Organisations are turning their recruitment efforts to an overlooked community of neurodiverse talent that will challenge their workforces to think and perform in different ways.
By Simon Kent
As organisations become more diverse, awareness of what may be termed as “invisible difference” has increased. And accepting neurodiversity—the way individuals think differently—is part of the agenda. It is often used as a reference point for people who are on the autistic spectrum or those with ADHD, but the concept goes further than this. If employers proactively seek people who think differently, they may find the skills which will greatly benefit their organisations.
Research from the UK suggests there is much to be done in getting the neurodiverse population working. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that just 22% of autistic adults are in any kind of employment and 84% of employers still admit to having “little” or “no” understanding of neurodiverse conditions. According to research from the City & Guilds Foundation and neurodiversity experts Do-IT Solutions, only 23% of HR professionals and a third of senior leaders (29%) have had specific training related to neurodiversity in the last 12 months.
Rachel Western, principal of technical team and health at Aon, says neurodivergent employees face a number of challenges in the workplace including misunderstanding and stereotyping, communication issues, limitation in development and promotion, and even blatant discrimination.
“The reasons for this are a lack of understanding of the complexities of a neurodivergent world and therefore the lack of process or tools in place to accommodate neurodivergent employees,” she says. “Ensuring a diverse and inclusive workforce attracts neurodivergents is key but behind this, it’s imperative that accommodations are made within the workplace to support them.”
Western advocates that companies should develop their own neurodiversity policy which aligns with company culture and demonstrates to neurodivergent employees their corporate commitments. “This aims to focus on an open and honest workforce culture that enables a neurodivergent person to be open about their issues so accommodations can be met,” she says.
Education and awareness across the workforce are important but should specifically target line managers by:
- focusing on what neurodiversity is;
- determining how it can impact individuals; and
- making accommodations to support this group.
Nicki Pritchard, managing partner at specialist executive search, interim management and advisory consultancy, Anderson Quigley, says that being neurodiverse isn’t something that everyone will tell their employer. “We must acknowledge that not all individuals who are neurodiverse may want to disclose their condition to an employer, regardless of how inclusive that organisation is,” she explains. “It is a very personal choice. Some may be hesitant to share this information for fear that it will cause bias against them in the recruitment process or in their day-to-day work.”
In addition to this, Pritchard notes that neurodivergency can be a highly personal condition that requires very specific support. “When we talk about managing neurodivergence in a business, we must ensure we’re treating people at an individual level and not broadly as a group,” she says.
With this in mind, employers need to be ready to make accommodations that level the playing field and allow individuals to play to their strengths. Ideally, this needs to happen from the moment a candidate approaches the business.
Standard interview techniques, for example, can compromise the performance of neurodiverse candidates. “During interviews, employers can help neurodiverse people show off their skills and suitability for the advertised role by only asking relevant questions,” advises Kat Snodgrass, head of talent pool at global emerging talent and reskill provider Wiley Edge. “They should try to stay away from open-ended questions, focusing on the candidate being able to demonstrate specific skills rather than their ability to read social cues.”
Whilst awareness of neurodiversity is hugely important during the recruitment process, Snodgrass describes it as a “natural extension” for a business—particularly one which already offers individualised support for employees who need it. “Regular neurodiversity training is provided to all staff at Wiley Edge, which gives everyone involved in recruitment processes a clear understanding of neurodiversity, whilst also equipping everyone to ensure all voices are listened to and valued in the workplace,” she says.
Payroll and HR services company ADP is already on a journey to increase neurodiversity within its business. Melanie Robinson, the company’s senior HR director for UK, Ireland, and Nordics, notes that within their ongoing DEI initiatives, ADP is determined to focus on neurodiversity. “Currently, we are exploring what support, training, and adjustments we can make to our working environment within ADP to be more inclusive for a neurodiverse workforce,” she says.
The company is at the early stages of a project, partnering with a neurodiverse specialist organisation to help them specifically target the neurodiverse candidate slate. Part of this process involves reviewing hiring and onboarding practices to ensure the proper adjustments are in place to engage with this kind of talent.
This focus, as well as tapping into the neurodiverse community, is helping to power a more holistic well-being theme for the business. “At the moment, the focus has been on awareness and trainings, partnering with our medical provider, and awareness initiatives run by our business resource group, THRIVE, that has a strong focus on wellness in general,” says Robinson.
As with inclusion more generally, boosting the neurodivergent workforce can deliver benefits for a business beyond improvements in statistics alone. “Diversity of thought and looking at opportunities and challenges in a different way is what makes an organisation truly successful,” says Pritchard. “If managed with understanding and open communication, neurodiversity needn’t present problems for co-workers and in fact, I believe it presents an opportunity for greater work from a team.”
Snodgrass agrees that neurodiverse candidates can give organisations an advantage, particularly when it comes to fresh skills. “Neurodiversity has a seismically positive impact on a workforce, and it is increasingly being viewed as a ‘superpower,’” she says. “Just some of the skills neurodiverse individuals can offer the workplace are recognition in patterns and data sets, or enhanced emotional intelligence. Introducing neurodiverse voices into a business can significantly boost innovation, as well as enhance efficiency and effectiveness.”
When handled correctly, HR shouldn’t just be looking for an impact on their diversity and inclusion goals when they address neurodiversity: The impact will also be seen on the innovation record of the business and ultimately, the company’s overall bottom line.