Diverse colleagues working on project

How to engage neurodivergent talent in the government workforce

Demystifying neurodiversity to help drive government innovation and transformation.

In brief

  • Today’s talent shortage, intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, is an accelerator for neurodiversity in workplaces.
  • Understanding the abilities of neurodivergent talent will help close workforce gaps and facilitate a more diverse and inclusive people culture.
  • Neurodivergent individuals help meet changing demands for jobs, tasks and skills, creating paths to innovation in processes, services and technology.

Neurodiversity is becoming top of mind for government leaders — across federal, state and local agencies — as they ramp up efforts to recruit and hire neurodivergent talent in the workforce. The neurodiversity movement challenges the medical model’s idea that a neurodivergence, like autism or ADHD, is dysfunctional and inherently requires treatment. Instead, it supports the notion that neurological differences among people should be recognized and respected, and it calls on society to further adapt to meet the needs associated with neurodivergence.

The term “neurodiverse” is inclusive of both neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals; while we recognize that these terminologies are ever changing, the widely accepted term “neurodivergent” is used to describe an individual having an inherent cognitive variation, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia and/or dyscalculia. It is understood that a significant portion of neurodivergent individuals are unemployed or underemployed. This presents an opportunity for agencies to focus on this relatively untapped market.

Truly neurodiverse teams embrace talent, technology and transformation. “If you wrap those three together and inject a deliberate sense of belonging and equity, you will drive exponential results that will cascade across process, people, product,” said Hiren Shukla, EY Global Neuro-Diverse Center of Excellence (NCoE) Leader. “This was the hypothesis that we had when EY began this journey. Not only have we not looked back, but we have tripled down on the intersection of talent, technology and transformation.”

Four key factors frame the neurodiversity conversation: managing the talent shortage, utilizing the unique abilities of neurodivergent talent, sharing leading practices for recruiting and retaining that talent, and cultivating a network of leaders interested in neurodiversity as a workforce strategy.

If you wrap talent, technology and transformation together and inject a deliberate sense of belonging and equity, you will drive exponential results that will cascade across process, people, product.

Neurodiversity as a transformation play

Neurodivergent individuals’ inherent cognitive differences often enable them to excel in future-focused competencies through adeptness in pattern recognition, enhanced ability to manipulate data, technology quality assurance and an analytic mindset. Creative reasoning, analytical thinking, technology design and programming, and complex problem-solving skills are in great demand. Neurodivergent individuals could be part of the untapped talent pool that meets the demand for cyber, machine learning, artificial intelligence and other skills that government leaders agree are hard to find, and even harder to retain.

Federal, state and local government agencies concur that recruiting talent has changed with the pandemic, since there are more workers resigning from their jobs, increasing the competition for employers to find and retain talent. This, in turn, is adding criticality to current hiring and recruiting processes within the federal government. There is a focus on pivoting away from the traditional behavior-based interview to a performance-based approach that encompasses observing, coaching and identifying interests. More time spent up front supports better retention and productivity. Organizations should be training their workforces to recognize individual skills and potential and giving them the tools to be their best from a work perspective. The differences are what is valued — creating a team that blends individual personalities with inclusion.

Innovation, pride, purpose and leadership

The concept of breaking down employment barriers for people who are neurodivergent is supported by business needs and talent requirements. This model develops digital solutions, optimizes processes, and creatively uses data and technology. Our NCoEs are striving to bring together all stakeholders — business leaders, governments, nonprofits and universities — to recognize the power of leveraging neurodivergent talent and accelerate technology, talent and transformation. 

Our NCoEs are driven by business needs and talent requirements — diverse teams drive better business outcomes.

A commitment to neurodiversity can help address talent needs and skill gaps within the government. Our NCoEs have found that individuals who are neurodivergent and are applying for roles often have a degree/certification or come with a baseline in skills, such as automation, blockchain, cyber, data analytics and predictive modeling, and excel in innovation, efficiency and productivity. We typically find that those who do not have the abovementioned skills have an interest and ability to upskill and be trained in these areas.


Our NCoEs are changing lives, increasing employee engagement, and encouraging pride and support. The culture of inclusiveness has generated a 92% retention rate at our NCoEs over the past six years. One unexpected result is the qualitative impact on leadership. Team members need transparency, directness and clarity, which, in turn, is making their supervisors better managers. 


Thinking through the next steps


Government leaders can leverage lessons learned from a powerful neurodivergent program: everything from sourcing avenues to improving the interview process to onboarding and ongoing engagement. There is no single solution, but hiring and training neurodivergent individuals — and integrating them into a team — has tremendous universal application. 


Agencies are interested in proactively reaching out and hiring an untapped candidate base. “Digital dexterity” is a term that emphasizes the general business need for change across the entire workforce. It’s a phrase that agencies will be building on as they work with corporate partners to tap into this talent pool. No one must develop their own pipeline. They can build one together, with a business case that defines metrics and outcomes.


The idea of leveraging neurodiverse talent is new to many organizations. For those just starting on the journey, there are several key steps:

  1. Identify stakeholders and cultivate understanding of how engaging neurodiverse talent can support their agency’s mission and talent strategy
  2. Determine who is driving the traction and execution; this requires support from multiple business units, particularly human resources
  3. Focus on business leaders who are experiencing skill gaps and need to optimize processes
  4. Develop a road map for a 6- to 12-month pilot with empirical evidence, costs, pain points and metrics


Federal, state and local government agencies are finding new ways to leverage the power of neurodiverse teams by sharing leading practices, cultivating leadership, and recognizing that diversity drives innovation and transformation.