By Jo Ann Hudec

Retail turnover is estimated to average 60%; meaning, more than half of the workforce changes every year (12/23 Culture Monkey). To add to this problem, the cost of this turnover ranges from 1.5 to 2 times an average employee’s salary with 31% of the departing employees leaving within the first 6 months of employment. With statistics like these, it is no wonder talent and staffing are among the top challenges for retailers. 

On the other end of the literal spectrum, neurodiverse college graduates in the United States experience unemployment rates as high as 85%; 46% of these adults are either over-educated or over-qualified for the roles they do secure. Top that off with CDC (centers for disease control and prevention) estimates of 1 in 36 of children in the US being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and you have the perfect conditions for a very obvious solution to some of the retail staffing woes.  

The retail industry has been focused on creating a culture and community of diverse workers and customers, including people with various gender, ethnic, physical and emotional attributes. Yet, cultivating a neurodivergent environment for both workers and shoppers remains a huge underdeveloped opportunity. Many studies have validated the benefits of diversity to cultivate and foster innovation and creativity, and this includes talent diagnosed on the spectrum.  Neurodivergent individuals are great problem solvers. They think out of the box and take non-orthodox approaches to situations and challenges. While common traits of this population segment can include both social interactions and communication obstacles, the benefits of their skills far outweigh the differences. Neurodiverse individuals can have an intense focus on specific interests or topics that lead to a deeper knowledge on a particular subject. They also bring a unique perspective to the proverbial table and exhibit the ability to have exceptional attention to details. Skills most advantageous to not only the workforce but to executive leadership roles as well. 

Industry icons like Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, Greta Thunberg (global activist) and Elon Musk all have various neurodevelopmental “disorders.” These successful pioneers have leveraged their unique skills and sharp focus to advance society on so many levels. The rest of the population is only recently embracing and, for that matter, understanding the value and advantages of neurodivergent minds. So why so late to the party?

Retailers are quickly acknowledging the greater benefits from fostering cultures of inclusiveness. Brands like Home Depot and CVS Caremark are championing ability and enabling success across the talent pool and are partnering with an organization called Ken’s Krew to do just that.  Ken’s Krew operates in 9 states and works with other retailers as well including Dollar Tree, Wegmans and Wawa to foster neurodivergent employees and successfully employ adults with autism. In addition, brands like Walgreens have created REDI (retail employees with disabilities) and AMC Theaters has created FOCUS (employee development programs to further opportunities). 

The results of inclusion have now been quantified. According to the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 92% of customers view companies who hire autistic employees more favorably. The retail industry has invested countless resources to building brand engagement and loyalty and continues to churn through the cultural and economical impact of high turnover. Perhaps the solution is right in front of us—perhaps it takes a neurodivergent leader to see it.   


Jo Ann is an operations professional at COLUMBUS CONSULTING serving all aspects of the retail consulting firm, including holding a seat on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. She has over 22+years of professional experience and is the parent to a child with Autism. Her personal experiences propelled her to become active in the ASD community and to secure a certification for Diversity and Inclusion at Cornell University. Jo Ann leads the DEI training at CCI and is a strong advocate for her son and for all people with different abilities. 

Connect with one of our experts