Attracting a diverse workforce is a goal in most company cultures. A growing body of research is emphasizing the need not just for gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace, but thought diversity, as well. Salient CRGT recently discussed their program for bringing in neurodiverse interns, and also how they’re working to provide resources and accomodation for neurodiverse employees and their families.
“Diversity programs as a whole have been a part of corporate America for decades,” said Kay Curling, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Salient CRGT. “We understand what diversity means as far as gender or ethnicity, or religious preference – it’s a dialogue that has been had for many decades and that we understand.”
What’s emerging for many workplaces, noted Curling, is the notion of neurodiversity – how can companies attract and retain professionals who may be diverse in the way they think and process information? She notes that every employee is wired differently – and how those individuals adapt to the workplace may be different, as well. And that requires deliberate thought and action on the part of companies.
“We’re not trying to fix people,” said Curling. “We’re not trying to label them or fix them. We’re trying to find suitable work for them and help them cope and thrive in an environment. That’s what we want for all of our employees. What we’re seeing in this neurodiverse movement from an employer perspective is the ability to have the conversation and be able to adapt our environment, our way of thinking, our processes and our policies in a way that is the most inclusive of everyone.”
Aggressive Inclusiveness from interviews and beyond
Salient CRGT has an aggressive strategy of inclusiveness. It includes partnering with a local high school to bring in neurodiverse interns to work in its offices year round. It also works with career coaches to help onboard some of those students into positions. And it offers a unique benefit to its employees – Rethink. Rethink works with companies, their employees, and their families, offering a variety of resources to empower individuals with developmental disabilities such as autism, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Down syndrome.
“We started partnering with a local high school to have students do school internships in our workplace,” said Curling. “We were providing an environment to help them build their skills for future employment.” As students pursue technical training after high school, Salient CRGT works with career counselors to help position those students for success in the workplace. Salient CRGT draws on a host of resources to make its workforce accommodating, from direct interaction with the student, to the school, career coaches, Rethink, and even other organizations in the community. The need for accommodation also bears out in hiring practices.
“You can’t use a traditional form of an interview,” said Curling. “Many of the individuals that we’re talking about in this neurodiverse potential employee set, communication skills don’t marry with our expectations of a typical interview. Whether they don’t establish eye contact, or shake hands, they’re not comfortable in a typical interview setting.”
In addition to changing the way it thinks about success in the interview process, Salient CRGT also looks at what small changes could be made to make office interaction better for neurodiverse professionals. Mike Civello, founder and vice president of ReThink, notes many companies find that relatively small changes make a big impact.
“It’s less thinking about neurodiversity in a silo – it’s thinking about ‘what does your company represent?’ Are you inclusive, or are you not?” said Civello. Just as companies make accommodations for individuals with physical disabilities, there are changes they can make to attract individuals who may not fit into a traditional office environment.
“We like to focus on reasonable accommodation,” said Civello. “What is a reasonable accommodation for someone to thrive in this workplace, that might have some specific needs that are a little bit different than what you’re dealing with?”
He emphasizes it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Companies need to decide for themselves what that might look like – can an employee video conference into a meeting and email notes, rather than participating verbally? Can a certain office set up be established to eliminate distractions?
When the Neurodiverse Employee is the Best Employee
And while it may sound altruistic for companies to reach out to diverse employees, it’s also pragmatic – particularly in the competitive IT industry.
“The IT industry is always looking for new talent pools,” said Curling. “We have a growing need to find talent, and some of the things we do in the IT industry can be rather mundane or boring for folks, which creates high turnover.” The intense focus and monotony of positions such as code testing and debugging can make it difficult to attract long-term hires to those fields. Curling notes neurodiverse individuals general thrive in those intense-focus positions, which benefits the industry and the community.
And that’s where the need to adapt hiring practices comes in – because all too often neurodiverse individuals are weeded out in a traditional interview.
“Eighty percent of adults with autism – with a four-year degree – are unemployed in their field of study or unemployed all together – they’re getting weeded out of the interview process too early,” said Civello. “They would probably be a much better and longer term fit.”
Curling and Civello both note that companies generally already have the tools to make their company a good fit for neurodiverse professionals – it’s simply starting the conversations required to make it happen. Making a company a great fit for neurodiverse professionals also makes it a better workplace for everyone.
“..we learn how to adapt with each unique individual, just as we would with other team members,” said Curling.