Sustainability & CultureCategory

Embracing Neurodiversity: An Untapped Source of Innovation & Growth

By Aniket Shah
2 min read

Neurodiversity – or the natural variances of the human brain leading to distinct ways of thinking, learning, and socializing – is often overlooked in discussions of corporate culture and inclusion. Today, few workplaces embody a culture of neurodiversity, as many HR departments overlook it in their recruitment and hiring. As new data demonstrates the significant benefits of neuro-inclusive workplaces, there is growing pressure on business leaders to enhance neurodiversity at every level of their organization.

Jefferies’ ESG team recently invited Joseph Riddle, Director at Neurodiversity in the Workplace, to share his research into neuro-inclusive HR practices and their impact on the workforce.

Understanding the Gap

Despite rising awareness, neurodivergent representation in the workplace remains inadequate. Today, fewer than one in six autistic adults are employed full-time. Adults with Tourette’s syndrome also experience high unemployment, and adults with ADHD are 60% more likely to lose their jobs.

This isn’t just an employment issue, but a cultural one. Bias often begins in the hiring process, as many interviewers rely on social nuances, natural rapport, and ‘culture fit’. Such practices exclude neurodivergent individuals, many of whom bring unique perspectives and potential to the table.

The Benefits of Neurodiversity

Studies show that workplaces championing neurodiversity often outperform their non-diverse counterparts on profitability and value creation. A recent study by Accenture found that businesses with strong neurodiversity programs outperform competitors on profitability and value creation, with 28% higher revenue, twice the net income, and a 30% higher economic profit margin. On average, neurodiverse companies total shareholder returns outperform industry peers by 53%.

Promoting Flexibility & Accommodations

Creating a neurodiverse-friendly culture requires flexibility. Conventional expectations around personality and work style can pose barriers to neurodivergent individuals. Forward-thinking companies are exploring strategies such as revamping interview practices, providing real-time employee feedback, and creating dedicated employee resource groups to address these challenges.

Practical workplace accommodations are also essential to supporting neurodivergent individuals. These include offering quiet, secluded workspaces and prioritizing clear, concrete communication. The use of assistive technology and neuro-inclusive meeting formats is also beneficial. Events and meetings can be more neuro-inclusive by communicating agendas and formats beforehand, having people choose their own seating and level of participation, and reiterating important action steps and takeaways.

Finally, employers must recognize that atypical social communication does not imply a skills deficit. This recognition, alone, goes a long way toward empowering neurodivergent employees.

As we move forward, businesses need to question and challenge the norms that limit neurodiversity in the workplace. This starts by scrutinizing existing initiatives for neurodiversity inclusion and ensuring that accommodations are in place for an inclusive work environment.

In a world where 72% of HR departments overlook neurodiversity, businesses are closing the door on the unique talents and perspectives of neurodivergent individuals. It’s time to shift the narrative, invest in accommodations, and unlock the power of neurodiversity for a stronger, more inclusive future.

Aniket Shah is Managing Director & Global Head of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Sustainable Finance Strategy at Jefferies Group LLC. In this role, Aniket leads the integration of ESG and sustainability analysis within the global investment research department and engages with clients on this dynamic area of corporate and financial services. 

He is an Assistant Adjunct Professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. Aniket is a graduate of Yale College and the University of Oxford, where he completed his PhD on the financing of sustainable development.