Diverse talent is increasingly recognised as bringing huge benefits to organisations, however where some diverse characteristics such as gender and race are at the fore, neurodiversity is still not widely understood or considered. With I in 5 of the adult population in the UK identified as having a neurological difference, this represents a huge pool of talent that we must seek to understand, both their unique strengths and differences, as well as the barriers and challenges that they face.
This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week, a worldwide initiative that challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences. Throughout the week we want to raise awareness of neurological differences in order for us all to reflect, action and create more inclusive and equitable cultures that celebrate these differences and empower every individual to be their best.
Neurodiversity is the concept that brain differences are natural variations. As the Brain Charity puts it "some people’s brains simply work in a different way”.
Hiring people with neurodiversity is not only ethical, it can bring huge benefits, as well as access to highly desirable skills and attributes, including high levels of intelligence, concentration and persistence; detailed knowledge and retentive memories; creativity especially in visual, spatial or process activities and an ability to think laterally and to solve ‘big problems’. Neurodivergent people may struggle with some conventional forms of learning and workplaces, but with support, they can also achieve highly in these settings too.
Below we have listed some simple changes you can make to ensure your recruitment process is inclusive to neurodiverse talent.
Before you begin:
Ensure you are knowledgeable and aware of the different neurodivergent identities, how they differ and what the individual needs and strengths are associated with these identities; education is key. With the right knowledge you can confidently approach the recruitment process, preparing in advanced any support neurodiverse candidates might need to ensure equitable opportunity.
Job Descriptions and Applications:
The language that you use should always be well considered for any job description to avoid bias, however for neurodiverse people it is even more important to ensure language is clear and simple. Abstract language, metaphors and abbreviations can be confusing and should be avoided.
You should also consider what the real core skills and experiences are needed for the role, and don’t include any additional or desirable elements of the role. For example “a good communicator” is often used as a generalised term for most job roles, however the majority of the time isn’t a key skill needed to perform the role well; language particularly around communication can deter neurodiverse candidates from applying.
It is important for hiring managers to recognise that neurodiverse candidates can often surpass requirements, providing they are given some reasonable adjustments and support. Stating this understanding on your job description, or including a statement of commitment to neurodiverse talent would make candidates feel welcomed and at ease.
On a basic level, you should also make sure the formatting of any documents, webpages or application portals are in easy-to-read formats – size 12 font, an accessible font, text and background have colour contrast – and also written in non-complex sentences, shorter paragraphs and bullet points where appropriate.
Neurodivergent people can find standard interview formats daunting, so you should always consider what adjustments can be made, and openly ask them if there is any support you can provide them at each step.
Always provide a clear timetable, details of time, date, how the interview will take place, who will be in attendance (linking to their LinkedIn profile) and any expectations of the candidate during the interview. It is good practice to ask them if they would like to receive the questions beforehand, and whether they require any adjustments to be made. If you agree to any adjustments, ensure you deliver on your promises at agree times; sudden changes to expectations and routine can cause anxiety.
Some neurodivergent identities might prefer to speak on the phone, as video calls can be a sensory overload, or if the interview is in person, ensure you consider light, noise and even smells of the room where the interview will take place; reducing the impact of sensory distractions will help the candidate feel more at ease and concentrate on the questions and tasks at hand.
Ensure interviewers are aware of any adjustments ahead of the interview so they can ensure they are adhered to. Emphasise the interviewers should be patient and supporting to candidates, and prepare for gentle and thoughtful intervention if needed, but never to speak over or take a patronising tone.
Make sure interviewers are aware candidates may not wish to shake hands to greet, and eye contact should not always be expected; some neurodivergent identities find interpreting body language and facial expressions a distraction, therefore it easier for them to listen and digest information by looking away.
Questions should be direct, explicit and not open ended, focusing on the skills and specific experience needed to undertake the role, and providing concrete examples, rather than hypothetical, open-ended questions which might lead to ambiguity. If you have supplied questions in advance, stick to the order you provided these in, and if you wish to ask a follow up question based on their answer and the previous question, make it clear you are doing this.
When asking questions, set the scene beforehand so they understand where the questions has come from, then split the question into small parts – providing real life examples they can put the questions into context is very useful and helps with their understanding of both the question, role and organisation.
If you are including assessments as part of the recruitment process, ask them if they would like extra time, break down the assignment into different parts and tasks so it is easier for them to understand what the expectations are, and what deliverables are needed, and check in after they have read the instructions to see if any clarity is needed before they begin.
Think about who they need to meet, why they need to meet them and ensure colleagues are fully briefed and prepared on the information they need to relay in these meetings. Provide agendas before the meetings and any supporting information in advanced.
Make sure you ask about comfort requirements and adjustments before they start, such as the chair, temperatures, personal space around their desk, and away from busy doors, walkways and kitchens.
Uncertainty can be a big cause of anxiety, so providing routine and structure is a big way to make a neurodiverse person feel at ease. Allocate a specific desk if they are going to be in the office – thinking about sensory elements above – make sure they are shown around so they are familiar with where facilities are in the office, and make informal introductions to other colleagues one on one, not in a group situation; neurodiverse people like to build good working relationships, but can often find this harder, don’t force them into social situations and think about ways you could make it easier for them to build connections.
Verbal communication can sometimes be confusing, so make sure after meetings that minutes are provided, or you provide clear written instructions via email to ensure the same understanding of the meeting is conveyed and there are no misunderstandings.