In 2021, we should all be looking at how to make our businesses more equitable and accessible to everyone. Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is the talk of HR and management teams up and down the country, but it is so much more than race, gender, or sexuality.
Neurodiverse people, such as those with autism spectrum disorder or ADHD, make up a large percentage of the workforce, yet so little consideration is given to making adjustments for them or including them within ED&I policies.
The term 'neurodiverse' is thought to have been first coined in 1998 byThe Atlantic journalist Harvey Blume, as a ‘catch-all’ term for the natural range of differences in human brain function, highlighting how people think differently from each other. The term is often used to describe those with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other neurological conditions.
“Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will be best at any given moment?” – Harvey Blume, The Atlantic
Neurodiverse people have often struggled to land and retain jobs. They can be seen as ‘other’, their behaviour or speech patterns not the same as the rest of the team, and - thanks to harmful media portrayals and social discourse – seen as ‘difficult’ to work with. This is absolutely not the case.
There are a growing number of employers, such as British Intelligence agencies, who have begun to embrace neurodiverse hiring, valuing the talents and opinions of employees or potential hires that think differently to the people that they would usually consider for roles. Having a diverse team of people leads to many different points of view sat at the table, leading to innovation and problem-solving.
There are countless studies that show that businesses that hire neurodiverse workers often have a broader variety of strengths, higher levels of innovation and creativity, contain a wider range of opinions and background, and are an overall more ethically responsible organisation.
“What you’re missing are some people who are going to solve a problem in your organisation that you’ve been struggling with for years." - Dr Nancy Doyle via The Telegraph, chartered psychologist and Chief Executive of Genius Within.
But how do businesses ensure that their hiring and onboarding processes are not only accessible to neurodiverse people, but attractive?
The job advert
The first thing that a candidate, neurodiverse or not, is going to see of your company is likely to be the job advert and description. We've seen our fair share of badly written job adverts, but how can you make your advert appealing to everyone?
First of all, take a good look at the language that you use. You should write your job adverts in plain and concise English, avoiding jargon or too much unnecessary information. This helps avoid any confusion. Most job adverts contain phrases such as "must have strong teamwork skills" or "must be a good communicator", even if the role doesn't specifically require it. For example, whilst excellent communication skills may be a genuine requirement for some roles, it's unlikely to be essential to other roles such as data handling.
These phrases are also very broad and can be open to interpretation. Many neurodiverse jobhunters may see these phrases and decide not to apply for the role, even if they are highly skilled and otherwise ideal for it.
Instead of these 'generic' words and phrases, narrow down the skills that you are actually looking for and be explicit about them, instead of listing generic skills. Presenting them in bullet points can be very helpful. Clearly outline which criteria are must-haves, and which are desirable.
Lastly, make sure that you include an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion statement within the advert, welcoming applications from all backgrounds, and stating that you are happy to discuss any reasonable adjustments required. This can help put someone’s mind at ease if they are anxious about applying. Here is an example of one we helped our friends over at the George House Trust put together:
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the heart of who we are and what we do. Our commitment to these values is unwavering and they are central to our mission. We encourage applications from all backgrounds, communities and industries and we are happy to discuss any reasonable adjustments that you require.
The application process
When it comes to reviewing applications for the role, it is a very good idea to consider using blind recruitment processes where possible. This helps remove any unconscious bias. For example, a person with a 'patchy' work history may be perceived as unreliable, but the actual truth is that they have been unsupported in previous roles.
Try not to be too critical when it comes to minor errors. If you have a large portion of applications to go through, then discounting applications with these small errors may seem like a good idea in order to narrow your search. However, that means that you may have discounted all applicants with dyslexia, for example.
It is also a good idea to review a candidate's actual work, as this can help to provide a better and more accurate indication of their abilities. Allowing them opportunities to demonstrate their competency and ability during the process allows you to make a better and more informed decision – whether the candidate is neurodivergent or not.
If you are using assessments as part of your hiring process, ensure that they are as objective as possible. Be sure to also provide transparency throughout the entire application process.
“Not all the features of atypical human operating systems are bugs.” - Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
The interview process
First and foremost, interviewers and hiring managers should take the time to make sure that they understand that a potential hire may need additional support through the process. Being open to adapting your interview process can make a huge difference. So few interviewers reach out and check ahead of time to see if the person that they’ve invited to interview needs any additional support. Remember, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, every Neurodiverse person is an individual, with unique skills and needs.
An interview can be a very stressful situation for a neurodiverse person. In person interviews are often in an unfamiliar location, piling on stress and anxiety to an already stressful situation. Simple things such as meeting the interviewee at the door at a specific time and walking with them to the interview room can take a lot of that pressure away – they don’t need to navigate an unfamiliar location alone, and they’re not being left alone for an extended period of time which may cause further anxiety. It may also be advisable to provide the candidate with a copy of the questions you intend on asking ahead of time.
Interviewers should also be up-front and open about their thoughts. Many neurodiverse people struggle to read or pick up on body language, so whilst the interviewer may think that they’re giving off ‘friendly vibes’, the interviewee may not be able to pick up on this and think that they’re not performing well. Detailed feedback is also essential for the same reasons.
Just by showing that your business is willing and happy to make reasonable adjustments before and during the interview could also help ease a lot of the stress.
After the interview, remember: feedback, feedback, feedback.
Keep lines of communication open and transparent - don’t just disappear off the face of the Earth! Your feedback should not just be one way, either. Speak to your candidates, neurodivergent or not, and get their feedback on the process. Not only does it keep lines of communication open and honest, but you can use this feedback to improve your hiring process in the future.
When you are considering neurodivergent candidates, it is important to remember that the interview process is often more of a test of social competence than ability to do a job. Take a minute to stop and think if any ‘awkward’ moments in the interview would actually have any bearing on a candidate’s ability to do their job. Definitely avoid penalising unconventional body language or an apparent lack of social skills, as this would be discrimination.
Onboarding and ongoing support
Better onboarding is an absolute must for most organisations. Many businesses have had the same onboarding process for years now, thinking that it is a ‘one size fits all’ approach – this is absolutely not true. Taking the time to explain things, such as how to book holidays or medical appointments, in greater detail at the start of their employment can avoid larger issues down the line.
A supportive line manager or management team is also essential. Make it clear that they can be approached whenever they are needed, no matter how big or small the issue, and that they will be dealt with impartially and appropriately.
If possible, provide your whole team with anti-bias training, to ensure that they are prepared for when the new employee starts work. There are also organisations, such as Genius Within, that will undertake a specialist assessment with the new starter, to get an accurate and detailed report on how management can best support them, helping take a large portion of guesswork and stress out of the process.
Remember that things that are often standard procedure for a new hire, like ‘icebreaking’ activities, can cause severe anxiety in neurodivergent people. Check with the new hire first if they would be truly comfortable with this, and if not, ask them how they would prefer to be introduced to their new colleagues. A more one-to-one approach to onboarding can benefit someone who is neurodivergent. Also be sure to check if there are any other requirements that they need catered for before they begin, like desk positioning or provision of additional technology.
Colleagues can help new neurodiverse hires settle in by simply being understanding and willing to support them, without being overbearing or pushy about it. Quick email check-ins to see how they’re settling in or an invite to get a coffee at break can make a huge difference, as neurodiverse people are often used to feeling ‘other’. Understanding can, again, make a huge difference in this situation.
Often when neurodiverse workers feel under pressure or stressed, they can come across as ‘defensive’ or ‘angry’, when really they are suffering from being overstimulated or struggling to deal with the pressure. Managers and colleagues not reacting adversely to this, and by maintaining a supportive atmosphere – for example offering help instead of insisting the employee ‘calm down’, or giving them time and space to themselves - a team can really help someone feel like they are a valued member of the team and not a burden.
It is important to remember that not everybody who is neurodivergent is comfortable disclosing it, no matter how open and accepting you are being, and a lot may not even know that they are neurodivergent. For example, the author of this piece didn’t find out until they were 31 years old, and many of the actions outlined in this piece would have been incredibly helpful to them in the past, if only they had known to ask.
Making these changes can also benefit those seen as ‘neurotypical’, as easing anxiety and having transparent communication can only be a good thing. Whether you set out to hire neurodiverse workers or not, making your hiring process more accessible and equitable will benefit your business in the long-term.
If you would like to find out more about neurodiversity in the workplace, the CIPD’s Neurodiversity at Work reportis a fantastic, free resource.
This article is an #OwnVoices article, penned by one of our neurodiverse employees, with further input and advice from other members of the neurodiversity community.