A lack of understanding of how to support neurodiversity in the workplace can make it harder for neurodivergent candidates to find work. For example, the unemployment rate for neurodivergent adults is three times the rate for people with a disability and eight times the rate for non-disabled adults. And ONS data shows that the employment rate for people with autism stands at 29% – which is lower than the employment rate for disabled people with other types of impairment.
Neurodiversity describes differences in the brain that cause some people to think, learn, process, and behave differently. Several conditions come under the umbrella of neurodiversity – and people with these conditions are often described as ‘neurodivergent.’ These conditions include Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia. People who are neurodivergent may have different strengths and struggles compared to neurotypical people.
“The biggest barrier is ableism, said Nathan Chung, who is openly autistic with ADHD and a multi-award winner for advocating diversity and inclusion. He is also the host of the NeuroSec podcast and writes the NeuroSec newsletter, amplifying the voices of the Neurodiversity community. “Organizations often view people with disabilities negatively and as a burden, focusing on what they cannot do instead of what they can do. The script needs to be flipped.”
Marissa Borzykowski is the Chief of Staff at Spectrum Designs Foundation, a custom apparel and promotional items business with a social mission – to create meaningful and inclusive employment opportunities for autistic people. Borzykowski agrees that there are misconceptions about neurodivergent employees in the workplace. “Some think that they’re not as productive, antisocial, or make for poor quality control – these beliefs could not be further from the truth,” she said.
While there has been a growing commitment to hiring this untapped talent pool, some companies are still struggling with ways to best executive on this. Below are recruitment experts, Khyati Sundaram the CEO at Applied, Borzykowski, and Chung, who share their advice for employers on how to build an inclusive recruitment process that supports neurodiversity.
Ways To Recruit Neurodivergent Talent
Make job ads inclusive: Sundaram suggests a job ad should inform your candidates about the role in question. But for, some neurodivergent candidates, they can represent the first hurdle in an application process.
Chung agrees. “Eliminate language that turns away Neurodivergent people such as ‘team player’ or ‘excellent communication skills,'” he suggests.”
Also, for candidates with dyslexia, for example, the words on a job advert and application may move around the page or appear in an inverted form, making the information more difficult to process and digest.
To make your job advert more inclusive, make it available in readable fonts with wide spacing, such as Arial, Comic Sans, Verdana, and Century Gothic in sizes 12 – 14. It would help if you also considered the readability of the language used. For example, reading difficult scores are readily available online. Simple, accessible language in readable fonts benefits everyone and will ensure a larger pool of candidates can comfortably process the information you’re presenting.
Consider restructuring the interview process: “The way we conduct interviews is back to front,” said Sundaram. “We’re often expected to send off a CV that ‘speaks for us’ – and to take part in a brief and unstructured telephone interview that involves small talk and screening questions designed to assess ‘cultural fit.’ These two stages leave room for unconscious bias. They tell employers little about a candidate’s skill set but can put candidates with different communication styles, career gaps, or a varied employment history at a disadvantage.”
For example, candidates with autism often have a literal understanding of language and may find it hard to understand rhythm, inflection, and colloquialisms over the phone. And the telephone interview screening process risks putting anyone with a non-typical communication style out of the running. If this process element is removed, it removes another hurdle so neurodivergent candidates can move through it and play to their strengths.
“Our interview process is extremely flexible and varies from candidate to candidate and job to job,” explained Borzykowski. “Depending on the job seeker, we might do a phone call, Zoom, in-person interview, written assessment, or an in-person training session. We take a strengths-based approach to every applicant, meeting people where they’re at in as many ways as possible.”
Chung also recommends employers offer accommodations to make the interview process easier. Examples include: Getting the interview questions ahead of time to reduce anxiety, doing online interviews instead of in-person, reducing the number of interviewers, and providing breaks.
Use ‘work sample’ tests: When hiring for neurodiversity, instead of using telephone interviews or resumes, employers should assess candidates using ‘work sample’ tests instead. These involve asking candidates to complete role-specific tasks designed to test their skill set for the role in question. Work samples are a more accurate predictor of performance than interviews or CVs – and allow all candidates to be judged fairly on merit and skill alone.
“All too often, the interview is a social dance that is a nightmare for neurodivergent job seekers who struggle with social interactions,” said Chung. “Instead, it is better to let the job seeker demonstrate their skills by diagraming a solution on a whiteboard, preparing a presentation, or having them show how they would perform specific job tasks.”
Make the interview process inclusive: “There’s no one-size-fits-all regarding how people like to be assessed and interviewed. So it can be tricky to cater to all needs. The best thing you can do to support neurodivergent candidates is to work out which areas of your recruitment process might be most triggering – and offer alternatives wherever possible.
“For example,” says Sundaram. “Suppose you tend to offer group’ interview days’, where many candidates are called upon to present. In that case, you might put candidates who struggle to process the information on the spot – or who find large group scenarios overstimulating or struggle to follow social cues – at a disadvantage. If presenting publicly is not a skill required for your advertising role, don’t make it part of the interview process. If it is, ensures options are available for those happy to disclose their needs and who would like to showcase their skills in another way.”
Using ‘structured’ interviews – where all candidates are asked the same set of questions at the interview, to guard against ‘cultural fit’ questions is a great way to level the playing field for all candidates during the interview process.
Ask for feedback: “One of the best ways to work out how you can improve how you do things to be more inclusive is to ask people who’ve been through it,” Sundaram advises. “Gather feedback from our existing workforce – as well as candidates who’ve recently applied to roles with you – and use it to identify your blind spots and gauge areas for improvement that you can implement the next time you recruit.”
Matching The Right Person To The Right Job
There are many reasons to consider hiring neurodiverse individuals. A 2018 study by Accenture, AAPD, and Disability found that the companies that hired neurodivergent people achieved 28% higher revenue, twice the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins compared with other companies in the same sample.
“Neurodivergent workers are amazing,” states Chung. “Many have strong attention to detail, finding a needle in the haystack, and the ability to hyperfocus to complete tasks quickly. These are competitive advantages that can drive teams and organizations forward.”
And research supports this. Various studies show that autistic consultants find, on average, 10% more bugs than their non-autistic colleagues when checking software code for errors.
“Neurodivergent employees are highly professional, loyal, efficient, and boost a company’s culture and image,” said Ms. Borzykowski. “Diversity throughout the workforce is a proven asset for both the employee and the employer. As we like to say at Spectrum, ‘great minds don’t always think alike.'”
As for Chung’s advice for other neurodivergent individuals looking for work, Chung said, “Many people who are neurodivergent try to hide who they are to fit in and look normal. Pretending to be someone you’re not is exhausting and will hold back a person’s career. It is best to accept yourself when one is neurodivergent because if we cannot accept who we are, how can we expect others to accept us? Job hunting and interviewing are easier if we present our best and authentic selves and then show what we can do. People will be surprised.”