From Boston Globe: Companies tap into an underused but highly capable workforce

Submitted by tmcsorley on Tue, 12/04/2018 - 07:48

Originally posted on

After graduating with a master's degree in applied math, Oliver Wilcox was ready to start a career. He aced every data analytics tests put forth by the hiring departments at major companies, yet Oliver still came up short during the interview process. Often fidgeting nervously and failing to make eye contact, Oliver was constantly rejected for positions because employers believed he would not make a good "cultural fit." 

Jill Willcox and her son, Oliver.

Image of Oliver and Jill Wilcox, of Iterators. Photo by David L Ryan of the Globe staff. 

Diagnosed with ADHD and a speech language disorder, Wilcox and other neurodiverse people often have trouble finding work in their field. That mindset has begun to change in recent years. Many companies like SAP, Microsoft, and Ford have created programs to specifically recruit and hire people that are on the autism spectrum, which fits under the umbrella term "neurodiverse." Inspired by small businesses like Iterators, which is actually run by Oliver's mom, Jill Wilcox. It is a software testing company that understands the unique abilities that people who are wired differently can bring to the table. Studies have found that neurodiverse employees are 30 to 40% more productive than their "neurotypical" workers while performing certain tasks, when they are properly supported in the work place. People like Oliver are exceptionally good at spotting patterns that other people cannot see, as well as focusing on repetitive tasks. It then makes sense that Oliver is a software tester, because he has to look through a website time after time to find inconsistencies and issues. 

Other companies can learn from Iterators and SAP by being open to new types of employees with skill sets and abilities that are different from the "norm." People that are neurodiverse can have incredible minds, capable of spotting things most other people cannot, and a lot of companies are missing out on that by recruiting the types of people they are already used to hiring. Brenda Weitzberg, founder of Aspiritech in Chicago, said "If you really want innovation, people who think outside the box are perfect."