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Embracing our differences: How to ensure neurodiversity in hiring

May 30, 2023
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Bob Dylan wasn't wrong when he sang that the times are a-changin’. A few decades ago it was common to see a workplace full of the same kinds of people, with ever so slight variations. Nowadays, however, businesses  are realising the power of diversity and the many benefits it can bring to the company.

Background diversity has been top of the agenda for a few years, however, when it comes to neurodiversity, we are only now starting to prioritise this in the workplace. But how do you make your organisation neurodiverse?

What is neurodiversity?

People are unique. No one is exactly the same as their peers, and that goes for our brains as well. We all live on a spectrum, and ‘normal’ is nonexistent. Each one of us thinks differently, functions differently, and experiences the world differently. However, some of our brains differ enough from the majority of the population that certain labels apply.

These labels — such as autism, ADD/ADHD, Tourette's syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia — have gained the umbrella term ‘neurodiversity’ or ‘neurodivergence’, while those who fall outside these categories are usually referred to as ‘neurotypical’. But neurodiversity is not uncommon, and shouldn’t be dismissed: in fact, one in every five to six people exhibits some form of neurodivergence.

What are the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace?

Neurodiversity is not a disadvantage, it’s just different. And difference in the workplace is highly beneficial. Neurodivergent candidates usually possess specific skill sets that are difficult to find elsewhere, from pattern recognition and concentration in those with autism, to creativity and hyper-focus in hires with ADD/ADHD.

Multiple studies show that neurodiverse businesses are more innovative and creative, and even gain 28% higher revenue, twice the net income, and 30% better economic profit margins. It’s no wonder that corporations such as SAP, Dell, JP Morgan, and Microsoft have already made concerted efforts to tap into this pool of candidates.

Further reading: Why you should hire neurodivergent candidates

How to improve neurodiversity in my hiring process?

We’re certain that by now you’re eager to attract all of those unique thinkers to your business, but how do you actually do this?

1. Professionalise your job descriptions

Job ads and descriptions are the first port of call for any candidate. However, many organisations are, quite frankly, terrible at writing them. That’s not just important for appealing to neurodiverse candidates, but can be particularly discouraging for this group. For example, long, convoluted sentences can be deterring for dyslexics, while broad phrases that are open to interpretation could dissuade autistic candidates from even applying.

Make sure that your job descriptions are clear, concise, and to the point. List necessary skills, requirements and responsibilities without writing a whole essay, and use bullet points and lists to make your ad more readable. It also never hurts to include an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion statement to encourage neurodivergent candidates to apply.

2. Consider your requirements

Let’s be honest, does a backend programmer really need ‘excellent verbal and written communication skills’? Of course they don’t. It seems to have become a trend to add certain skills and requirements for Every. Single. Job. Far worse than just being unnecessary, it’s becoming straight up detrimental. A fantastic autistic candidate might feel like they can’t apply to a job that requires communication skills, and a potential hire with ADD/ADHD might not want to even consider a job that requires ‘exceptional attention to detail’. This concerns job descriptions but also what you’re seeking in an interview.

Seriously think about what the job is and what you should be expecting from a candidate, and only list and test for these skills. You should also be cautious about being too critical about minor errors. For example, unless the job you’re hiring for is a proofreader, CV spelling mistakes can stop you from recruiting a remarkable person with dyslexia.


3. Be transparent about the process

Certain neurodiverse conditions, such as autism, have a different relationship with the unknown compared to neurotypicals. Studies show that a correlation between elevated levels of stress caused by uncertainty exists for those with autism.

Ensuring your process is transparent, and that your candidates are aware of what they’re going through and what the next steps are, can reduce anxiety and give you a more balanced view of who your potential hire is. Relying exclusively on your ‘friendly body language’ just isn’t going to work. You need to directly communicate with your candidates and provide them with feedback both during and after the process.

4. Opt for value-centric interviews

For many companies, interviews are a way to assess cultural fit based on social cues, for instance, body language, eye contact, and verbal communication. Of course, a cultural fit is important for any business, but for neurodiverse people it may be slightly harder to show who they really are in this context. Ask questions that relate to specific values your company cherishes and skills that are required for the job, rather than try to garner this information based on small talk. No abstract questions allowed!

To structure them in this way, using a personality assessment prior to the interview can be invaluable. Take the backend programmer we talked about before — you’ll be looking at how analytical and conscientious they are, which are traits that can actually indicate success in this role. Thrive, for example, gives you the option to measure skills and behaviours that are particularly important for the role, as well as based on the values and culture of your company, and then provides you with interview questions to support your understanding of the candidate regarding their identified weaknesses.

Providing your candidate with a list of the questions you’re going to ask in advance is best practice when it comes to neurodivergent hires. With Thrive, you can supply them with a report showing their results, so they know how to prepare. You should also consider your interview environment (are there distractions around? Are there too many interviewers? Are there going to be interruptions?), or even contemplate allowing for video interviews which would put neurodivergent candidates at ease.

Further reading: A guide to neuroinclusive interviews

5. Assess your onboarding experience

Considering your onboarding process is also crucial in making a neurodivergent hire feel comfortable. Taking the time to explain things — including technicalities such as where you can find company passwords, or how to book holidays — can be particularly helpful for a neurodiverse workforce. Ask your new recruit whether they require any equipment to conduct their work in the office, as many would like to have certain environmental changes (more or less lighting, for instance), or be provided with noise-cancelling headphones.

At the end of the day, each person is unique, and that’s true for neurodivergent people too. By working together with your neurodiverse workforce to accommodate their individual needs, you can create an inclusive environment for everyone.

If you want to learn more about how the Thrive platform can help you remove unconscious bias and increase neurodiversity in your workplace, book a demo with us today.

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