· Features

Embracing neurodiversity in a post-COVID world

As the UK plunges into a recession, organisations up and down the UK are having to take difficult decisions to consolidate their financial positions and target resource in the most efficient areas.

Resulting restructures have caused unemployment rates to rise and made the job market even more competitive. All this has kept recruitment professionals busier than ever.

Alongside the economic impact of coronavirus, the pandemic has also changed our typical assumptions about how and where we carry out work.

Many of us are working from home for the foreseeable future and meeting with our teams online. Recruiting, interviewing and onboarding are now being conducted virtually as a matter of course.

All these changes present an opportunity to think differently about not only how we recruit, but who we recruit. There has never been a better time to build more neurodiversity into our recruitment practises.

In the UK, only 16% of people with autism are in full-time employment. A shockingly low statistic. The real tragedy behind this figure is that so many autistic candidates have an incredible amount to offer the workplace, if given the opportunity to prove it.

Autistic people process information and the environment around them differently. In an office environment this could mean they might struggle with bright lights or too much noise.

However, these different thinkers can often be a huge asset to businesses, bringing qualities such as hyper focus, attention to detail, reliability and unique problem solving.

What does ‘coming out’ as autistic tell us about neurodiversity?

The challenges of recruiting and employing people with autism

Why employers need to reconsider autism in the workplace

As a business ambassador for the charity Ambitious about Autism, I am passionate helping more autistic people enter the job market and enabling their potential to be realised.

Adjusting to the new post-COVID world of recruitment, there is a real opportunity to change old processes and introduce flexibility that will enable autistic talent to shine.

Just one aspect of job hunting that autistic candidates find difficult is the interview process. Difficulties maintaining eye contact, processing hypothetical questions and not knowing what to expect can put potential employees on the back foot immediately.

Small changes by recruiters and employers can make a huge difference. Providing questions in advance and basing them on past experience rather than hypothetical scenarios, which rely on social imagination, can all help.

Sharing a welcome pack in advance with pictures of interviewers and access instructions is also good practice and can help get the best out of autistic candidates.

The change in hiring practice imposed on us by Coronavirus, is an opportunity to think creatively about how we can increase the neurodiversity of our workforce – and recruitment is at the centre of this work.

I’m proud to be involved with Ambitious about Autism’s Employ Autism programme. This unique scheme works with employers, young people and careers professionals to build a UK wide network of professionals with the skills, knowledge and expertise to support more autistic people into the workforce.

This programme is aiming to create a nationwide system change that will enable more, excellent and neurodiverse candidates to enter the job market by providing them with the support they need to thrive. This has never been more vital.

From the trauma of the pandemic and fallout from the economic downturn, there is a chance to change our perceived ways of recruiting and help disadvantaged young adults get their first career break.

Christopher Evans is head of practice at Rullion Ltd and a business ambassador for the charity Ambitious about Autism.