Neurodiversity is a term coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s to describe neurological differences in the human brain. To date, it has generally been viewed as a disability by the medical sector. But the neurodiverse could be part of the solution to improving productivity and innovation for businesses.

How our brains are wired impacts on how we process and experience the world around us. Different thinking and different emotions drive different types of behaviour. Everyone’s brain wiring comes from learnt experiences – what we are born with, our genetics and how we’ve developed over time. Even though we think we all live in the same world, we don’t. We all live in our world. We filter the world all the time based on our brain wiring. Ultimately, there is no “normal” brain wiring – we all have different brains and are all, to some degree, neurodiverse with a little “n”. When we understand how we tick, and what makes other people tick, this enables everyone to “get” each other, leading to higher performing teams.

Neurodiversity, differentiated here with a big “N”, includes ADHD, ADD, autism, dyslexia, OCD and many more, which do mean thinking and making decisions differently. It’s important to know that approximately 40 percent of your current workforce will most likely be Neurodiverse. The good news is that what is good for the Neurodiverse is good for neurotypical people too.

When recruiting, we need to be aware of the challenges of this brain wiring as people may also have significant life-interrupting challenges. For example, difficulty reading and understanding social cues, which often leads to social awkwardness, social isolation, anxiety, depression and far too often, suicidal ideation. People can be sensitive to light, sound and touch, and might find strong foods or noises completely overwhelming.

Ultimately, there is no “normal” brain wiring – we all have different brains and are all, to some degree, neurodiverse with a little “n”.

Currently, many businesses recruit people who reflect themselves – we’re attracted to people who behave in a way that is familiar or useful to our world view. Therefore, we can often focus on the negative and discount people who don’t present in that traditional, expected way. We might dismiss a candidate who seems scruffy or vague, doesn’t maintain eye contact, has a limp handshake or makes us feel uncomfortable. But we could be turning down the next Steve Wozniak, or someone with autistic strengths making them gifted at analysis or with memory or learning or processing information.

It's World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April, with the aim of recognising and spreading awareness of the rights of people with autism. Skills such as being data driven can come easily to people with autism, but they may be paired with controlling traits. It’s important to understand brain wiring and how the environment can support underused and overused strengths. Sadly, despite having amazing talents, autistic candidates are often either unemployed or underemployed, due to traditional recruitment methods.

In this competitive job market, traditional recruitment procedures can decrease your candidate and skills pool. Welcoming Neurodiverse candidates means a bigger and more productive (autistic brain wiring) and innovative (ADHD brain wiring) candidate pool. There are different barriers for job seekers depending on brain wiring, but removing these has significant benefits as JPMorgan Chase & Co demonstrated: autistic employees can be 40–138 percent more productive in a well-supported, neurodiversity-educated workplace, as they do not focus on social interactions. Autistic employees can also onboard in half the time of neurotypical employees with good systems and processes in place.

When we take an innovative and neurodiverse approach to recruitment, we will ensure greater job and business success when we can identify best brain wiring for roles; write job descriptions and ads to attract Neurodiverse candidates; create assessments for this brain wiring while being conscious of biases; onboard in a way that best suits brain profile, ensuring greater retention and success for the individual, team and organisation.

The first step is to educate employees about neurodiversity. Like all change initiatives, to ensure success they must be driven from the top. This is what the NQ (Neurodiversity) Pledge does. It’s a values-based undertaking for CEOs to visibly demonstrate commitment to creating true psychological safety, visibility and inclusion of Neurodiverse individuals in the workplace and community.

Then take a neurodiverse lens to your business strategy, KPIs, procedures, support tools and communication methods. The NQ Stocktake can help you with assessment and recommend how you can foster a sense of belonging for all employees.

With 25 years in learning and development and a recent ADHD and dyslexia diagnosis, Natasya Jones co-founded DivergenThinking to create opportunities for neurodiverse people.

This article was first published in the March 2023 issue of EG magazine.