Building and Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Claire Hastwell

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CLAIRE HASTWELL

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The word neurodiversity is a portmanteau of “neurological” and “diversity” which was first coined in the 1990s by an Australian social scientist Judy Singer, who is herself on the autism spectrum. This refers to the concept that certain developmental disorders are actually normal variations in the brain. According to pyschologytoday.com, this is often contrasted with the “medical model” that views these conditions as disorders, which offers less room for acceptance and inclusion, and focuses on the treatment, cure or prevention. It has gained significant ground in recent years in its awareness and appreciation, particularly among advocacy communities in Singapore. 

Today, top organizations not just in Singapore but around the globe are finally embracing neurodiversity in their workplaces. They have come to understand that true diversity of thought on a team can provide critical competitive advantage.

 

Imagine this scene: You’re interviewing a potential candidate for a role as a developer with your company. The candidate seems to have the skills you need but also displays a few social eccentricities – perhaps he has a tick, or rocks back and forth in his seat, or won’t make eye contact. 

For decades, potential hires like this have been rejected from the candidate pool. “Poor culture fit” has typically been the rationale. 

But what if in the hunt for the “right culture fit,” you’re rejecting an entire pool of highly qualified – maybe even the best qualified — workers? 

An untapped pool of potential

For those living on the autism spectrum, finding a job suited to their skillset can be an immense challenge. In fact, Drexel University’s National Autism Indicators Report says 51% of workers on the spectrum have skills higher than what their job requires. Meanwhile, fewer than one in six adults with autism even has full-time employment. 

Michael Ando is on the autism spectrum and an employee at EY. He told the audience at the Great Place to Work company culture conference about autistic friends with advanced degrees who could only get jobs dishwashing, cashiering, or working in warehouses. 

“All of these jobs are fine, but if you have spent years getting degrees … it’s a shame and a waste they weren’t able to use them,” he said. 

But some workplaces are purposely seeking out cognitive diversity. Michael, for example, was hired under EY’s neurodiversity program. 

In Singapore, only 31.4% of the total number persons with disabilities including those with Autism are employed while 3% are without work. A huge chunk of this population is outside the labor force, either they are students or part of the ageing population. However, we might see these figures soon change over the next few years as the student population begins to enter the workforce. 

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiverse individuals are those with developmental disabilities such as autism, ADHD, and social anxiety disorders. 

However, there’s a growing understanding that these individuals aren’t disabled per se, but rather differently abled. While they may struggle with social skills, they tend to have above-average abilities when it comes to things like analysis, information processing, and pattern recognition. 

Advantages of neurodiversity in the workplace

Building a neurodiverse workforce is advantageous because neurodiverse people possess the skills particularly needed right now as businesses adopt more advanced technology. For example, artificial intelligence and robotics, and the demand for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) talent increases. 

Hiren Shukla, Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence leader at EY, explained how processes that took two to three hours were reduced to just two minutes, thanks to programming by members of their neurodiverse workforce. These employees were able to see inefficiencies that neurotypical employees had either become used to or had never even noticed. 

“Their thought process and their delivery are different to what we are used to,” Hiren said. 

Kate Griggs, founder and CEO of Made By Dyslexia, shared that creativity, imagination, and intuition are what set human talents apart from machines in the age of automation and digitization. For example, people with Dyslexia have a different way of processing information, or what Griggs refers to as Dyslexic Thinking. This atypical way of thinking results in creativity, innovation, and big picture thinking—some of the top in-demand competencies within the next five years. 

Organizations can benefit greatly from understanding and valuing neurodiversity. It provides an opportunity to bridge the skills gap of the future. 

But a strong neurodiversity program isn’t just beneficial to employees on the spectrum. In EY’s case, not only have they been able to find great talent, but they’ve also created better managers who look at individual needs. 

It’s also helped with company-wide communication. Managers now avoid abstract language, use shorter words, and give more specific instructions — clarity that has benefited everyone. 

How to build a neurodiverse workforce

1. Get buy-in from all levels

Engage with leadership so that they, in turn, can have conversations with their teams about what it means to have a neurodiverse workforce. 

It’s important that these conversations are open and transparent. It needs to be a safe space for both neurotypical employees to ask questions and for neurodiverse employees to come forward and disclose. 

Indeed, according to Psychology Today, the emergence and rise of the neurodiversity enterprise resource groups (ERGs) is perhaps the most significant to the growth of neurodiversity at work—perhaps even more significant than early autism hiring programs. ERGs not only provide support for neurodivergent talents but drive “neuroinclusive” initiatives in all areas of the enterprise. 

2. Engage with the local community

Community groups can help employers find and attract neurodiverse talent. These groups may take the form of government agencies, non-profits, vocational rehab centres, educational institutions, or offices for disabilities. 

In addition to helping with recruitment, such groups can provide crucial advice and resources for training. 

Hiren said connecting with the community was a win-win. These agencies were challenged to find meaningful work for individuals on the spectrum, and EY needed assistance in finding those individuals. 

3. Adjust your hiring practices

Hiring managers need to reframe their idea of what makes a “good candidate.” Many superficial norms, such as a strong handshake or looking someone in the eye, are difficult for neurodiverse individuals to perform. 

Managers also need to ask the right questions to best draw out the individual’s skills and capabilities. It is also important to remember that resumes don’t tell the full story. Because so many neurodiverse individuals have struggled to find work that matches their abilities, they are often self-taught or possess transferable skills. 

4. Be patient

Building a neurodiverse candidate pool takes time. EY uses a two-week process that is focused on hiring people as team members rather than as individuals. 

Week one is virtual, relying on Skype video calls, virtual exercises and assessments through mini projects. Week two is called “Superweek” and is held on-site. This week includes team-based work simulations and interpersonal skills development. 

At the end of the two weeks, EY selects the highest performers and hires in cohorts. From there, all onboarding and training is done by managers who have taken formal training in autism. 

5. Organize expert-driven, two-way training

Soft skill training is a critical part of building a neurodiverse workforce and should be done by an expert with the appropriate experience – something you can also look to the local community for. 

Note that this training isn’t just for neurodiverse employees, but for all employees and especially managers, who need to be educated about what it’s like to be on the spectrum, and how to best work together. 

6. Be ready and willing to accommodate

Individuals with autism may be sensitive to things like temperature, sound, and lighting. As such, you may need to provide accommodations such as noise-canceling headphones, privacy rooms, or flexible work schedules, so employees can be their most productive. 

“If an individual has an issue staying still for more than 45 minutes at a time… [they should] go for a walk and come back. As long as you’re productive when you come back, we’re okay with it,” said Hiren. 

7. Amplify the message

Individuals on the spectrum have often had negative experiences in the world. So, while they may feel understood at work, they may not feel as safe outside of the office. 

A strong neurodiversity program should push its message externally as well as internally, making it a more normal part of employment in general.

Building and supporting a diverse workforce starts with the right data.

Having a systematic and continuous way of gathering feedback around the employee experience provides the data and insights needed to create a roadmap for affecting positive change. Gather and analyze your employees’ experience with ouremployee survey. 

Claire Hastwell

As the Content Program Manager at Great Place To Work, Claire helps decode the psychology behind high-trust workplaces using Great Place To Work’s extensive data repository on employee experience. Claire has co-authored noted reports such as “Women in the Workplace” and “The Power of Purpose at Work,” and contributed to Fortune with her profiles of the Best Workplaces™. Her latest report on employee retention strategies draws on the experience of 1.3 million employees to give leaders strategic guidance on retaining their top people. 

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces in Asia™ by surveying 2.1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting 5.9 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Bahrain, Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2022 or early 2023.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000+) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces in Asia™ by surveying over 1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting over 4.7 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2021 or early 2022.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

Great Place To Work® Best Workplaces™ in Singapore 2023 Evaluation Methodology

This year, Great Place To Work® Singapore is proud to launch our inaugural Singapore Best Workplaces™ in Healthcare & Biopharma List. This list recognizes exemplary companies in the healthcare & biopharma industry.

Recognized as a global hub for medical technology and research, Singapore has attracted top healthcare and biopharma talents and companies from around the world. It has become the center for essential healthcare services and innovations with its world-class research institutes, academic medical centers, and industry clusters.

In turn, the healthcare and biopharma sectors play a critical role in the country’s economic competitiveness, sustainability, and innovation. These industries have significantly helped in the overall improvement of public health and well-being of the people of Singapore and its neighboring countries.

The inaugural Singapore Best Workplaces in Healthcare and Biopharma List puts the spotlight on the organizations that are dedicated to providing employee satisfaction and engagement, and their commitment to excellence in the industry.

The companies in our Great Place To Work Certified™ community have the premier distinction that helps attract the best talent, build your employer brand, and secure a competitive advantage. To achieve this, they built a working environment that is purpose-driven and people-first. These companies have demonstrated that showing authentic care, prioritizing employee’s holistic well-being, and building a culture of trust go hand in hand with growth and success.

To determine the 2023 Singapore’s Best Workplaces in Healthcare and Biopharma, Great Place to Work®️ analyzed confidential survey feedback representing nearly 12,000 employees working in the tech industry in Singapore.Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a Great Place to Work For All™️. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. Great Place to Work analyzes these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical relative to their peers in the industry.The remaining 15 percent of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders, to ensure they’re consistently experienced.To be considered, companies had to meet the Great Place to Work-Certified standard. To ensure survey results truly represent all employees, Great Place to Work requires that Trust Index©️ survey results are accurate to a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results. Companies with 10 to 99 people were considered for the small and medium category; companies with 100 employees or more were considered for the large category.

Great Place To Work® Best Workplaces™ in Singapore 2023 Evaluation Methodology

To determine the 2023 Singapore’s Best Workplaces in Technology, Great Place To Work®️ analyzed confidential survey feedback representing nearly 12,000 employees working in the tech industry in Singapore. Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a Great Place To Work For All™️. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. Great Place To Work analyzes these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical relative to their peers in the industry. The remaining 15 percent of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders, to ensure they’re consistently experienced. To be considered, companies had to meet the Great Place To Work-Certified standard. To ensure survey results truly represent all employees, Great Place To Work requires that Trust Index©️ survey results are accurate to a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results. Companies with 10 to 99 people were considered for the small and medium category; companies with 100 employees or more were considered for the large category.

Methodology

This year, Great Place To Work™ Singapore is proud to launch our inaugural Singapore Best Workplaces in Technology List. This List recognizes exemplary companies in the information and communication technologies industry in four categories:

  • Micro category (10–29 employees)
  • Small (30-99 employees)
  • Medium (100-999 employees)
  • Large (> 1000 employees)

With Singapore’s ambition to be recognized as a regional technology hub, the influx of technology firms (around 80 of the world’s top 100 technology firms have a presence here) and global rankings that place us a leading technology hub outside of San Francisco, the establishment of a Singapore Best Workplaces List in Technology is indeed a timely and needed one. Technology firms in Singapore are characterized by hyper-growth and ambitious expansion plans. This means a continuous war for talent in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving industry.

To maintain our lead as a technology and innovation hub, the ability to attract, retain and sustain skilled talent is critical. We are proud that companies in our Great Place To Work®-Certified community List have built a high-trust culture, engaged employees and maximized their potential to facilitate innovation. They are purpose-driven and adopt a people-first mindset. These are companies that have shown that authentic care and employee well-being need not be compromised for ambitious growth, and that it is possible for businesses to scale up quickly and responsibly. Their culture and core values are embodied in every individual—from senior leadership to rank-and-file employees—and differentiate them from their competitors, priming them to be powerful magnets for top talent.

To determine the 2022 Singapore’s Best Workplaces in Technology, Great Place To Work®️ analyzed confidential survey feedback representing nearly 12,000 employees working in the tech industry in Singapore.Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a Great Place To Work For All™️. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. Great Place To Work analyzes these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical relative to their peers in the industry.The remaining 15 percent of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders, to ensure they’re consistently experienced. To be considered, companies had to meet the Great Place To Work-Certified standard. To ensure survey results truly represent all employees, Great Place To Work requires that Trust Index©️ survey results are accurate to a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results. Companies with 10 to 99 people were considered for the small and medium category; companies with 100 employees or more were considered for the large category

 

Methodology

To determine the 2022 Singapore’s Best Workplaces™️, Great Place To Work®️ analyzed confidential survey feedback representing close to 70,000 employees across different industries in Singapore. Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a Great Place to Work For All™️. 85% of the evaluation is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do.

Great Place To Work analyzes these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical in their industry. The remaining 15% of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders, to ensure they’re consistently experienced. To be considered, companies had to meet the Great Place To Work Certified standard. To ensure survey results truly represent all employees, Great Place To Work requires that Trust Index©️ survey results are accurate to a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Companies with 10-29 people were considered for the Micro category; those with 30 to 99 people for the Small category; companies with 100 to 999 employees were considered for the Medium category; and those with 1,000 or more for the Large category.

Great Place To Work® Best Workplaces™ in Singapore 2023 Evaluation Methodology

To determine the 2023 Singapore’s Best Workplaces in Technology, Great Place To Work®️ analyzed confidential survey feedback representing nearly 12,000 employees working in the tech industry in Singapore. Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a Great Place To Work For All™️. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. Great Place To Work analyzes these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical relative to their peers in the industry. The remaining 15 percent of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders, to ensure they’re consistently experienced. To be considered, companies had to meet the Great Place To Work-Certified standard. To ensure survey results truly represent all employees, Great Place To Work requires that Trust Index©️ survey results are accurate to a 95% confidence level with a 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results. Companies with 10 to 99 people were considered for the small and medium category; companies with 100 employees or more were considered for the large category