--We saw that there were nonprofit and government agencies that were getting neurodistinct individuals ready for employment, but the big question was: Who's getting employers ready? We exist to be a connection between employers and this untapped neurodiverse talent pool.
--Business partners who sign up and commit to hiring and advancing neurodiversity and disability inclusion through NTW will receive neurodiversity inclusion training courses for managers and access to neurodiverse job candidates, 70% with bachelor’s degrees, who will be pre-screened and trained in workplace etiquette, as well as insurance principles, insurance management systems and insurance transaction basics.
Every July, organizations commemorate the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in July 1990. Disability pride is defined “as accepting and honoring each person’s uniqueness and seeing it as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity,” according to the Disability Community Resource Center.
Disabilities are unique and can encompass a range of conditions, both apparent and not apparent, and with varying degrees of impact. Neurodiversity embraces a diversity of minds and encompasses non-apparent conditions such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD.
Inclusion for neurodiversity celebrates the strengths of all minds and responds to challenges without shame, removing the stigma and misperceptions of capabilities that for far too long have been attached to having a disability. It also highlights a segment of the disability community that has often been overlooked because of its non-apparent nature.
Finding and screening job candidates was the No. 1 issue facing independent insurance agencies in 2022, according to the 2022 Agency Universe Study—retaining its position as the top challenge from 2020. However, despite representing a skilled, educated, untapped talent pool, neurodiverse candidates are largely underemployed and represent a solution to independent insurance agencies’ talent problem.
Neurodiverse minds have unique ways of interpreting the world around them, thinking, communicating and processing information. In many professions and day-to-day tasks, their distinctiveness offers certain advantages, such as memory, mathematics, concentration, data analysis and pattern recognition Neurodiverse individuals might need accommodations in the workplace due to various vulnerabilities because of their mind’s profile, including susceptibility to loud noises and stimuli or different needs for processing information and communicating. What many employers do not know is that these accommodations are low-cost and actually help an entire team perform work more effectively; they are rooted in what enables every mind to perform optimally.
In an open letter published in 2021, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, remarked, “The world needs a neurodiverse workforce to help try and solve some of the big problems of our time.”
Between 15% and 20% of the population is neurodiverse, according to the National Library of Medicine, which includes up to 10% of people who are diagnosed with dyslexia, 6% with dyspraxia, 5% with ADHD and 1% to 2% with autism.
According to recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 36 children is on the autism spectrum. 50,000 teenagers with autism leave school each year, and there are now approximately 2.5 million adults with autism living in the U.S., according to the advocacy organization Autism Speaks. Underemployment in the neurodiverse demographic is exemplified in the fact that only 22% of autistic adults are in any form of employment, according to the National Autistic Society.
See also: Keys to Finding and Nurturing Talent
To address the 80% unemployment rate, my co-founders and I started NeuroTalent Works (NTW), a nonprofit dedicated to advancing neurodiversity inclusion and employment in the workplace, and in July 2023 launched a (Neuro)diversity in Insurance Job Training & Hiring Program in partnership with the California Department of Rehabilitation. This industry-specific program encourages and enables job opportunities in the insurance industry for individuals with disabilities and neurodistinctions. Through partnership with Insurance Community University, job candidates are provided training on fundamental principles of insurance.
Initially focused on autistic job candidates, we have branched out to all neurodiversity and have a two-pronged approach, connecting business readiness and talent readiness for neurodiversity inclusion and employment.
We saw that there were nonprofit and government agencies that were getting neurodistinct individuals ready for employment, but the big question was: Who's getting employers ready? We exist to be a connection between employers and this untapped neurodiverse talent pool.
Business partners who sign up and commit to hiring and advancing neurodiversity and disability inclusion through NTW will receive neurodiversity inclusion training courses for managers and access to neurodiverse job candidates, 70% with bachelor’s degrees, who will be pre-screened and trained in workplace etiquette, as well as insurance principles, insurance management systems and insurance transaction basics.
As we started working with business partners, we started to see that there's a difference between being ready for employment and being ready for a professional setting where there are many hidden rules of the workplace. We provide what we call "final-mile training" to debunk some of these unwritten rules of the workplace that some of us might pick up on but someone with autism might not pick up on as easily.
A key part of the employee readiness portion of NTW’s training is interviewing, which is the biggest barrier to employment for the neurodiverse community because the traditional interview relies on oral communication and persuasion skills. NTW attempts to overcome this barrier by using skills-based interviewing, including training on a mock agency management system (AMS), to prepare candidates and provide a medium for demonstration of skills and experience of their capabilities to employers. This provides a more equitable approach to hiring and enables all candidates to demonstrate and showcase their skills for a job.
The program also offers employers a grant for the first two weeks of employment of individuals hired through the initiative. In addition, NTW will provide six months of support and coaching over 25 sessions post-hire to facilitate talent onboarding and a smooth transition for both the new hire and hiring manager.
One of the companies that first signed up for our program—and gave NTW the impetus to delve deeper into the insurance industry—is Weaver Insurance & Associates in Acadia, California, which was recently announced as a monthly winner of Liberty Mutual and Safeco’s Make More Happen program.
Make More Happen partners with independent agents by awarding grants to nonprofits that agencies support, as well as providing social media and public relations support to help agencies spread the word with awareness campaigns.
“We met [with NTW] to discuss their business plan, and, at the time, they had not landed on an industry to work with,” recalls Dana Dattola, agency principal of Weaver & Associates. “We suggested insurance due to its detail-oriented tasks that require skill and knowledge.”
After hiring her first employees, Dattola found that “training posed challenges as we lacked established processes and procedures. But this turned out to be beneficial for all employees, not just those who are neurodiverse, as it enhanced our training methods.”
Despite some challenges, as with any new hire, “the benefits are great,” Dattola says. “You have employees who are grateful for their job, try their hardest and don't tend to burn out or skip steps in processes.”
“There are so many smart individuals looking for good, long-term jobs,” she adds. “Staff turnover is the toughest thing with owning a business, and I feel that once you make the investment in the staff, you have more loyalty than from your average employee because they are grateful that someone gave them the opportunity and took the time with their training.”
The talent shortage, particularly for entry-level roles, has encouraged agencies to look offshore for assistance with repetitive and administrative tasks. However, those companies face similar turnover issues.
But the neurodiverse, and specifically autistic, community can thrive in routine and predictability and are detail-oriented, and many would want to continue such work for several years. Some companies that hired with us ended up letting go of a couple of their outsourced workforce companies so as to invest in the community, do something meaningful and give an opportunity to a community that's been so overlooked.
Among the other benefits of hiring neurodiverse candidates are cultural benefits to the agency, specifically in the eyes of younger employees, who more frequently demand that their employers are engaged with community-focused and charitable initiatives and demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion through action.
But most of all, managers who work with us tell us it’s the most meaningful thing they’ve ever done in their careers because it’s made them a better manager for all their people. When you understand an individual’s needs—both their challenges and strengths without shame—you’re going to be a better manager for everybody, not just an individual.
To learn more and hire from NeuroTalent Works’ (Neuro)diversity in Insurance program, visit: www.neurotalentworks.org/insurance.