Diversity in Tech
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3 min read
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April 28, 2021

The Distinct Advantage of Neurodiversity in Tech

by

Aishwarya Jagani

Tech startup Daivergent is out to prove that hiring neurodiverse employees can be a massive advantage in AI and ML jobs.

Byran Dai and Rahul Mahida’s tech startup Daivergent (pronounced dai·vur·jnt), is challenging notions about what neurodiverse employees can do, and matching them with roles they will excel in. Launched in 2017, Daivergent’s mission is to support workers with developmental disabilities and those on the autism spectrum. The startup helps them connect with tech companies and roles they can succeed at. 

In an interview with CNET, Dai said, the company is all about “starting to conceptualize autism and things that might have been seen formally as disabilities, really as a different way of seeing the world."

The United Nations estimates that over 80% of adults with autism are unemployed, compared to the general unemployment rate of 43%. The pandemic has widened this gap and put even more neurodiverse workers out of jobs.

Neurodiverse workers are defined as those with autism, dyslexia, ADHD, or other learning and developmental conditions. The ‘diverse’ emphasizes the idea that these conditions are diversities and not disabilities. Neurodiverse employees often have brains that are wired to work differently than neurotypical individuals, which may manifest as poor social skills, but gives them an edge in performing pattern recognition or detail-intensive tasks. 

“There’s a reason we refer to the “autism spectrum” as such. It’s because these individuals display a wide variety of talents, skills, and motivations. In the workplace that could mean that one person excels at repeatable, detail-oriented data tasks, while another might be a whiz at building financial models. Just like with anyone, every individual is different,” Byran Dai says in a Daivergent blog post. 

Often, companies that center diversity and inclusion initiatives, unwittingly end up overlooking neurodiversity, and that can be a detriment to efficiency, particularly in tech jobs.

Why Neurodiverse Workers Are Unique

According to Psychology Today, “The passions and fixations that are a hallmark of autism can translate into valuable skills in the workforce. People who are drawn to patterns or puzzles may excel at software testing, quality control, or other roles in the technology sector. Other positions in autism-friendly companies include working on stockroom operations, production lines, data entry, and accounting.” 

Daivergent, through its recruitment platform, matches neurodiverse tech talent with companies that will value them. Neurodiversity can be a big advantage in many tech fields, particularly for detail-oriented tasks like quality assurance, and data labeling. 

Byran Dai and Rahul Mahida are out to prove that a more neurodiverse workforce isn’t just about diversity and inclusion. It can be a huge advantage in tech, particularly data tasks such as data processing, quality assurance, web research, and AI/ML training set generation. The idea behind Diavergent began when Dai realized that those on the autism spectrum, including his younger brother, Brandon, tend to be exceptional at high complexity, data-oriented tasks such as data entry and enrichment, quality assurance and data validation, and content moderation.

He noticed that most autism job placement programs end up placing employees in roles like cashier or grocery bagger instead of roles that they’re better suited for like labeling--commonly an AI-related task. 

Daivergent is his and co-founder Mahida’s attempt to change that. Daivergent has worked with SAP, Upwork, Instagram, Flock Safety, and Red Ventures, helping place tech workers on the spectrum into diverse roles in programming, quality assurance, labeling, and more. 

Their work has involved partnerships with agencies like Autism Speaks, Next for Autism, and Autism Society to source tech talent. After screening for ability and fit, these workers are then placed in external roles or added to Daivergent’s pool of contractors, where they work on data tasks. 

Tech giants like Microsoft, Dell, and SAP have launched neurodiversity hiring programs in recent years, and many of them have made use of Daivergent’s platform to recruit workers. 

The United Nations estimates that over 80% of adults with autism are unemployed, compared to the general unemployment rate of 43%. The pandemic has widened this gap and put even more neurodiverse workers out of jobs.

Neurodiverse-Friendly Hiring Practices

Traditional job interviews generally set autistic people up to fail. They tend to involve hyper-focused face-to-face interaction, the ability to indulge in small talk with strangers, and the need to talk oneself up. These high-pressure interactions don’t come naturally to most people, and to people on the spectrum, or with mental health conditions, they can be downright unpleasant and even triggering. 

Read more about how unconventional recruitment processes can provide a boost to the neurodiverse workforce in this article.

Companies like Daivergent, which are neurodiverse-first, tend to put workers at ease with their recruitment practices, which in turn, leads to more neurodiverse workers being employed in tech roles, than with conventional recruiting processes. 

Welcoming the shift to remote work triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, Dai published in a blog post, “Employees on the autism spectrum are uniquely suited to perform skilled tasks at a time when remote work has become the norm.” 

He also added, “There’s an emerging consensus that, even after Covid has passed, the future of work will focus less on physical presence and more on the quality of work performed. In short, it’s a perfect opportunity for companies to tap into the extraordinary talents of people on the autism spectrum.” 

The Future of Neurodiversity in Tech

Given the advantages of a neurodiverse workforce, particularly in the tech industry, there’s no reason for companies to avoid adopting neurodiverse-friendly practices. Organizations like Daivergent make this so much easier, and the benefits are immense. 

The world’s largest tech companies have already paved the way forward for neurodiverse populations at work. It just remains for the rest of the tech world to follow.