Why neurodiversity is a competitive advantage


Most of us find job interviews stressful, but for Lisa Rose Jepson it’s a particular ordeal. As a person with autism and dyspraxia, she prefers to think deeply rather than give spontaneous answers, and she finds that makes it hard to sell herself. She has heightened sensory responsiveness, too. If the lights are too bright or the interviewer is wearing a strong perfume, it can prove overwhelming. Like many autistic people, she is most in her element when the rules are clear and the setting is predictable, but job interviews are typically the arena of the unknown, and even small surprises can be catastrophically distracting. “I once went into an interview thinking there would be about three people, and there were 10 people all spaced around the room,” she recalls. “As soon as something like that happens, I just think: ‘I’m not getting this job.’”

Research estimates that more than 15 percent of the population are neurodivergent. This umbrella term includes conditions including autism, dyspraxia, ADHD, and dyslexia, and many live with more than one neurodivergent condition. Yet the conventions of the world of work—recruitment processes, office environments, face-to-face meetings, management techniques—are geared towards neurotypical brains. In the past, Jepson has often struggled after accepting a post. “I usually go for data-related roles, but never really quite fit in,” she says. “In appraisals, I am always ‘too’ something—’too loud’, ‘too quiet’, ‘too direct’, ‘too honest’. I’ve been made redundant twice.”

Her experience is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Neurodivergent traits come with an array of challenges, and all individuals will have their own experiences. However, many find that the strain of masking their true selves, or having to meet expectations that don’t come naturally, can be so exhausting it leads to problems such as anxiety and depression. According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, only 29 percent of autistic adults are in full time employment.

A number of businesses are attempting to solve this problem. While driven partly by improving social justice, that’s not the whole story. For some organisations, this is a conversation less about challenges and more about strengths. Because for all the difficulties associated with neurodivergent traits, they also grant those who possess them a set of skills that are in short supply and commercially invaluable.

Why neurodiversity is good for business

“While there is no one ‘type’ of neurodivergent person, we tend to find that skills often congregate in certain areas,” says Alison Kay, Managing Partner, EMEIA at professional services firm EY. “Their skills can be in creativity and empathy, or more analytical and data-led—analytical thinking, complex problem-solving, programming, ideation, hyper-focus. It varies from person to person.”

EY is one company which is actively recruiting individuals who self-identify with neuro-cognitive differences. In 2016, the firm set up a Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence in Philadelphia. Today, it has 19 centres globally, and last year opened its first UK & Ireland Centre in Manchester. These aim to fuel innovation and meet EY and its clients’ business needs specifically in emerging technologies such as data science, AI, and cybersecurity. The Centres are designed to create an enabling and supportive workplace for neurodivergent people, particularly those who previously may have found it hard to gain and retain employment. Jepson is one of the Manchester Centre’s employees. She works there as a Technology Consultant, and says that her neurodivergent traits have helped her excel. “I can hyper-focus, I’m really good at spotting patterns in data, or a lack of patterns in data,” she says. “And I’m super curious. I describe myself as being like an annoying two-year-old: I keep asking ‘why’ until I get an answer.”


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