June 13, 2024

Embracing neurodiversity

Scott Wylie, CTO at TripStax, calls on the industry to recognise neurodiverse 'superpowers' and realise the benefits of having a truly diverse workforce

I’m a big believer in employing neurodiverse people. I know lots of companies say stuff like that to make themselves sound good. I say it for a different reason: I am neurodiverse myself.

In 2020 I was diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – but since people with ADHD are written off as having short attention spans, let’s shorten it to ADHD. In fact, the more complex truth is that people with ADHD, including me, usually lack focus on tasks we consider unimportant, something I deal with by leaving prompts to complete those tasks around the house.

The flipside is I have the gift of hyper-focus on tasks I do perceive as important. It means, for example, that when I am with clients I can start sketching out a tech solution for them on the spot.

When my counsellor confirmed my diagnosis, she encouraged me to think of ADHD not as a problem but as a superpower. Suddenly, I no longer felt a grown-up version of the “naughty” kid who didn’t conform at school. It flicked a switch for me and I have never looked back.

Neurodiverse people (who also include those with dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette’s syndrome, to name a few) aren’t crazy. What is crazy is that many sectors, including corporate travel, are suffering a talent shortage. Yet too often those same companies shun groups of potential employees (unemployment rates are up to 80% for those with autism) who could improve their businesses with their very special gifts. According to Harvard Business Review, neurodiverse people are 30% more productive overall. Meanwhile, JP Morgan Chase found that its “employees on the autism spectrum were as much as 140% more productive than their peers.”

“When my counsellor confirmed my diagnosis, she encouraged me to think of ADHD not as a problem but as a superpower”

So my big plea is that we make more effort to be genuinely diverse and inclusive by taking a braver position on recruiting talent. Of course you have to make a few accommodations for neurodiversity, starting with a different approach to the interview process for new recruits, but the rewards are immense.

Improving inclusivity doesn’t stop at neurodiversity either. Most of our company’s development team is based in India. One of our lead developers there had a motorbike accident a couple of years ago, leaving his hand crushed by a lorry.

Obviously he couldn’t carry on with his old job but he has a brain the size of a small planet and is an inspiring leader. We didn’t want to lose him. We therefore retrained him for a management role and he continues to be a very valuable asset to the company.

“We’re all special in our own way and it’s time we fully embraced that”

I also think there’s lots more can be done to improve accessibility for business travellers. The most obvious shortcoming is airlines and airports which leave wheelchair users stranded on aircraft – The Business Travel Magazine recently featured a great campaign to tackle that.

As an IT specialist, a particular interest of mine is in making sure websites and mobile apps are usable for people with mobility and learning challenges as well as impaired vision and deafness. It’s not always appreciated that this is a legal requirement under disability discrimination law. When I look at some technology for business travellers, I can see those with extra needs are not catered for as they should be.

It’s my big hope that by the time of next year’s Business Travel People Awards, corporate travel will have taken major steps forward in inclusion, both in who we employ and how we care for business travellers. Awareness is definitely building. We’re all special in our own way and it’s time we fully embraced that.