By Dr. Nafeesah Allen
Working at a startup is an excellent opportunity to acquire new skills while adapting to ambiguity. Because a startup is a company in its early stages, founders – and their funders – are open to innovation and seeking employees willing to test the boundaries of the conventional workplace.
As startups recruit team members to create a new vision, people who think outside the box are welcomed into the fold. Hence, startups present a unique opportunity to recruit top talent that does not fit a traditional 9-to-5 profile. Within this context, individuals who are neurodivergent can showcase their professional skills without stigma. And startups benefit too.
Neurodiversity is an ever-evolving term that broadly refers to the differences in brain functions from person to person. Conditions defined as neurodivergent include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and more.
By hiring people who think in non-traditional ways, startups can build a business based on innovative technologies and accessibility for all. Intuitive user interfaces that work for people of all backgrounds and abilities, for example, can secure the competitive advantage of one product over another. Overall, startups and neurodiverse professionals can be a perfect fit for one another. Here’s how.
Neurodivergent Talent Offers Innovation and Creative Solutions
Approximately 15-20 % of the population is neurodivergent. Neurodivergent individuals are often overlooked in workplace diversity, equity and inclusion conversations because their conditions and disabilities are invisible. These individuals are at a greater risk of experiencing unemployment and underemployment compared to the general population. If a key point of success for startups is going against the status quo, companies will benefit from hiring individuals in this highly untapped talent pool.
Neurodivergent individuals’ different perspectives and cognitive styles bring innovative ideas to the table. They literally think differently. Their unique thought patterns can lead to fresh and distinctive strategies for reaching and serving new customers.
When startups bring together a team that is representative of their consumer base, neurodivergent employees offer early input into brainstorming sessions and improve the overall product or service experience for a wider range of people.
Neurodivergent individuals’ strong analytical skills and pattern recognition abilities make them valuable assets in data analysis, research and complex problem-solving scenarios. In a time when the average lifespan of a company is down to only 15 years, neurodivergent talent’s early innovation can increase survivability and longevity in a highly competitive market.
Neurodivergent Talent Increases Accuracy, Efficiency and Productivity
JPMorgan Chase’s Autism at Work initiative found employees with autism are 90 to 140% more productive than employees with five to 10 years of tenure. These employees also tend to be loyal and have a high retention rate.
Taking on employees who are committed to the job and willing to stay for longer stretches means startups benefit from institutional continuity. Bypassing a revolving door of attrition can keep new companies focused on improving their sales and service delivery rather than training and onboarding new employees.
Also, individuals with ADHD tend to have useful soft skills. They are seen as adept at multitasking, risk-taking and remaining calm under pressure. In the right roles, these individuals’ resiliency and toggling across multiple tasks can increase a startup’s productivity.
In companies where pattern recognition, memory or mathematics are fundamental, neurodivergent employees often outperform colleagues in terms of productivity and accuracy.
Neurodivergent Talent Reinforces Safe and Inclusive Workplaces
It’s no secret that when employees feel supported and safe, they are more productive. Yet, inclusive workplaces have excluded neurodivergent talent for so long that there’s still a steep learning curve about the accessibility, accommodations and modifications needed to ensure these team members succeed.
In a traditional workplace, accommodations are often viewed as an additional cost or burden, but in reality, they have a significant return on investment. The Job Accommodation Network found that almost 50% of employers surveyed reported the accommodations their employees needed cost nothing; 43% experienced only a one-time cost.
Plus, programs that include more neurodivergent employees have seen wider benefits, including a cultural shift in the way organizations think about their employees as a whole.
Startups can prove themselves as non-conformists by tackling these realities early on in the company’s formation. Aligning their mission, vision and values statement with their actual practices from the outset, startups can get a leg up on the competition — old and new — by building employee trust and respect right into the core of the company’s origin story.
While a generation ago, employers viewed a neurodiverse workforce as risky, today it is riskier not to have one. Startups cannot afford to lose qualified talent to competitors or risk plateauing in their development. Without the insider insights of neurodivergent talent, there’s a possibility that startups may never reach their full potential.
After all, there is a strong connection between individuals with dyslexia, ADHD and entrepreneurship. Keith Brophy, COO of Mentavi Health, says that entrepreneurs experience six times the normal rate of ADHD.
In addition to recruiting for leadership roles, startups can benefit from hiring neurodivergent talent into their junior and mid-levels, ensuring a supportive workplace environment for all, and keeping innovation at the forefront of the company’s ethos as it scales in highly competitive markets.