Earlier this year the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) the professional body for HR and people development in collaboration with Uptimise, a firm which helps organisations attract and leverage neuro diverse talent, produced an excellent guide on Neurodiversity at Work. Simply described the recognition and respecting of different ways of thinking due to autism, dyslexia, ADHD, etc. and consider these various neurological conditions as result of normal variations in the human genome.
This blog explores the key learnings and how they may be applied to the Financial Services industry. More specifically, we want to look towards Investment Management, and helping raise awareness of the importance and benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace.
Key points from Neurodiversity at Work
The business case for diversity in general is now accepted. Organisations now challenge each other with innovation and vie for competitive advantage. As a consequence, there are significant risks of being left behind and one of these is not including people with different ways of thinking or actively leveraging different thinking styles. The Neurodiversity at Work guide points to a clear comparison between man and machine. Unlike a machine, the human brain cannot be determined as ‘fixed’ or ‘broken’; it might just have a different way of operating.
The guide focuses on forms of ‘innate neurodivergence’ such as Autism and ADHD; effectively a further pillar of Diversity and Inclusion that seeks to embrace the talents of people who think differently. Neurodiversity is not something binary but rather a range of differences in brain function and behaviours. We need to move away from stereotypical thinking of neurological conditions. The “negative and medicalised language has dominated the lexicon – witness the very terms ‘autism spectrum disorder’ and the double negative in ‘ADHD’. The size of this talent pool should not be underestimated, as the guide reports the overall population of neurominorities is greater than 10%.
Neurodiversity in action
According to the report, lessons can be learned from the JPMorgan, EY, Google, Microsoft, SAP, Ford and Amazon who all have, or are developing, neurodiversity initiatives with some more advanced than others.
“Around 80% to 90% of autistic people are unemployed,” says James Mahoney, executive director and head of autism at work at J.P. Morgan. “For us, that’s a talent pool. If you look at areas like technology – there’s a huge shortage of good people with high-level skills. It’s a sector that we know many autistic people excel in.”
In 2016 EY launched a neurodiversity program in Philadelphia to hire people on the autism spectrum to serve as Account Support Associates (ASAs). Sam Briefer, one of the first hires under the neurodiversity program said: “We bring something to the table that a lot of people cannot. We are very detail-oriented. We analyse things in a very specific way, and we are good with numbers. And we see things slightly differently, which means we can come up with new and innovative ways of doing things.”
Enterprise software firm SAP has committed 1% of its workforce made up of those on the Autistic spectrum by 2020 – reflecting the percentage of the global population that is Autistic. It’s Autism at Work programme launched in 2013, and the company has transformed the way it recruits and trains staff to be as inclusive as possible. “We had to develop so many processes from scratch because we didn’t want to use standard HR processes,” says Stefanie Nennstiel, senior director of diversity and inclusion at SAP. “Someone with autism would not survive the traditional interview process, for example, so we had to be more creative.”
Action for Investment Management industry to take
So, what can the Investment Management industry do to harness this talent and be neurodiversity smart?
Clearly there needs to be commitment to neurodiversity from the top of the organisation which then must cascade and be communicated so that this vital group can be integrated into the culture of the firm. Review of workplaces, hiring process and management practices is essential; given the fundamental changes the industry has faced over the last few years, I would hope this would be seen as a further change worth making.
The cost of inaction for Investment Management might be vast, and if you’re pondering when your organisation might adopt a neurodiversity policy, just ask yourself these two questions:
- What will it cost you not to get the most out of your employees in terms of productivity, or to lose talent to more inclusive, attractive employers?
- What will it mean for your product innovation to miss out on the ‘diversity of thought’ that neurodiversity can deliver, and that other firms are setting themselves up to benefit from?
And then you might want to speak to your senior management team or HR, or both.