How to Embrace Neurodiversity in Your Workplace

Neurodiversity is “the diversity of human brains and minds”

Neurodiversity is a term originally coined by Australian sociologist, Judy Singer, in the late-1990s. It refers to the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population (used especially in the context of autistic spectrum disorders). In the workplace, it is the idea of inclusivity that extends to neurological differences, including hiring and retaining talent with neuro-variations such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia.

Despite increased awareness of neurodiversity, the latest data shows that Australia experiences one of the highest rates of unemployment of people with disabilities in the OECD (Soldatic & Pini, 2009), suggesting a lack of sustainable employment opportunities for people with disabilities (Lantz & Marston, 2012). Compound this with the fact that many standard recruitment practices (such as the use of technology to assess social skills) can disadvantage neurodiverse candidates and you’ve got a roadblock.

Neurodiverse candidates often possess exceptional skill sets, such as being able to recognise patterns within large sets of data and prolonged periods of concentration, that other candidates may not, yet those affected often struggle to fit the profiles sought by prospective employers. Multiple studies have shown that there are also correlations between elevated levels of stress caused by uncertainty for those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Therefore, when it comes to recruitment, neurodiverse candidates will benefit from knowing exactly what to expect at each stage of the process.

In 2016, EY piloted an Autism program in Philadelphia, hiring four people with autism as account support professionals. The program established EY’s Neurodiversity Center of Excellence, which today employs about 60 people across the U.S. and is looking to expand internationally.

According to Harvard Business Review, the benefits of neurodiversity programs include “productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities” (because neurodiverse employees often do not see things the same way neurotypical employees do) and “broad increases in employee engagement.”

So let’s take a look at how you can attract and retain neurodiverse talent.

Remove barriers from your application process

We’ve said it before as it really is an outdated practice, but generic blanket statements on job descriptions only muddle otherwise straightforward insights and make job functions unclear, especially for neurodiverse applicants. Simplify your language and make it specific to the job you are posting. Creating a job description can be tough, but investing the time it takes to write a good one improves not only the volume of candidates, but the diversity and quality of those candidates.

Our experience tells us that job adverts often include lengthy ‘wish lists’ of essential skills, so we recommend challenging these – do all employees really need “excellent communication skills” for example (often a default skill listed), as neurodiverse candidates may be dissuaded from applying.

Clarify that your company welcomes neurodiverse candidates

Make this small addition in the introduction of your job ad. It puts neurodiverse candidates at ease and helps them feel confident in submitting their application. For example, you could say something like:

“[Company name] welcomes applications from neurodiverse candidates, and is willing to make accommodations in the interview process to best suit the needs and strengths of the individual. If you require accommodations, please contact us upon our response to your application”

Set candidates expectations

The traditional recruitment process can make  candidates with neurodiversity nervous due to the uncertainty of the process or expectations, combined with the knowledge that their every action is scrutinised. Successful applicants should be provided detail in a clear format in advance that outlines the recruitment process, such as what to expect on the day, directions to the office, and names of the hiring managers who will be interviewing them. This kind of pre-planning is just one change that employers can make to enable neurodiverse candidates to perform at their best.

Rethink the interview process

Another factor preventing this untapped talent pool from being hired is that many hiring managers don’t know how to interview someone on the autism spectrum, who might not perform well in a traditional sit-down interview. Traditionally, the interview process has relied heavily on social cues such as body language, eye contact and communication skills. However, during the interview itself, interviewers should focus on the specific skills needed for the job. In this case, it is best practice to allow neurodiverse candidates to see questions in advance of the interview.

Audit your assessments

Assessment technology is increasingly used to level the playing field and encourage meritocratic hiring, however, some approaches can disadvantage neurodiverse candidates. For example, some game-based assessments can include elements of pattern recognition which has a disproportionate impact on neurodiverse candidates.

When assessing neurodiverse candidates, hiring managers should consider the type of environment that this will be taking place in. For example, neurodiverse individuals may have a heightened reaction to external stimuli such as noise, so it is worth producing an interview guide that encourages candidates to select an area that will be free of disturbances (if undertaking assessments remotely).

In Summary

Creating a neurodiverse workforce will require hiring managers to take a step back, remove assumptions and communicate in a new way. The bottom line is that inclusion is worth the extra effort.

Contact us to learn more about the challenges of recruiting neurodiverse candidates and how we can help you adjust your recruitment process.


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