By Guy Higgins

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review, Neurodiversity: The Benefits of Recruiting Employees with Cognitive Disabilities. I’ve posted on cognitive diversity (which the article does discuss – from the perspective of cognitive disabilities) before but had never considered this aspect of cognitive diversity, and I found the article to be very interesting. I also think that the work done in this area is only a small beginning and that there remains much to be learned.

The article provides some background on the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – between one and one-and-a-half percent of the population suffers from some degree of ASD. Many of those people test out with above average IQ’s and some even have patents to their credit. They do not, however, have the social skills that hiring authorities emphasize. That brings me to an idea that I’ve discussed in this forum before – hiring people for:

  • The actual job you want them to do – not the job that the last person was doing
  • Their skills, abilities and potential – even if, sometimes, they don’t fit the job

Thanks, in part to Dale Carnegie and his seminal book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, society has placed a premium on extroverted behavior. We also often fall victim to the halo bias – we project superior capabilities and knowledge onto tall, attractive people. Those factors result in a skewed pattern of hiring taller, more attractive extroverts – a trend that does not lend itself to creating a cognitively diverse (or neurodiverse) workforce.

As I’ve written before, companies that have developed cognitively diverse workforces have demonstrated consistently superior performance. It now appears that additional gains may be obtained by leveraging neurodiverse workers even though they may not possess the social skills that have become some kind of hiring threshold. Note: social skills are important when work is to be a team endeavor – or when there is direct customer interface – but not all work is necessarily appropriate for a team (Gustav Eiffel was not part of team when he designed his eponymous tower), and not all work requires interaction with customers. In fact, the article mentions software code review and testing as an area in which ADS-diagnosed persons with limited social skills have excelled.

As I frequently comment, taking advantage of cognitive (including neuro) diversity is hard work. It’s always easier to be part of the pack than to do the extra work to take the lead and get superior results.




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