What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity doesn’t have an official definition, but generally speaking, it refers to variation that exists in the human brain with regards to mood, attention, learning and sociability. While the term was initially coined to describe autism to avoid labeling the condition as a disability, it’s generally accepted that it includes people with ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, dyslexia and dyspraxia.
Neurotypical people make up the majority of the workforce, although it’s important to note that everyone is differently abled to some extent. People exist across all levels of the neuropsychiatric spectrum and often have incredible talents that compensate for difficulties surrounding specifics, such as social interactions and focus.
Some people would consider epilepsy, bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions among the neurodiverse population. For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on employment for autistic adults, but the overarching message of inclusivity is all-encompassing.
A vast pool of untapped potential
Data from Drexel University shows that fewer than one in six adults with autism is in full-time employment, and only four in 10 will ever find meaningful employment in their lifetime. Considering a whopping 77% of adults with autism are actively looking for work, there’s a huge pool of untapped potential.
According to the Harvard Business Review, the major issue holding companies back from hiring more neurodiverse candidates is conformity. Operators have been so focused on standardization and absolute conformity, which is essential for brand consistency, they’ve missed out on hiring varied talent. When it comes to a thriving team, diversity and skill set are infinitely more important than uniformity of character.
Neurodiverse candidates may require additional accommodations, but these are often simple and inexpensive. For example, people with autism might require noise-canceling headphones or adaptive lighting. What’s more, neurodiverse candidates can offer an alternative perspective, highly specialized skills and an array of other benefits for your organization.
Benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace
Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent advantages of taking an inclusive approach to neurodiversity in the workplace:
- The unique skill sets neurodiverse people often display can make it easier to attract and retain skilled workers in hard-to-fill positions
- Neurodiverse individuals often require that you speak to them in a direct manner, as opposed to hinting or using irony, which can improve company culture for all employees
- Some neurodiverse individuals have perfectionist tendencies, which can improve quality standards
- Adapting the workplace to be more inclusive can increase employee engagement and inject a sense of purpose and meaning into the company culture
- The United Nations and other globally recognized organizations often show recognition to companies that implement neurodiversity policies, which improves the employer brand
How to screen your recruitment process for bias
Many standard recruitment processes exclude neurodiverse people from the job market, whether it’s because of technology or the language used in job ads. Below are some examples of ways you can tweak your recruitment process to make it more inclusive.
Train all managers and employees
The first step after making the decision to hire neurodiverse candidates, before introducing neurodiverse individuals to the workplace, is employee training. While you should provide extensive inclusivity and diversity training to managers, it’s just as important to train employees.
Some people might have an outdated understanding of conditions such as autism, and they’ll be grateful to learn and upgrade their understanding. When someone with autism comes into your workplace, it’s crucial that they feel accepted and understood by their colleagues.
Neglecting this step could result in hostility or confusion from existing employees who see someone who appears neurotypical getting additional accommodations. You could even take the opportunity to make the entire workplace more accomodating, thus improving employee experience and ultimately customer experience.
Tidy up job adverts
Some job ads are overly lengthy and jargony, making them difficult for some people to read and understand. Important details, such as skill requirements, salary and working hours, should be clearly written in a format that’s simple and easy to understand. Think about whether skills are actually required or just listed as standard. For instance, does the role genuinely necessitate excellent communication skills? This language might prevent a neurodiverse individual from applying.
Some employers use the interview process as a test of punctuality and navigation. However, neurodiverse candidates might benefit from clear instructions about where to go, how to get there and what to expect.
What’s more, some people might benefit from more flexible working hours—including neurotypical individuals. As such, you might consider being more lenient with precise timings, provided everyone works their allotted working hours.
Review your website
It’s not just job ads that you’ll need to audit. You should also try to ensure your online careers pages are accessible and inclusive. While rich media can be a great way of making your pages stand out, blinking or flashing content can be unbearable for someone with autism.
Check your entire document catalog, including any content about neurodiversity, to ensure it doesn’t include ableist language. Terms, such as ‘special needs’ and ‘normal’ can be offensive, so be sure to trawl your online and offline documents to eradicate ableism.
Interview best practices
Now that your job ads and website are optimized and your staff is trained on neurodiversity and inclusivity, it’s time to get hiring. Interviews are one of the biggest barriers between neurodiverse individuals and employment, according to experts.
These tips can help your company develop an interviewing strategy that lets all candidates confidently present themselves in their best light.
Be considerate with the environment
People who are hypersensitive to stimuli can find noisy, distracting settings highly uncomfortable. Choose a quiet location that’s free from loud noises, bright lights and distracting smells to help neurodiverse candidates feel at ease.
Avoid abstract questions
Questions that ask the applicant to explain what someone else might do in a situation, and using hyperbole, idioms or metaphors, can be confusing to someone with autism. Be very specific when asking questions and try to relate them to the individual’s personal experience to get the best responses.
If a question doesn’t seem to relate to the job at hand or is too open-ended, a neurodiverse person might feel confused. Be as direct as possible and try to relate questions and statements to experiences that are relevant to the workplace and the job at hand.
Consider the importance of social cues for the role
Many interviews end up mainly testing an individual’s social skills, as opposed to measuring their ability to perform tasks. While this might be necessary for public-facing roles, it’s not the priority in many instances. Unless social cues are crucial to the role, avoid judging neurodiverse applicants based on physical tics, fidgeting or eye contact.
Focus on skills
As mentioned previously, it’s advisable to focus on hard skills, rather than soft skills, when interviewing a neurodiverse candidate. You might consider a skills-based interview, such as a trial shift or cognitive assessment that directly demonstrates an applicant’s aptitude for a role. Another good tactic is to ask for previous work or education samples and review them in line with company expectations.
Neurodiverse job applicants might need a little more space and time in an interview. Give the individual plenty of opportunity to answer questions, and resist the temptation to prompt them or finish their sentence.
Tips for engaging and retaining neurodiverse talent
There are a number of steps to take to develop and implement a neurodiversity policy. Here’s a quick seven-step guide to attracting and retaining neurodiverse talent:
- Take a data-driven approach to learning about the professional aspirations and expectations of neurodiverse candidates. By finding out about their goals and the challenges they regularly face, you can develop a job role and content that meets the needs of your business and the neurodiverse community.
- Consider using new communication channels and partner with relevant associations and programs to help you reach neurodiverse people.
- Redesign every step of the recruitment process with neurodiversity in mind.
- Consider developing specific job roles. Neurodiverse talent often thrives when performing tasks that require hard skills, such as problem-solving, quality assurance and data analysis.
- Gather testimonials, interviews and other real-life stories to add credibility to your brand’s neurodiversity campaign.
- Roll out a training program on inclusivity before introducing any neurodiverse employees to the workplace to ensure the whole team understands the benefits of inclusivity.
- Conduct regular one-to-one interviews and gather feedback from anonymous surveys to continually improve the workplace for all candidates.
Examples of companies that hire neurodiverse employees
Gainful employment is the way the majority of people spend the majority of their time. Excluding an entire community from the workplace despite them having the skills and knowledge to perform a job means everyone misses out. The following companies have already adopted a policy to encourage neurodiversity in the workplace:
- The Home Depot
- Hewlett Packard Australia
- Freddie Mac
Notable training and employment programs for autistic adults
If you’re thinking about strengthening your workforce by hiring neurodiverse employees, we’d recommend getting in touch with organizations that are working toward a more inclusive workplace. You can learn from these groups and get access to resources to help with training and designing the hiring process.