make you a poor hire, and that often those that think outside of the box bring the most value to a company. We have the ADA in place, technology that has changed the workplace, and employers doing their best to bring in D&I initiatives. It is the perfect time for companies to begin adjusting their hiring practices and workplaces to not just include the neurodiverse, but to welcome them.

The Financial Planning profession as a whole has significant talent gaps that can be partially filled with racial, gender, and sexual orientation diversity, but not completely. There is more to diversity than the typical stereotypes. The majority of the D&I initiatives are leaving out some of the exact talent our business is searching for. We want entrepreneurs, employees or advisors who work hard, care about others, and think outside the box. What better way to find talent and different ideas, then from a population who was literally born to think differently?

At the end of the day we are in a for-profit industry that focuses on maximizing financial wellness. We are not doing charity work as our main business. Hiring these individuals is not charity work, it is good business! There is a reason companies such as SAP and Microsoft hire six figure consulting firms on how to hire individuals with autism.

Core Strengths of The Neurodiverse

  • Intense Passion in a Niche Subject: Neurodivergent folks have passions that rival no other when it comes to a subject that interests them. The ability to concentrate on details and perform certain detail-oriented tasks is a common strength of different thinkers.
  • Diverse thinking styles: For the same reasons someone may want diverse viewpoints in a brainstorming session, neurodivergent people are yet another subset of talent that can be utilized for their unique thought processes toward effective innovation. Neurodivergent people tend to be more analytical and logical and can bring a perspective into the workplace that is out-of-the box.
  • Focus: Neurodivergent people tend to have the unique ability to focus and bring an unprecedented, consistent attention to detail which is a welcome addition to any workplace. Someone neurodivergent may be the best employee to train at highly specialized skill, especially if it includes an interest.

Now, let’s take a look at what your company could bring into practice that could begin your shift to welcome the different thinkers:

Incentivize the Talent

  • Flexible hours and work options: Neurodivergent people will be your most consistent and focused employees. Offering flexible hours and work environments (like the ability to work from home) will allow them to work in their most comfortable environment on any given day so that they can put their best selves forward. Offering something as simple as a place to work that is available by public transportation may be the difference between hiring and not hiring, as driving can be a major inhibitor to someone who is neurodiverse.
  • Benefits that matter: Many individuals who are neurodivergent may be receiving government benefits, and therefore the financial work benefits should be aligned. You may not be prepared to understand the complexity of their benefits, but for example, someone who is receiving Medicare or Medicaid may not have the need to participate in the company’s 401K or health insurance program, but may be interested in learning about an ABLE account or taking more paid sick time.
  • Offer accommodations that they might actually need: This will always vary person-to-person, as every person is different but there are so many simple accommodations that can be made to make someone more comfortable. Noise-canceling headphones to drown out noise or dimmable lights that will help with overstimulation may actually help to leverage their abilities by making them more comfortable. Further recommendations are later in this article.

Easy Changes to Hiring Practices

  • Take the pressure off the interview: You know how nerve-racking an interview is, now imagine that your brain really struggles with real time communication. Yup. That’s where most neurodivergent struggle the most. It’s not the resume or their abilities, it’s the social of the interview process. Make sure you aren’t making snap judgements about hiring by the interview alone. Let folks show you what they are capable of.
  • Don’t Dis Disclosure: Many different thinkers are experts at “masking” their disability which means many do not disclose. If someone voluntarily discloses an invisible disability, your reaction is important. Better to ask what accommodations that person would need in the workplace before writing them off as a “difficult” employee. Some may need simple accommodations and some none at all.
  • Being Direct isn’t Rude, it’s kind: One of the biggest challenges of communication for neurodivergent individuals is reading between the lines. Someone who has a “say it like it is” communication style struggles endlessly when you don’t just say it like it is. We have developed this idea that direct communication is somehow rude, but it is the kindest way to communicate with a different thinker.

Workplace Accommodations

  • Sensory Environment: The workplace environment is really important to neurodivergent people. If you can be flexible with lighting, seating arrangements, the use of supports like headphones or sunglasses, and fidgets on the desk, you are well on your way to being a welcome environment. Things like fluorescent lights, loud neighbors, open blinds, and heavy perfume can be a distraction and painful for the neurodiverse. Remember to check in about sensory issues should be a priority.
  • Scheduling: Not everyone performs their best in a 9-5, Monday-Friday job. Many folks are night owls and perform better when their hours accommodate that. Additionally, many neurodivergent people can hyper-focus and produce eight hours of work in four hours. Its important to figure out the employee’s needs around scheduling. It may mean working only the slow shifts or only 6 hours a day. It may also mean offering more remote options to positions that were once office based.
  • Put it in Writing: Because the neurodiverse often struggle to remember directions or have executive functioning issues, make it a habit to put everything in writing for them. In other words, rather than picking up the phone for a quick call, send that request via email with as many detailed instructions as possible. This will act as a reference for both parties.

Myths About Hiring Neurodiverse.

  • They can’t sell: Someone who works within their own interest can talk your ear off about any and every single part of what they are trying to sell. They will be your best expert.
  • They are only good with computers, or other similar skills: Neurodivergent people have interests that range across an infinite number of topics creating diverse sets of skills in a wide range of fields.
  • They aren’t good at talking to people: Neurodivergent people can be GREAT conversationalists, especially when they are talking about subjects they are passionate about. Just like anyone else, as long as they are comfortable in their environment and have the right accommodations, you can expect to talk to them just like you do anyone else.

Now is the time to open up your hiring practices and workplaces to the neurodiverse. EVERYONE is “differently-abled”. We all have our strengths and challenges. Different thinkers can be your best employees if you are welcoming, open to learning, and willing to ask questions.

Good Luck!

Andrew Komarow, MSFS CFP® AEP® AIF® BFA™ CAP® CASL® CHFC® ChSNC® CLU® FSCP® REBC® RHU® RICP®

and

Becca Lory Hector, CAS, BCCS – Director of Individual Empowerment and Employee Wellness.


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