As you delve into this article, we bring you thought-provoking insights that emerged from the virtual roundtable discussion organized by the nasscom diversity and inclusion initiative in India during World Autism Awareness Month.
The roundtable was attended by around 10 global tech firms, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion(DEI) leaders and founders of organizations like Neurogifted, Atypical Advantage, Orchvate, and Cognitivebotis, dedicated to the domain of neurodiversity and disability advocacy.
Now let's go deep into this transformative discussion, unveiling seven best practices that can help you develop the right framework for neuro-inclusion within your organization.
Before we get started, let's gain clarity on what neurodiversity entails.
Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways. There is no 'right' way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.
The word neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people. It is often used in the context of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities.
- Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School
Despite the efforts made by DEI experts to promote diversity in the workplace, it's surprising how often organizations overlook the importance of hiring neurodivergent talent. However, the inclusion of neurodivergent talents in a team can truly be beneficial for organizations. This vibrant mix fuels creativity and opens doors to unconventional, out-of-the-box solutions for any problem that may arise.
#1. Breaking Free from the One Size Fits All Approach
Hiring managers need to customize job descriptions and evaluation criteria to accommodate the unique abilities of neurodivergent individuals truly.
Job description: Use simple and clear language. Break down paragraphs into points to enhance clarity and avoid any ambiguity. Focus on including only the essential skills and qualifications required for the position while leaving out irrelevant requirements. This approach helps neurodiverse candidates evaluate and understand the expectations clearly.
Interview process: The process should be tailored to create a comfortable environment. During our interviews with a group of candidates with autism, they expressed that speaking to them softly, gently, and with patience makes them comfortable and efficient. The best approach is to ask direct and relevant questions specifically related to the required skills. Avoid behavioral or abstract questions such as 'Tell me about yourself' or 'Where do you see yourself in five years'. Instead, directly ask about their hobbies if you want to know them or ask specific questions about their academic background.
Taking care of these nuances during the interview will help create a positive first impression and an open and comfortable environment.
#2. Onboarding process
It's important to recognize the unique needs of neurodivergent employees. Conducting specialist assessments can provide valuable insights and help tailor support accordingly. Additionally, direct discussions with neurodivergent employees about their comfort levels and preferences regarding standard onboarding activities can ensure a more inclusive and accommodating experience. Knowing about what makes them uncomfortable is very important. It can be a word or a color, or a situation. The more you know, the better it is to plan.
#3. Specialized training
To address the shortage of neurodivergent talent in the IT industry, many organizations have collaborated to provide specialized training to the candidates. These initiatives not only contribute to reducing unemployment rates among neurodivergent individuals but also enable organizations to tap into a new pool of talent that brings diverse perspectives—helping them unlock a spectrum of creativity and innovation.
One such collaboration is the TestingPro initiative by Action for Autism, Atypical Advantage, and Nagarro in India, with support from nasscom. This program trains individuals with autism to become professional software testers and offers them placement opportunities. The TestingPro program was initially launched in Austria in 2016 by Nagarro in partnership with Specialsterne, a Danish social nonprofit organization. It has already gained recognition, winning prestigious awards such as the 'Constantinus Award' and the 'eAward' for IT and Business.
Through these collaborative efforts, organizations are actively building a newer workforce with higher levels of reliability, deeper focus, attention to detail, and numerous other valuable traits.
#4. Empowering with the Right Tools
At times, individuals with autism may face additional challenges, such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, or Dysgraphia. Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading, Dyspraxia affects movement and coordination, language and speech, and Dysgraphia, a specific learning disability that impacts handwriting and fine motor skills.
To address these challenges, providing neurodivergent individuals with communication tools or language checker tools like Grammarly, Ginger, Hemmingway Editor, or similar tools can greatly enhance their communication within their teams.
One such tool is Microsoft's Immersive Reader in OneNote, which is specifically designed to support students with dyslexia and dysgraphia in the classroom, but it can benefit anyone who wants to make reading on their device easier. It offers features like text-to-speech, customizable font sizes and colors, and syllable breakdown, catering to individuals with dyslexia or other reading challenges.
In India, companies like Cognitivebotics are harnessing the power of AI, ML, and NLP to develop digital learning modules specifically tailored for individuals with ASD. These solutions provide personalized learning experiences, adaptive feedback, and support, enabling students with ASD as well as their parents or caregivers to effectively plan their learning and development.
#5. Inclusive Internships
Leading organizations have implemented internship programs tailor-made for neurodivergent talent, including individuals with ASD and other learning or intellectual disabilities. These internships, ranging from contractual to full-time positions, offer valuable exposure and skill development opportunities for neurodivergent candidates.
These programs involve assessing candidate capabilities, identifying suitable job roles, and providing ongoing support with dedicated job coaches. The recommended coaching ratio is 1:5 (one coach for five individuals), with a maximum limit of 7 individuals per coach for optimal guidance.
In 2020, Thomson Reuters introduced the Autism Spectrum Internship program, successfully welcoming over 40 neurodivergent interns. These interns contribute to various teams within Thomson Reuters, such as content, human resources, technology, and finance, gaining valuable experience and fostering their career aspirations.
#6. Creating Exclusive Centers of Excellence
To promote an inclusive and empowering work environment, IT organizations embrace the best practice of establishing dedicated Centers of Excellence (COE) for hiring and onboarding neurodivergent talent. These COEs focus on developing essential skills and creating an inclusive and empowering work environment where neurodivergent individuals can thrive and excel in their careers.
An example of this approach is the neurodiversity program Ernst & Young (EY) initiated in 2016, establishing their first Neurodiversity Centre of Excellence (NCoE) in Philadelphia. Since then, EY has expanded the NCoE network globally. These NCoEs create supportive work environments that foster technological innovation, introduce a new dimension of creativity, and promote greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Currently, these six NCoEs cater to the unique needs of over 100 professionals with cognitive challenges.
Many global organizations have also established Neurodivergent (ND) focused Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). ERGs are employee-led groups created to foster a supportive environment for employees, parents, or caregivers. These ND-focused ERGs serve as a safe space where individuals can feel comfortable, share common challenges, and provide mutual support. These groups are vital in raising awareness about neurodiversity and suggest best practices for implementing changes.
#7. Inclusive Workplace and Environment
To retain neurodiverse talent, organizations must cultivate an inclusive and comfortable work environment. The initial step is to conduct sensitization sessions for the project leaders and team members working with neurodivergent employees.
Creating an inclusive workplace involves strategic desk placements away from high-traffic areas and minimizing loud noises. Office space designers should also consider incorporating soft lighting in these areas to enhance the comfort of neurodivergent individuals.
The integration of neurodivergent talent within the IT industry is a transformative journey that requires a commitment to inclusivity and continuous improvement. By including these seven best practices, organizations can create an environment where neurodiverse individuals are not just included but appreciated for their unique perspectives and abilities.
Let's create a future where diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords but core values that drive success and innovation in the IT world.