Diffusion has launched All Tech Voices to help advance the debate on how increasing representation and understanding of diverse audiences can strengthen the technology sector. This month we invite Lisa Ventura, award-winning cyber security consultant and founder of Cyber Security Unity, to discuss why neurodiversity is such an asset in the technology sector.
In today’s world of equality and diversity, and in the drive for productivity and quality top software organisations such as Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce.com and SAP are looking forwards a new source of software developers – those whose brains are wired differently compared to others. With the knowledge that everyone’s brain operates very differently, these organisations and others hope to leverage the strengths in those differences to improve their software development processes. They recognise that being neurodiverse can be a huge asset in software development.
Neurodiversity in the Workplace: A Mixed Picture
Before we delve into why those who are neurodiverse are well suited to careers in software development, let’s look at what it actually means. Neurodiversity is an “umbrella” term that covers a wide range of health conditions including ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette’s syndrome. In a workplace environment, neurodiversity means that there are diagnostic labels used to explain the diverse ways of thinking, processing, learning and behaving, and being neurodiverse comes down to “being different” in how and what we communicate, how we fit in and socialise, how we think as well as what some will view as quirky behaviour, in particular with physical mannerisms. This can often lead to significant friction between neurotypical and neurodiverse colleagues.
Why does Neurodiversity in the Workplace Matter?
Neurodiversity matters because many businesses will still focus on the cultural fit of candidates when hiring and will often exclude neurodiverse individuals for fear that existing employees will not or cannot accept those who are different. The trend towards hiring for diversity and inclusion rather than a cultural fit is gaining traction as a way of welcoming diverse thinking and views to a business from those who are different for many reasons, not just disability. This, however, is taking time to bed in and business are still reticent to hire those who are neurodiverse.
Why Software Companies are Looking to the Neurodiverse in Their Hiring Processes
Software companies who are always looking at turning bugs into features are discovering that adults with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) for example can be a huge and valuable asset to their workforces and will often bring unique skills and perspectives to their organisations. Some on the autistic spectrum can focus for longer on patterns and details and can outperform neurotypical people when it comes to repetitive tasks such as image analysis, cyber security or software QA.
Systematic thinkers can see connections and patterns much more easily and this may explain why some individuals with ASD show improved performance in areas such as data analysis and pattern recognition. These skills are often critical to cyber security and big data, and while some neurodiversity programs look for ASD workers who have the patience for repetitive tasks there are many examples of other jobs with more varied responsibilities in software development that are well suited to those who are neurodiverse.
Organisations often find that having neurodiverse employees deliver some less obvious benefits, for example, many companies report that those who are neurodiverse are extremely dedicated and loyal employees who bring positive effects on the morale and culture of their organisations. In addition, organisations often report that when neurotypical employees are educated about autism and work closely with neurodiverse employees, it inspires greater dedication and appreciation from everyone in the company. In the very competitive job market, these employees love their roles and help to motivate their co-workers.