By Vicki Thrasher, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Oracle Corp.
As a long-time human resources professional, I find it encouraging to see how many employers are embracing the notion of hiring people who think and learn differently.
Increasingly, corporate Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) programs include neurodiverse people, meaning those with forms of autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia (difficulty with math), Tourette syndrome, ADHD, and other conditions.
Numbers vary widely on how many people fall into these categories—a conservative estimate is 17 percent of the general population, but many suspect the percentage is far higher due to the number of people who have not been diagnosed. But whatever the actual number, this is a large demographic that companies can hire, train, and retain.
Here’s how businesses—and we as HR professionals—can expedite that process.
Education is the Key—for Everyone
HR professionals need to educate themselves and others, including senior management, about what neurodiversity means. A good start is to realize that, yes, neurodiverse people may be different from neurotypical people, but they also possess unique skills that can be invaluable to a team and an organization.
This means employers must learn how to communicate effectively with neurodiverse people by understanding that these different thinking processes can require different techniques. For example, in addition to verbal instructions, writing down tasks in person or following a meeting can be helpful techniques.
These differences are also a key reason that companies would benefit from neurodiverse skill sets. But more on that later.
Seek out Executive Allies
In a corporate setting, it’s critical to identify executive sponsors who will advocate for the hiring and retention of neurodiverse employees. Executive allies are essential in building a culture where employees feel supported and valued on the team. One way to build your executive ally bench is to effectively communicate the value proposition of hiring neurodiverse talent and how that will benefit the organization. You never know, they could belong to this community themselves, or perhaps have friends or family members who are neurodiverse. Starting the conversation is the first step.
Promote Employee-Led Employee Resource Groups
Companies should also support the formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for neurodiverse people. These employee- led communities meet to discuss common issues and priorities regarding how to better support each other in the workplace while providing connection to others within the community. Large companies like Oracle typically support ERGs for Black, Asian, Latino, and LGBTQ people, as well as women, veterans, and people of various generations, among others. Creating a neurodiversity ERG can help foster a greater sense of belonging for employees within that community, while providing a valuable avenue to help educate the broader organization about working with neurodiverse colleagues.
Create New Hiring and Training Techniques
As noted, neurodiverse people may process new information in unique ways. That means companies should develop plans to recruit and bring neurodiverse people on board in relevant and productive ways. For example, since many people with autism find initial social interactions challenging, some companies are changing technical interviews from one-on-one talks to a set of problem solving challenges. Other solutions include coaching hiring managers regarding how candidates may not be able to maintain direct eye contact or how panel interviews may not be effective.
For new hires, making sure managers clearly outline tasks and assignments, and allowing sufficient time for prospective hires to acculturate to new processes, will boost their chances of success. For many people with autism, it is also helpful to break bigger projects down into smaller, discrete tasks.
Why Cultivating Diversity and Inclusion Helps Your Business
As forward-thinking managers know, welcoming diverse people to the workforce isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good business. By bringing in people of differing viewpoints and abilities, organizations get a fuller picture of how their products and services are perceived and accepted (or not) by different people.
If everyone on staff is a middle-aged neurotypical male (nonminority), chances are you’re getting a very limited view of how you’re perceived by the markets generally. If, on the other hand, you bring in people who see and process information differently, you will get a fuller, more 3-D view, and perhaps even new ideas for products. Last fall CBS’s 60 Minutes did a fascinating segment on this topic.
Companies embracing diversity and inclusion get broader insights into how to develop products and sell to millions of people. Making use of the wonderful diverse complexities of our world is how companies can win in the marketplace and enrich their internal culture. New perspectives and opportunities for all can lead to great outcomes for both business and society.
Vickie Thrasher currently serves as Oracle’s senior vice president of HR. In her current role, she leads Oracle’s Organization Talent Development, Diversity Compliance and Inclusion, Employment Practices, Oracle Women’s Leadership, Top Talent Development, HR Strategic Communications, and Organization Design and Insights.
Vickie joined Oracle Corporation in 1996 as an HR consultant and in 2000, she was promoted to vice president of business HR for North America Sales. As Oracle experienced exceptional growth, she was given additional responsibility, ultimately responsible for Business HR for the Americas. She has directed and led a variety of major initiatives in the areas of Talent and Performance Management, as well as M&A integration. With more than two decades of HR experience, Vickie has led HR teams across a variety of industries, including manufacturing, health care, telecommunications, and information technology.
Vickie attended Michigan State University earning a BA in Social Science, Labor and Industrial Relations and Saint Francis University of Pennsylvania earning a MA in Industrial Relations. She currently lives with her husband Greg, in the DC metropolitan area.