Davos Agenda

Employers now see neurodiversity as a strength in the workplace. Here's why

Employers can create more neurodiversity friendly by adjusting workspaces to cater for sensory needs.

Employers can create more neurodiversity friendly by adjusting workspaces to cater for sensory needs. Image: Unsplash/Redd F

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • 10-20% of the world’s population is estimated to be neurodivergent. Common neurodiverse conditions include autism, ADHD, dyslexia and Tourette’s syndrome.
  • 85% of people with autism in the US are unemployed, according to Deloitte.
  • Many of the world’s biggest companies are now actively recruiting neurodiverse workers in order to benefit from their unique skills and abilities.

Each year on 2 April the United Nations (UN) observes World Autism Awareness Day. The focus in 2023 was on the contribution autistic people make at work, as well as in their families and communities.

“We must do better – by promoting inclusive education, equal employment opportunities, self-determination, and an environment where every person is respected,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his message to mark the day.

Breaking down neurodiversity barriers

Between 10-20% of the world’s population is estimated to be neurodiverse, according to Deloitte. This term includes conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia and Tourette’s syndrome. And 85% of people with autism in the United States are unemployed, compared to just 4.2% of the overall population, says the consultancy and auditing firm.

But following decades of stigma around people with neurodiverse conditions, it appears that employers’ attitudes to this talented minority are changing. Deloitte says that workplaces with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be as much as 30% more productive. “Abilities such as visual thinking, attention to detail, pattern recognition, visual memory, and creative thinking can help illuminate ideas or opportunities teams might otherwise have missed,” it says.

Infographic displaying the strengths of neurodivergent people.
Neurodiverse people bring many skills and abilities to the workplace. Image: LSE

A neurodiversity call to action

At the end of 2022, more than 150 CEOs called on their peers to support disability inclusion initiatives. In the letter outlining their concerns they also stated that inclusive businesses stand to increase revenue by as much as 28% and enjoy almost a third higher profit margins than their competitors, reported Disability: IN.

“Over one billion people have a disability across the globe – and it is a strength. We are leveraging this – by hiring inclusively, contracting with disability-owned business enterprises, and creating accessible tools and technology for all. We do this because it’s the right thing to do and it makes good business sense,” the CEOs said.

Businesses backing better neurodiversity inclusion

Some of the world’s biggest companies are now actively looking to hire neurodiverse workers and provide appropriate support once they gain employment.

German IT company SAP has been running an Autism at Work programme since 2013. The company says it has a 90% retention rate for employees it hires who are on the autistic spectrum, due to the special system of support it offers.

The programme employs 217 people across 17 countries. “We want SAP to be a truly diverse workplace that reflects our society in all its facets and richness. Fostering an inclusive culture where employees can thrive and feel valued, respected, and included is key, as is understanding and learning how our differences make us stronger,” says CEO Christian Klein.

JPMorgan Chase created an Office of Disability Inclusion in 2016, which helps match neurodiverse candidates to jobs that complement their abilities and skills. “Our results show dramatically decreased error rates, improved morale with our neurotypical teammates and a more accepting, inclusive culture amongst these teams of neurodiverse/neurotypical colleagues,” explains Bryan Gill, global head of the US financial services company’s Office of Disability Inclusion.

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Accounting firm EY has developed neurodiversity centres of excellence to encourage workplace inclusion and collaboration. As well as supporting the hiring process, these include job coaches who are trained to help neurodiverse colleagues cope with working in a business environment and also learn how to navigate interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

How to help neurodiversity flourish

Experts say more organizations need to rethink traditional workplace processes to enable neurodiverse workers to thrive and therefore benefit businesses. Here are some tips from the Harvard Medical School on ways employers can make their workplaces more neurodiversity friendly:

  • Offer to adjust workspaces to cater for sensory needs
  • Try to use a clearer style of communication, both verbal and written
  • Make sure workplace etiquette guidelines are clear
  • Give advance notice about any change of plans
  • Ascertain an employee’s individual needs and goals
  • Always try to be kind and patient
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What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

Making workplaces more equitable and inclusive

More than two-thirds of businesses surveyed by the World Economic Forum for its Future of Jobs 2023 report now have a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programme. Of the larger companies, those with more than 50,000 employees, 92 % report the presence of a DEI initiative.

Accelerating economic equity is one of the core themes at the Forum’s Growth Summit 2-3 May 2023. The event at its Geneva headquarters brings together leaders from both the private and public spheres to tackle current challenges through collaboration and collective action.

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