Employment April 28, 2021
Neurodiverse hiring gives an edge to Boston-based tech start-up, Iterators’
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Iterators’ hits it straight out of the ballpark. This Boston-based software testing company is woman owned, rare in the technology space. It has a team made up entirely of neurodiverse employees. Founded by a mother of a child with disability, the company is a powerful example of the benefits of neurodiversity hiring.
As a compliance specialist at a Fortune 500 company, Jill Willcox was well versed with software testing – how it works, what to do. Her decision to found a software testing firm was entirely personal rooted in her experiences parenting a child with disability.
Willcox has twins, born severely premature. As her son grew up, it became evident that he had a speech and language disorder that was permanent. When he was age 10, Willcox says she was let go of by her company after she revealed a medical condition which somewhat impacted her situation at work. When her son heard about this and expressed worries about whether his disability would come in the way of finding a job in the future, Willcox reassured him, saying things would change.
Unfortunately, when it came to neurodiversity hiring, the situation remained unchanged when her son’s time came. Workplace inclusion remained a distant dream.
“Hiring managers continue to focus on specific attributes, unable or unwilling to consider candidates’ positive qualities, concerned it will be a risk to hire someone with a disability”, said Willcox in an email interview to Newz Hook. Deeply disappointed by her son’s experiences, she founded Iterators LLC. This is a Boston-based software testing firm with five employees, all of whom are neurodiverse.
Benefits of neurodiversity hiring
“My son and our neurodiverse employees have blossomed working at a company that focuses on their skillsets, not whether they interview a certain way or fit a predetermined profile”, says Willcox. “Our employees are able to have meaningful jobs ‒ just like everyone else”.
With clients like the City of Boston, Boston College, and Connelly Partners, Iterators’ approach of embedding people with neurodiversity in the workplace clearly makes good business as well. The start-up, founded three years ago, claims to provide high-quality software testing to any business, any size, any industry. The goal is to build digital experiences that work for everyone and having a team of neurodiverse employees gives Iterators’ an edge.
“Our employees and our values make us different”, emphasises Willcox. “We believe in a diverse and inclusive workforce, which helps our employees gain confidence that can never be taken away”.
Across the United States, the advantages of neurodiversity hiring and workplace inclusion are becoming more evident although most corporate programmes tend to focus on autistic people. Research shows there are competitive advantages to including people with neurodiverse conditions like dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, and social anxiety disorders. Yet they get left out as they find it hard to fit into the traditional profiles.
Competitive advantages of neurodiversity hiring
Hiring neurodiverse candidates and managing their needs requires adjustments. There is a need to tweak the existing processes of hiring, selection, and career and training practices to enable them to grow. It also comes with some challenges and requires companies to be flexible about their systems so that every person is recognised as a unique, individual asset.
At Iterators’ when it comes to neurodiversity hiring, the company relies on the community. The approach is not to ask about the disability. They are trained by the company and have been certified as Trusted Testers by the Department of Homeland Security Section 508, WCAG AA.
If we can see the disability, we don’t need to ask, and if we can’t see the disability, why do they need to tell us? If they are comfortable and want to tell us, that’s great. We ask everyone the same question: What do you need to succeed in a job with us? We also tell them what a typical day is like, how we work in the technology field, how employees must work with computers, iPhones, Androids, tablets, desktops, and data. We work in a shared space and there are all kinds of people they meet. This lessens any stigma associated with being neurodiverse and gives our employees a confidence boost. – Jill Willcox, Co-founder, Iterators’ LLC
“Iterators’ first caught our attention for its human-forward ethos, which aligns with our own”, says Jessica Cheng Schrepel, Director, Project Management, Connelly Partners. This Boston-based advertising agency reached out to Iterators’ after reading about the company’s inclusive hiring practices. Another prominent client is Lobus, the world’s first art operating system. Lobus Co-Founder Sarah Wendell Sherrill says, “Iterators’ is a highly specialised and talented team of people who are worth the investment.”
Managing neurodiversity in the workplace
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, just two years into its launch, has affected Iterators’. Like other companies, it moved to working from home and managing neurodiverse employees in the new scenario has its challenges. “One employee did not like working from home and found it hard to work at all”, says Willcox. “The hardest part for us is the lack of interchange that we’ve lost due to the pandemic. It will come back, but I think everyone had some lingering effects for some time”.
While some projects were withdrawn completely, the good news is that Iterators’ is close to completing an important project for the people of Boston, which is to make the City of Boston website accessible. It also recently won a six-month mentorship awarded by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). This will involve working with top American multinational TJX.
Willcox believes the emphasis on accessibility will grow, leading to greater awareness of the benefits of neurodiversity hiring, and a focused push towards workplace inclusion. Hopefully, this will translate into more opportunities and systems for managing neurodiverse employees.
“As we move forward and get more freedoms, I think we will see an emphasis on accessibility”, she says. “At the moment, I think people and companies are trying to figure out what our businesses will look like in the coming months”. For change to happen, businesses have to drive social change and push for greater awareness of the benefits of neurodiversity hiring and workplace inclusion.
“It’s not about just hiring one person with a disability. Use inclusive vendors, shift how you think about the risk of hiring someone with a disability – and recognising it’s a risk to hire anyone. Be authentic”.
Watch in Sign Language
- Autism at work programmes that help tech companies integrate inclusion with business development goals
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