Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Employers are Embracing the Neurodiversity Movement to Solve the Talent Shortage Part II
Rangam: How Volunteerism Fostered Innovations in Neurodiverse Recruitment and Workforce
TechServe Alliance member company Rangam, a minority, woman, and disability-owned workforce solutions company is a leader in neurodiversity recruitment, hiring, and retention. Founded in 1995 by Hetal and Nish Parikh, Rangam’s primary goals were to connect people with jobs while fostering workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion. Today, Rangam employs 75 people in-house at their New Jersey headquarters and about 500 workers placed with companies in the U.S., around 1000 in India, and a handful in the UK, Ireland, and Canada.
Over the years, Rangam focused on three priorities for creating diverse workforces: hiring and promoting women, veterans, and persons with autism, neurodivergence, and disabilities. Today, over 70 percent of Rangam’s corporate leaders are women, and Rangam founded recruiting and placement programs SourceVets and SourceAbled. SourceAbled started for Hetal and Nish as a mission to help a close friend’s autistic child, who was about to age out of school-based services, transition to employment. Rangam’s SourceABled program expanded to assist the broader group of neurodivergent workers seek, obtain, and prosper in IT and IT-related fields. Rangam established a long-range goal of 20 percent of their global workforce to include individuals who are neurodiverse or disabled; as of 2021, 10 percent of their workforce has disclosed a disability, autism, or neurodivergence.
We learned in the April 17, 2023, article “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Employers are Embracing the Neurodiversity Movement to Solve the Talent Shortage” that Rangam is active in Disability:IN and is a member of the organization’s Neurodiversity@Work Employer Roundtable. Disability:IN, founded in 1994 after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, helps more than 400 major corporations “drive performance by leveraging disability inclusion in the workplace and supply chain.” In 2017, a group of 50 major companies from various industries, including financial services, software development, aerospace, biotech, energy, clothing, and more, formed the Neurodiversity@Work Employer Roundtable with the goal of expanding neurodiversity hiring programs.
TechServe recently talked with CEO Nish Parikh to learn more about Rangam’s history and how the company embraced the neurodiversity social justice movement.
How did Rangam get started?
In 1995, Nish and Hetal were engineers focused on building technology that would impact small to mid-size businesses. They started GetItDelivered.com, an e-commerce portal where you enter your zip code, find a restaurant, and place an order by faxing it. At the time, email was brand new, and few small businesses had computers. Nish said they were “a little early in the world of innovation and development of technology.” Now, we know this innovation as Uber Eats and GrubHub.
In 2002, Rangam moved into the IT staffing and workforce solutions industry. Their first customer was Johnson & Johnson, in partnership with Kelly Services.
Has Rangam always been focused on neurodiverse workforce development?
Nish explained that their interest in and support for neurodiversity initiatives started with conversations with friends and through volunteerism.
In 2007, Nish and Hetal were talking with a friend about how parents of neurodivergent children at a special needs high school were worried about their children’s future; their children were turning 21 soon, and their public-school eligibility would end. At that time, Nish was building a learning management system that might help children learn in an after-school program with their parents.
Later, Nish and his family started volunteering in local schools and learning more about autism.
In 2010, Nish built a technology to teach children on the spectrum with the purpose of improving attention span. The system collected data to build effective models to improve teaching using a camera and kiosk system. For example, when the student is learning on the kiosk, the system tracks eye movement to see if the student is paying attention. If they are not paying attention, the program stops, then plays something of interest to the child to regain their attention. Once eye-tracking attention is re-engaged, the program will return to learning.
Through its “Verizon Powerful Answer” program, Verizon gave Rangam $500,000 for this idea. “That was the Ah ha moment,” Nish stated. “If you have an idea that will improve the world, pitch it, and [Verizon] will give money to make it happen.” After receiving the award, Rangam started working with more schools.
Around 2014-2015, Rangam approached customers like J&J and Pfizer about neurodiverse hiring programs. “This is how we got into neurodiversity; we started building small programs, more pilot programs, and then nationwide and now global programs. Neurodiversity hiring became part of Rangam’s expertise.”
In a holistic way, Rangam works with client companies to build a comprehensive neurodiversity at work program for all types of positions and hiring needs. Companies they work with now include Pfizer, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, J&J, Farmers Insurance, and Bristol Myers/Squibb.
Are there any challenges in implementing a neurodivergent hiring program?
Nish relayed that one of the biggest challenges was making the employee comfortable self-identifying they had a disability. This requires them to trust the employer and that the employer will not discriminate against them. Companies that work with Rangam that have instituted formal neurodiversity and disability hiring programs provide more assurance that they won’t use a disability against the worker. “When we hear success stories, more and more employees will disclose disabilities to HR. The programs are really changing the way people with disabilities can thrive in the workplace; it’s a beautiful thing,” said Nish.
Does Rangam Have Success Stories to Share?
The interview process for neurodivergent candidates can be challenging, it’s intimidating for anyone. So, it’s important for HR and the hiring team to go through training. Nish shared two wonderful stories about the benefits of neurodiverse hiring programs:
- A neurodivergent applicant without a college degree previously worked as a mechanic in a local body shop. Through a neurodiverse recruitment process, Comcast hired them as contingent worker software tester. They performed so well that their position was upscaled, and they started building dashboards. Two years later, this amazingly smart, capable employee was hired full-time at $140,000, and they are now in charge of hiring others.
- Rangam submitted a candidate’s resume to a life science pharmaceutical company. The qualified candidate, however, was not willing to go to the interview because they were intimidated by the job description. Through the neurodiverse hiring program, the candidate applied for and was hired for an IT position.
Is Rangam still working with schools?
Nish relayed that Rangam continues to work with high schools and conducts outreach to college accommodation offices to make connections with corporations. Many colleges have dedicated programs for students who learn or think differently. Understood.org compiled a partial list of these colleges. Rangam also works closely with Stanford and UCLA to learn more about their research and share their expertise in hiring processes.
Congratulations to Hetal and Nish Parikh and the Rangam family. What started as an effort to help others through volunteerism has made a difference in the lives of many around the world while, at the same time, helping address the talent shortage.
Watch for and encourage innovative programs in your community. For example, his month, Fairfax County Public Schools (Virginia), the 12th largest school district in the country, announced the first-in-the-nation hiring of neurodiversity specialists to improve learning outcomes for neurodivergent including twice-exceptional students. For more information, review the FCPS press release. School districts nationwide may want to replicate this program, and companies may want to offer internships or career days for high school students interested in IT.
Does your company have a neurodiversity hiring program? Please share your experiences with us!