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Neurodiversity in analytics is a game changer

Neurodiversity in analytics is a game changer

As the importance of technology in pharma is increasing, the way we recruit new talent is changing too.

Douglas Merrill, former CIO/VP of Engineering at Google said a decade ago, ‘Big data isn’t about bits, it’s about talent’. Which is to say, tech-focused companies aren’t about their products, they’re about their employees. And their success depends on attracting the top talent.

As healthcare becomes increasingly tech-focused, in everything from clinical trials to health tech, we’re looking to recruit more and more people who have digital and data skills. That’s why we just launched our Diverse Ability programme (with Worksense) to ensure that we have access to the widest, most diverse selection of candidates, and so that we also remove the barriers that some people – particularly those who work in data and analytics – encounter when interviewing with us or while working for us.

Research suggests that a significant percentage of the people who excel at data skills are not neurotypical: an article titled Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage[1] in the Harvard Business Review cited research showing that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics.

The neurodiverse population, however, remains a largely untapped talent pool with approximately 80-90%[2], [3] of people with autism, for example, unemployed due to barriers within traditional recruitment processes and workplace cultures. According to the Autism Society[4], some autistic people struggle with verbal communication, preferring written or visual communication, and/or prefer environments where light, sound and smell are controlled. Workplaces that acknowledge these preferences in working conditions are likely to see more success in hiring and keeping neurodiverse talent, which is why a growing number of prominent companies are reforming, including these considerations in their HR processes.

Microsoft has launched a seven-month training programme aimed at people with Asperger's looking for jobs in AI, and at Johnson & Johnson, we’ve teamed up with Diversicom, Risesmart, Auticon, Zuwebe, Employability Cork and Specialisterne to support job descriptions for people with physical, sensory, intellectual or neurodiversity differences which make access to workforce market more challenging. Meanwhile the Janssen EMEA Data & Analytics Strategy team that I am leading is working with two Auticon consultants on an ongoing basis, with success.

There’s much more to do beyond these initiatives, of course, including changing how we think about work culture and neurodiversity. We could start by acknowledging that everyone is, to some extent, differently-abled, and by chatting to colleagues about what neurodiversity in the workplace really means.


[1] Austin RD, Pisano GP. Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage. Harvard Business Review