Opening up the neurodiversity conversation in recruitment

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Neurodiversity is often likened to an 'invisible disability, with many of its conditions being physically unnoticeable to the general population. This commonly means it receives less attention than physical disabilities and as a result, neurodiverse individuals often go undiagnosed in life and are overlooked at work and in recruitment processes.

The condition is used to describe variations in the brain that can affect mood, sociability, attention span and other mental activities, and when recognised, can result in the diagnosis of dyslexia, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), among others.

However, as the range of experiences felt by neurodiverse individuals are expansive, common assumptions often don’t encapsulate what it means to be neurodiverse. In the workplace, this lack of understanding means that neurodiverse employees may not be given proper support and opportunities to succeed.

In particular, recruitment processes are rarely designed with neurodiversity in mind, meaning that hiring managers may not consider neurodiverse candidates even when they have the necessary skills and knowledge. A shocking one in five autistic individuals aren’t in employment.

So what can hiring managers do to open up the neurodiversity conversation and support future candidates?


Neurodiversity and the workplace: 

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Provide a hyper-personalised experience

Many recruitment practices ask candidates to disclose their disability status; commonly, however, the inquiry stops there and candidates aren’t able to elaborate. This means hiring managers often aren’t aware of the nature of their disability and cannot understand the kinds of support and reasonable adjustments they may need.

Becoming proactive in offering candidates a hyper-personalised experience is essential to help them open up about their requirements and perform to their full potential. 

Proactive is the key word here. Due to stigmatisation, candidates may not speak openly about their needs, yet simple signs from employers – offering noise cancelling headphones or a quiet space to work – show candidates that they are in a welcoming environment. 

Being clear about why you are asking for a disclosure of a disability or condition and demonstrating how this information is used to support candidates can also encourage more candid conversations.

Define expectations from the outset

Ensuring an open discussion around neurodiversity at work can be achieved, in part, by clearly defining recruitment expectations. When creating job descriptions, ensure they are free from jargon, outline what candidates should expect from the process and clearly elaborate on expectations of skills, training and educational requirements.

Providing clear expectations and well defined job descriptions is particularly important for neurodiverse candidates, many of whom may desire more information to prepare for job applications and interviews, may struggle to understand complex language or be nervous to enter environments that typically aren’t designed for them.

Setting out clear expectations early on also gives employers the opportunity to re-evaluate their own recruitment policies and aims. 

This is vital as many recruitment strategies can disadvantage neurodiverse candidates. Think, for example, about recruitment techniques that often look for signs of strong social skills – good eye contact and confidence – or a university degree, even though these aren’t necessarily the best indicators of success for every role. Some neurodiverse candidates may struggle to demonstrate these skills or face difficulties completing higher education and so, despite having more relevant qualities, can go unnoticed.

Defining aims and expectations early helps create an inclusive conversation from the outset.

Use data to open the conversation

When used correctly, technology can support hiring decisions surrounding neurodiverse candidates. Firstly, technology can help recruiters collect candidate data and highlight areas where support may be necessary, without forcing candidates into potentially uncomfortable conversations with hiring managers. 

Additionally, when candidate data is collected, it can shine light on the true potential of neurodiverse candidates. With a better view of an individual’s neurodiverse condition and the context in which they’ve come to achieve their skills, employers can better gauge their propensity for success within a certain role when provided with appropriate reasonable adjustments.

Of course, opening up the conversation and better supporting neurodiverse candidates stems from hiring teams that have better training and more understanding of neurodiversity. Increased awareness and the implementation of the actions outlined above, can transform recruitment processes for neurodiverse candidates and ensure they’re seen for their true talents. 

Gareth Jones is CEO of Headstart

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