Neurodiversity in the workplace

Neurodiversity in the workplace

When you’re working hard to recruit candidates for open positions, you always want no stone to go unturned in the search for the right fit. But, unknowingly, your outdated hiring practices may be excluding incredibly talented candidates and depriving your company of neurodiversity in the workplace.

Neurodiverse employees add significant value in organizations, yet this largely untapped talent pool is being screened out by recruitment and selection policies, including automated personality tests that have been shaped exclusively for neurotypical minds.

The candidates who you may not even get to see —applicants on the autism spectrum or other neurocognitive conditions—may indeed be your best hire yet. Many of them have exceptional skill sets, so you don’t want to miss out on leveraging their abilities. More neurodiversity in the workplace benefits everyone – not just the people you hire.

To make sure you’re not missing out on this rich talent pool requires updating your hiring processes to reflect a broader definition of talent and therefore increasing neurodiversity in the workplace.

Update practices to embrace human diversity

“Hiring processes have often become stale and rely on a manager’s sense and gut feelings. This inevitably leads to bias as it is a natural instinct to want to hire people who are just like you or who have similar experiences and backgrounds,” says Joseph Riddle, MPH, Director at Neurodiversity in the Workplace, a small non-profit program dedicated to opening doors for neurodivergent talent.

“The typical hiring process also relies heavily on behavioral/social communication questions that are a really poor indicator of any future success and can be difficult to answer and can be anxiety-inducing for a lot of people,” Riddle says.

Workplace inclusion initiatives, including actively reforming your hiring formats, can help attract all relevant candidates, including neurotypical minds, and get the candidate that you need, and not the one that you think you want.

 What does neurodiverse mean?

Neurodiversity relates to the way our brains are wired differently, and broadly speaking, the term takes in autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and other neurological conditions. Although many neurodiverse individuals have exceptional talents and other superior attributes, unfortunately, they remain poorly understood and stereotyped, leading to high rates of unemployment or underemployment.

The behaviors of many neurodiverse candidates run counter to common notions of what makes for a good job interview and a solid hire. Strong communication skills, persuasiveness, confident body language, and adherence to social cues are criteria that systematically screen out neurodiverse applicants in conventional interviewing formats.

People who see things differently and act differently struggle to get past traditional assessment tests or fit the profile prospective employers are looking for.

Neurodiversity as an advantage

But being different can make a difference. Companies that hire workers with disabilities outperform their competitors, averaging 28% higher revenue, according to an Accenture study. Diverse workplaces also see gains in employee retention and engagement, quality, and innovation.

Great minds don’t always think alike and that’s good. Many people with differently wired brains have higher-than-average abilities and varied talents that complement a variety of roles, from software engineering and data or animal science to accounting, content writing and manufacturing.

Individuals with dyslexia, for example, tend to have strong problem-solving skills, exceptional spatial reasoning capabilities, and score high on creativity tests. Autistic and other neurodivergent people can have special abilities in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics. They often thrive on repetition and routine, and have an eye for detail.

Where typical hiring processes fall short for neurodiverse candidates

If you’re failing at finding talented hires for tough-to-fill roles, look no further than your technical interview processes. Applicants are often subjected to technical tests to evaluate critical thinking and problem-solving skills which have no bearing on the actual job role and responsibilities.

Neurodiverse candidates often possess the crucial aptitudes and qualifications, but get flustered from the stress and mechanics of the interview process. Performance can be critically hampered and they get eliminated.

In addition, candidate selection processes have rigid conventions around what constitutes a smooth social interaction with an emphasis on social skills and this can prove to be a huge barrier for candidates that struggle with interpersonal cues.

Pre-employment filtering tools, including personality tests and AI software, are increasingly being recognized for their potential to amplify hiring bias and inaccuracy. The widely-used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test has been outed as a bad arbiter of ability, and unfairly excludes different groups of people.

 What can you do to improve neurodiversity in the workplace?

  • Make it clear and visible that your organization welcomes and values diverse applicants in your branding and messaging. Include case studies on your recruitment website pages.
  • Review job descriptions so they’re more inclusive and clear on key skills each role requires—those nice-to-have attributes may not be so essential, for example, in a data entry role. Use images to illustrate duties where possible.
  • Simplify your application forms and interview questions to avoid confusion. Share the interview itinerary with the candidates, including the interview questions, in advance of the interview. Keep communication streamline and transparent across the process.
  • Let them show you what they can do. Retool your interviewing process to include different assessments. “Have options for skill-based hiring, and discourage unstructured behavioral formats that often allow for bias to creep in,” Riddle says.

Where to start?

  • Seek out expert advice from a neurodiverse recruitment specialist to help design a hiring process that works best for neurodiverse candidates. Partner with neurodiversity-specific recruitment sites to find this talent pool.
  • Look for roles in your core business. While tech companies are leading the neurodiverse advantage, underutilized neurodivergent talent is equally present in every sector and industry, Riddle says.
  • Ask neurodivergent employees where to start. “Taking stock of what is supportive and unsupportive in the workplace and creating a safe environment for people to share is often the most productive step in creating neurodiversity in the workplace,” he says.

Companies are revolutionizing neurodivergent hiring

Pioneering companies like EY, SAP, Dell, and Microsoft, are revolutionizing neurodivergent hiring and sharing best practices with anyone who will listen.

EY’s neurodiversity initiatives operate on the premise that the world works better when everyone is included. Their Neuro-Diverse Centers of Excellence (NCoE) include professionals across all differences contributing their full potential to accelerating emerging technologies and meeting new business needs.

“We have seen tremendous benefit—not only does it allow us to tap into a non-traditional talent pipeline, but the contributions of the NCoE have had real impacts on our business, on our clients, and the communities we serve,” says Hiren Shukla, EY Global Neuro-Diverse Center of Excellence Leader. “Broadly, it has helped increase overall pride for EY member firms and extended our culture of inclusion and belonging.”

EY conducts performance-based assessment

EY’s first step was to move away from the traditional behavioral-based interview process to a performance-based assessment process in order to build a direct sense of trust, and remove the ‘surprise’ factor from the typical interview, Shukla says.

Their neurodiversity hiring program identifies hires through a customized, week-long session called ‘Super Week’, which involves components of observing, applying, and coaching candidates.

Shukla advises companies to engage their business partners directly in the hiring process. “This provides an amazing connection to how an investment upfront in candidates can pay off in performance.”

Be sure to challenge your existing hiring process to ensure it is meeting your objectives and the unique needs of your candidate pool, Shukla adds. Hiring and recruiting processes need to be updated at the same pace as the market.

Does your hiring process promote neurodiversity in the workplace?

Companies are benefiting from embracing neurodiversity in the workplace in ways that go beyond employment equity. Diverse perspectives drive better business outcomes. To learn more about how you can recruit amazing talent in an untapped pool, Monster’s hiring insights can help you stay ahead of the competition. We’ve got the latest tips, hiring trends, data and insights to make hiring easier.