There is currently a skills shortage in the UK jobs market, and employers are having to cast their net far and wide to find the best talent for their business. In a candidate-led market, employers must be candidate-focused, and that involves looking internally at their recruitment practices to ensure they’re not overlooking underrepresented groups.
There is a clear disparity in the workforce between neurodivergent and neurotypical employees. Just 21.7% of autistic people are in employment.1
In order to attract and engage underrepresented talent pools, employers must look at their recruitment practices and assess whether it can be more inclusive.
Candidate attraction, recruitment, and onboarding are at the forefront of our greenbean business model so we’re always exploring better ways of engaging with different demographics.
Those who are neurodiverse may feel the need to hide their condition over the fear of discrimination or dismissal, and oftentimes employers are unaware of how to approach or handle these concerns with consideration and care.
1 in 7 people have a condition linked to neurodiversity 2so it’s important for businesses to understand how to provide a working environment that benefits all employees.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiverse conditions typically include ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and Tourette syndrome though it is not limited to those conditions. No two people are alike, however, it is important to be aware of common traits and characteristics so you can adapt your interview style should you recognise the cues or the candidate themself reveals their condition. You will then be able to handle it with sensitivity.
“Neurodiversity can be a competitive advantage when the individuals are in the right environment, making use of their strengths, instead of constantly trying to overcome challenges. To achieve this we must create inclusive spaces to work and learn that reduce disabling factors and amplify diverse abilities.”3
Companies should be aware of the image they’re projecting to candidates from the offset including their branding, website, and social media.
Make it clear from the attraction stage that neurodiverse talent is welcomed and catered for.
Consider offering alternative methods of job applications such as video interviews or work trials so the barrier of a traditional interview can be avoided. An autistic person who would excel at the job may fail in a traditional interview environment.
Similarly, the wording of job adverts. Phrases like ‘social skills’ will likely cause an autistic candidate to reconsider sending an application. A Dyslexic candidate will be put off by roles that require lots of writing. Considerate phrasing will show neurodiverse candidates that the company is flexible and capable of supporting those who struggle but would otherwise excel if measures were taken to support their needs.
Job fairs are an excellent way to engage with proactive candidates. However, job fairs are loud and busy which can be a psychologically distressing environment for an autistic person. Virtual careers fairs can have the same overwhelming effect if not viewed through a neurodiverse lens.
To accommodate neurodiverse interests, why not have a designated ‘neurodiverse hour’?
Some neurodiverse talent will miss careers fairs altogether, either in-person or digitally, which is why getting in touch with organisations that support neurodiversity and reaching out to their email lists is a good way of advertising opportunities directly.
The recruitment process for a neurodiverse person requires a different way of understanding. Rather than dismiss applications or behaviours that don’t meet neurotypical expectations or conjure up “red flags”, consider the underlying reasons.
A person with ADHD is likely to have moved around jobs. Rather than seeing this as a negative, see it as a positive. At least the candidate is being honest and there is a legitimate reason as to why they’ve job-hopped.
Would you put yourself through a process that didn’t make reasonable adjustments? Or constantly rejected you?
Employers would naturally make adjustments for someone with a physical disability, for example, a person who needed wheelchair access. Not all disabilities are visible but they do require the same level of consideration.
During the interview process be aware of the ‘working memory’ difficulties that those with ADHD, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia have. By struggling to recall an answer, it may appear that the person does not know when all they need is more time to think.
While the STAR interview technique works from the interviewer’s perspective, a neurodiverse candidate may struggle to answer questions. Try and give neurodiverse candidates advance warning if STAR questions will be asked along with links to further information about the format so they have the chance to prepare. If tests are involved, allow extra time to even the playing field.
Using AI software to mark performance risks excluding neurodiverse talent as psychiatric tests treat neurotypical as the standard and neurodiverse as the exception. For example, flagging grammatical errors puts Dyslexic applicants at a disadvantage. Try and make the process as ‘human’ as possible to avoid this.
People on the ADHD and autistic spectrum very rarely lie. If you compare this to an interview with a neurotypical person who can embellish their achievements, neurodiverse candidates are at a disadvantage for their honesty. Both neurodivergent and neurotypical people should not be compared with each other as it is unfair for “neurotypical” to be the standard by which others are measured against.
Throughout the interview, it may seem that an autistic candidate is not interested, partly because they struggle to give constant eye contact, or they may appear blunt and matter-of-fact. However, it takes a lot of confidence for an autistic person to engage in a challenging social situation so they are likely very interested.
Neurodivergent people may take longer to respond so give them the benefit of the doubt if they miss a deadline but otherwise showed interest. Send reminders, be clear on deadlines and list specific instructions to follow.
People on the autistic spectrum are flexible and open to change. The difficulty arises when there is a sudden change. Be clear on your expectations throughout the recruitment process.
If neurodiverse candidates have a positive experience regardless of the outcome, they are likely to tell others about it and your future talent pool will become wider.
The onboarding process will determine how a neurodiverse person starts their role and if they are able to thrive going forward.
During orientation, be mindful that a neurodiverse colleague may forget who they have met and where they are supposed to sit or where the bathrooms are more than a neurotypical person. Try to prepare for this by putting up signage and printing a clearly marked orientation map so they can be independent sooner rather than later. Knowing who to turn to will help immensely. Repetition is key during this, too; make sure to highlight important information several times.
It is essential that a workplace assessment is carried out during this period to find out what adjustments are needed. The person with the condition is best situated to navigate this which is why it’s important for them to feel comfortable disclosing their preferences.
Different learning styles mean catering for different comfort levels.
Some offices are paper-free which may make neurodivergent employee uncomfortable as they work better with print-outs and writing things on paper. It is important to consider how to make the environment the most conducive to comfort and productivity.
Even if companies have been welcoming during the application process, this does not necessarily extend to the onboarding process. It is important to continue assessing each stage of the recruitment journey to better accommodate neurodiverse talent.
Neurodivergent talent has a high level of intelligence and is very capable. They will likely need ongoing training and support to maximise their potential, including a Line Manager checking in on a regular basis. If a person with ADHD thinks the Line Manager has lost interest, it is highly likely they will too. A catch-up coffee every now and again or a few “water cooler” moments ought to be enough.
Provide ‘project books’ so neurodiverse employees are able to prioritise tasks, giving them a quick reference point should they need it. It will help their focus rather than having to locate emails, documents, etc., thus relying less on their ‘working memory’.
Training and promotion opportunities ought to be encouraged equally. Everybody has their own version of performing at 100%. When formulating appraisal scores, this should be taken into consideration. For example, a person with dyspraxia walking slowly through the office so they don’t stumble means they lose approx. 10% of their working hours over a year. They could only ever achieve 90% if scores are not adjusted for their condition. Once adjusted, you realise that their 90% is in fact 100%.
Make sure employees are fully prepared for what to expect at appraisal or training so they are not taken by surprise by the metrics.
Reasonable adjustments should be discussed with everybody from the offset, with the understanding that these will evolve as time progresses. “Do you need any reasonable adjustments?” is the wrong question to ask. Someone with similar job experience can only guess their needs. Until they are working in a specific company, they won’t fully know what to ask for. Check in again after a couple of weeks or months and make sure to be consistent. People’s needs change.
Keep a record of the interview to save the embarrassment of asking something they have already told you.
A colleague who is overwhelmed with tasks will be more inclined to speak up, but a neurodiverse colleague will be a people-pleaser and take on many different tasks even if the deadlines are unrealistic. Assess workloads periodically and ensure manageability to prevent burnout.
Not all adjustments are obvious but ensuring a workplace assessment is carried out will highlight areas of improvement. Likewise, training colleagues to better understand neurodiversity will not only reduce friction and embarrassment but ensure everyone is part of the team. Creating a sense of belonging where employees can be their true selves will lead to a happier, more inclusive environment.
By being transparent, honest conversations will happen. Trust will be built. Retention will improve, with everybody achieving their own 100%.
Our special thanks go to Mark Charlesworth for his invaluable insight during research into this topic. Mark provides ADHD & Autism Coaching for organisations and individuals to better understand how to support Neurodiversity. He also provides masterclasses in Neurodiversity, Autism, and ADHD as well as Neurodiversity Audits, Workplace Assessments, and Guidance & Advice Sessions to help employers create more inclusive environments.
How greenbean can help
We put talent at the heart of everything we do. Our people-over-process approach can help you widen your talent pool and attract talent from disparate and underrepresented groups. If you don’t know where to begin in making your recruitment process inclusive and accessible for neurodiverse candidates then get in touch and find out how we can help.