Preaching diversity in the workplace is nothing new. Hiring and promoting people of varying race, gender, age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation is a goal for many organizations. Less familiar is the concept of cognitive diversity, but looking for people who process information differently can benefit your practice as well.
What is Cognitive Diversity and Why is it Important?
Cognitive diversity is more than a mixture of different ways of thinking. It refers to people who are traditionally underrepresented in the workforce. Individuals with Down syndrome, autism, military veterans, the disabled, and those with criminal backgrounds are all representative of this group. More and more, human resources managers are looking toward these people to help bolster their staffing rosters. Microsoft launched an Autism Hiring Program in 2015, and SAP – a well-known international software company based in Germany – as a similar Autism at Work program. Kayla McKeon, the National Down Syndrome Society’s manager of grassroots advocacy and Capitol Hill’s first registered lobbyist with Down syndrome, was a keynote speaker at this year’s Society for Human Resource Management Diversity & Inclusion Conference & Exposition in Atlanta. She spoke about the group’s work in assisting individuals with Down syndrome to find work in a wide range of fields including customer service and sales. In fact, many are business owners themselves.
Cognitive diversity is valuable because it brings a variety of different perspectives to the table. Including people who fall into these cognitive diverse groups will result in new ways of thinking. An entranceway to a building, for instance, might include a ramp for wheelchair accessibility – an important but often under-looked architectural accommodation.
People who view the world differently contribute a wealth of untapped knowledge. Their experience and problem-solving abilities often result in innovative products and services. One of those autistic employees hired through SAP’s programs was a key contributor to two of the company’s patents. Without that employee’s unique perspective and valuable insight, those designs might never have gotten off the ground.
The next time you consider diversifying your workforce, it’s worthwhile to look for ways in which cognitive diversity can help benefit both your company and a talented individual who might not receive the same opportunity elsewhere.