As leaders realize that workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is good for employees and business, Australian-based organizations are exploring how to bring more neurodiversity into the workplace.
Globally, Forrester researchers found that diverse organizations were more profitable and innovative, and did a better job of retaining top talent. Gartner analysts said that companies in many industries have tied DEI goals into numerous organizational activities such as employee pipelines and compensation and supply chain partnerships. However, an article in The Age reported that although one in 59 people was on the autism spectrum, 32% of working age Australians with autism were unemployed. Experts explored the importance of creating neurodiverse workplaces during a recent episode of The Best Run Podcast by SAP ANZ, hosted by Rushenka Perera, head of Marketing at SAP ANZ.
Understanding Neurodiversity Beyond Labels
Andrew Eddy, CEO of Untapped Holdings, said that neurodiversity was coined by a Sydney-based sociologist to describe the infinite neuro-cognitive variability across people. It’s currently used to describe people with neurological differences such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, PTSD, and Tourette’s Syndrome. Untapped is a social enterprise focused on developing a neurodiverse employment ecosystem to increase opportunities for people with autism. Working with corporate partners, like SAP, as well as educators, researchers, parents, and students, Untapped created the Neurodiversity Hub initiative, working with universities and colleges to foster educational and employment inclusion.
“Neurodiversity is really about extending the level of diversity that we have in the workplace because we are all neurodiverse in some way – we all have different ways of thinking,” he said. “See it as a way of intentionally broadening the diversity of thought and ways of thinking that we already have in the workplace, extending that further and being more inclusive of people that have those labels.”
Neurodiverse People Add Business Capabilities
According to Eddy, it’s important for organizations to look at neurodiversity from a business-capability perspective, rather than just through an inclusion and diversity lens.
“We go into a company and talk to the business people and talent acquisition about the potential gaps in the capabilities of the business and how some of those gaps could be filled by a group of individuals who have some great talents, including loyalty – being very sticky employees – with a very focused approach to the way they do their work, a different way of seeing things, attention to detail, and great memory,” he said.
Neurodiversity Impacts Entire Workforce
SAP expanded its global Autism at Work program to SAP ANZ, where neurodiverse people have joined the region’s finance, development and coding, and project management teams. The impact has been profound on both the business overall and numerous teams.
“We wanted to diversify our talent and the benefits they could bring to our organization,” said Sehida Frawley, head of Services at SAP ANZ. “The positive benefits are not just what those individuals contribute to our business, but what it’s [also] done to change team working relationships…It’s influenced all of our communication skills, how you nurture and develop individuals and consider their different needs.”
For example, after introducing neurodiverse interns into an SAP ANZ office, one manager’s adjusted communication strategies created a more open environment for the entire team to work more effectively together.
How to Start a Workplace Neurodiversity Program
As more people identify as neurodivergent, some companies are responding with inclusive talent recruitment strategies, including graduate and internship programs. Establishing a sustainable neurodiversity program begins with upper management support.
“You need to have that senior sponsorship, which is certainly something SAP has done, running this as an important program with passionate people like Sehida taking that role,” said Eddy. “The next thing is how do you start to change the culture…It’s not a choice to employ neurodiverse people. They’re already there. Many companies are expanding existing programs to have an employee resource group that’s focused on neurodiversity.”
Eddy also recommended including neurodiverse awareness in employee training and education programs.
Diversity Powers Innovation for Customer Transformation
Neurodiverse workplaces are not just about doing something good. There is also the larger business impact. Frawley said that the Autism at Work program at SAP was driven by the company’s global diversity and inclusion mission, along with meeting the demands of a fiercely competitive talent marketplace.
“Our business is about assisting our customers to innovate and transform…You can’t always have the same way of doing things and the same ideas,” she said. “It’s really important that we broaden our pool of talent so we can bring that diversity of thought and approach so we can innovate and transform…and drive that with our customers.”
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This blog also appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.