When building diverse workplace, don’t overlook those with autism (and other neurodiverse individuals)

The latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics had good news — especially for New Jersey, which added 20,300 new jobs in August.

Despite this, companies here in the Garden State and across the country are still struggling to hire workers.

It begs the question: Why are so many employers — including ones who say they’re committed to diversity hiring — having trouble filling vacant positions?

Complicating the answer to this question is the significant number of neurodiverse adults (i.e., individuals on the autism spectrum and other intellectual disabilities) who want to work but aren’t being hired. The unemployment rate for this group is a whopping 85%.

The talent pool is fruitful if employers abandon bias and start taking steps toward diversity and neurodiversity hiring. Here’s some advice to get started:

Don’t make assumptions

Assuming that an individual is incapable of doing his or her job well because they are neurodiverse is short-sighted and can mean missing out on some great candidates. Every employer is looking for talented employees, and it’s been a challenge to find and hold onto talented employees during the pandemic. Neurodiverse individuals represent a sizable population of untapped talent that may be a great fit for your organization.

Create a supportive work environment

Approach diversity hiring like you would any other type of hiring: as an organizational investment. Be willing to accommodate the differences you might experience with neurodiverse individuals and provide the necessary training to make this investment successful. Avoid labeling differences between neurodiverse employees and other employees as a negative or bad thing. It’s healthy for an organization to have a diverse workforce.

Practice patience

Everyone goes through a learning curve with a new job. So why would you expect anything different from any employee you hire? I’ve personally witnessed the professional growth of our neurodiverse CentralReach employees. Their family and friends have also shared how much these employees’ lives have changed as a result of their jobs. None of this happened overnight. It took time, but it’s definitely worth the wait.

Knowledge is power with technology to help

An employer may want to hire and onboard someone with a disability but may lack the experience or knowledge to do so successfully, creating a hesitation to start. However, there are many government agencies, programs and even technology that can help. All employees need tools to do their jobs.

Tech innovation has led to an array of solutions at our fingertips that support different functions, communication methods and learning styles. Investing in cutting-edge technology, like assistive technology, can enable an employer to provide the necessary guidance, input, reinforcement and specificity in a scalable way to help neurodiverse individuals do their jobs successfully.

Take a risk

I wouldn’t blame an organization for not hiring a neurodiverse candidate if the candidate didn’t meet the hiring manager’s criteria. But, not exploring the potential of hiring a neurodiverse individual in the first place can both hurt the business and the neurodiverse. There’s a wealth of talent that’s just waiting to be discovered. Inclusive businesses grow profits up to three times faster than their competitors, according to the Ontario Disability Employment Network.

Big-name companies such as Ernst & Young and Walgreens have benefitted from hiring neurodiverse adults. So does CentralReach. Neurodiverse employees have contributed to some of the biggest milestones we’ve reached here.

While many organizations celebrate diversity in obvious ways, I’d like to see them take the next step and invest in a neurodiverse workforce. There are skill sets to be leveraged in every individual, and a neurodiverse candidate could have the strengths you are looking for. It’s time for employers to do more than talk about diversity hiring. Their organization will be better off for it.

Chris Sullens is CEO of CentralReach, a health care technology company that is the leading provider of electronic medical record software and services for applied behavior analysis and related behavioral health practices.