Massimiliano Claps
Max Claps (Research Director, IDC Government Insights)

Neurodivergent people have many talents that can add value to the IT industry. Autistic people can be strong logical thinkers, highly focused, detailed orientated, reliable and loyal. ADHD people tend to have high energy and strong imagination. Dyslexic people can bring out-of-the-box thinking and pattern recognition. Dyspraxic people tend to be really good at strategic thinking and problem solving, and highly motivated.

There is no question that neurodivergent talent can add value in a variety of technical and business roles in the IT industry. So, we don’t need to ask, “What can neurodivergent people do for the IT industry?” The answer, unequivocally, is a lot.

We need to change the perspective. We need to ask ourselves what we can do better to attract and retain these talents in IT buyer and supplier organisations.

In a previous blog, I talked about how cities should think of how to become autism friendly, including through the intelligent application of technology. In this piece, I’m reflecting on how the technology industry itself can make the workplace more autism friendly.

Making the IT Industry Autism Friendly

According to Digital Scotland, 10% of Scottish people are neurodivergent, but many of them are unemployed. In fact, the UK Office of National Statistics’ research shows that just 22% of autistic people are in any kind of employment, but many more are eager to work. That’s a lot of wasted talent for the IT industry at a time when there’s a dire shortage of talent.

According to our surveys, around 74% of European organisations find it difficult or very difficult to hire technology roles in either line of business or IT. Most importantly, that’s a lot of unaccomplished self-fulfilment and happiness for autistic people.

The good news is that the IT industry has started to pay attention. On the technology buyer side, the Israeli army recruited autistic soldiers for a highly specialised visual intelligence unit. On the supplier side, IBM established the ND@IBM BRG (Business Resource Group), which includes neurodivergent employees and allies in IBM offices across the globe.

SAP, Microsoft, DXC and EY have invested to raise awareness both among their employees through internal webinars and training, and for the overall industry by sponsoring Autism at Work Summits. There are even companies that make neurodivergent talent their core asset, such as Auticon, which provides quality assurance, testing, data science and cybersecurity services with a delivery workforce that includes around 400 autistic consultants in its 20 offices.

There’s a long way to go, but these examples show that a different perspective on autism at work is possible for the IT industry. Companies embracing this new perspective need to consider that matching the skillset of neurodivergent people with the right projects and activities, and raising awareness, are only the first steps in the process.

Success comes from changing recruiting and hiring processes by finding alternatives to one-to-one interviews, which can be a barrier for people with gaps in their social skills. For example, they could combine cognitive written tests with week-long workshops, where psychologists bring candidates together for group work and meals to evaluate their individual soft skills.

Workspaces need to be adapted. Just as an employee in a wheelchair may need a ramp, an autistic person may find a low-light, low-noise environment more conducive to concentrating. Psychologists need to be retained as job coaches to help prevent situations that cause anxiety, based on each individual’s profile, and to facilitate interaction with clients.

Dress codes need to be relaxed for autistic people that may be hyper-sensitive to touch and therefore can’t wear certain fibres. Neurotypical employees must be immersed in teams with neurodivergent people to learn how to interact.

A simple change of language from “I need this deliverable to be completed ASAP” to “I need this deliverable to be completed by tomorrow at 5pm” makes an immense difference for an autistic person. The former quite simply does not make sense, and just creates anxiety. The latter provides a clear deadline that an autistic person can meet.

Neurodivergent talent can bring a different perspective to help IT buyers and suppliers avoid bias when tackling business and technical problems in our fast-paced industry. All we need is a change in mindset to make the IT industry a good place to work for neurodivergent talent.