September 27, 2021

Neurodiverse workers: ‘throw the rule book out the window’ to create an inclusive hiring process

Neurodiverse individuals and recruitment experts reveal 7 ways that hiring practices can be more inclusive for neurodiverse candidates

Neurodiverse workers and recruitment experts are advising employers to “throw the rule book out the window” when it comes to traditional hiring practices in order to create systems that are more inclusive of a range of abilities, behaviours and skills.

Theo Smith, author of ‘Neurodiversity at Work’ stated: “We’ve seen with COVID that it’s possible to throw the rule book out the window. Organisations had to change overnight. This needs to happen in recruitment too and we now know that it’s possible. To support neurodivergent applicants, we must take a new approach”.

Research shows that neurodiverse individuals have variations in the brain which can affect mood, sociability, attention span, and other mental activities, with conditions such as Dyslexia, Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), among others, falling under the neurodiverse spectrum. Individuals with these conditions may require further support or efforts to accommodate them in work environments which are largely designed only with neurotypical (non neurodiverse) candidates in mind.

Yet neurodiverse candidates can offer workforces a range of skills. Autism, for example, is typically associated with strong visuospatial skills and better-than-average mathematics which can perfectly suit sectors where facts and accuracy are essential – accountancy, architecture, journalism or proof-reading for example. As such, diverse employees can offer a spectrum of skills for a range of sectors.

Theo Smith along with 4 other neurodivergent workers and recruiters spoke with experts at Headstartthe early talent recruitment software that focuses on hiring diverse talent fairly. Together they revealed 7 ways that recruiters can make changes a reality.

Improve awareness 

The first barrier to inclusive recruitment is that many individuals are still unsure of the term ‘neurodiversity’ and what its true effects are. Because of this, negative, stereotyped stigmas and labels can be attached to neurodiverse candidates when, in reality, neurodiversity is positive in many ways. Candidates who experience it may have different skills and abilities that can empower teams with diverse ways of thinking and working.

Education is essential to eradicate any negative connotations and for employers to understand how to provide neurodiverse candidates with environments that they can thrive in.

Question traditional talent assessment methods

Because neurodiverse candidates may think, understand or analyse situations differently to neurotypical candidates, traditional assessment methods may not be designed in ways that can identify or show off their true capabilities.

For example, some neurodiverse candidates may struggle to make eye contact – a trait that is negatively perceived in interviews. However, in many cases, this trait is often not a true indicator of their fit for a role and can impact hiring based on irrelevant factors.

Assessing and reimaging biased recruitment practices is key. Doing this successfully requires recruiters to look beyond blanket talent assessment such as face to face interviews, or group exercise and consider the exact skills needed for the role along with innovative hiring assessments such as psychometric assessments or games on mobile phones, that precisely identify those traits.

Recognise that inclusive hiring starts right at the beginning

When making changes to hiring practices, an inclusive approach must be embodied from the beginning. For example, job descriptions must be free from jargon, candidates should have clarity on what exactly is expected of them within the specified role and they should also be told what the hiring process will look like. Doing this sets clear expectations so participants have a better chance to perform well within an inclusive culture.

Adjust the environment

Certain environments can be particularly distracting for some neurodiverse candidates. Ensuring that recruitment spaces are adjusted can greatly impact performance. Distractions vary entirely depending on the candidate and their condition but could include: fluorescent lighting, food smells and squeaky chairs. Showing awareness and removing potentially harmful or bothersome diversions will help candidates remain focused on the task at hand.

Be aware of the possibilities and pitfalls when it comes to technology

Understanding the benefits and hindrances that technology can have on diverse hiring can make a huge difference to neurodiverse candidates. In many ways, technology can be used to support individuals. For example, collecting recruitment data allows hiring managers to look at the predictive validity of processes and decision making; it simultaneously allows them to study proportional representation within workforces to gain insight into how diverse the hiring decisions truly are.

However, a lot of technology is not set up to capture these differences and can hinder neurodiverse candidate’s opportunities. Some technology can reinforce human biases in decision making – for example, in video interviews, once again, candidates may struggle with social cues. Problematically too, once technology systems are in place, they can be very hard to dismantle. Recruitment teams must be sure they are putting tech in place that helps and not hinders the process for candidates.

Be proactive in creating a hyper-personalised approach

As particular hiring practices and environmental changes affect neurodiverse candidates differently, a blanket approach cannot be used to create an inclusive environment. Offering a hyper-personalised experience is vital.

Be proactive here to understand the exact needs of candidates. Remember, too, that many candidates may not feel comfortable coming forward to talk about their neurodivergent traits directly, with some feeling that negative stigmas can put them in a poor light. Therefore, actively offer individuals the chance to express their needs, or show that you have resources to help them, for example, by providing noise-cancelling headphones, a calm space or short breaks – small adjustments that will assist their unique requirements.

Company culture must match recruitment practices

Finally, it’s vital that the workplace culture matches the recruitment process. Therefore, if inclusive hiring is practised, the same inclusive approach needs to be offered in the day-to-day job.

Creating this environment relies on several factors. Firstly, it requires an environment where open conversations around diversity are encouraged – where employees feel comfortable expressing their needs and their colleagues actively want to enact and support positive change in the workplace. Having representative leadership is vital too. In part, discussions can remain closed and neurodiverse candidates may feel guarded in opening up about their conditions as there may be few leaders they identify with. Normalising neurodiverse workers and showing that they too are successful can support significant changes.