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How can you support neurodiverse talent through the hiring process?

Coined by sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s, the umbrella term, neurodiversity, covers a wide spectrum of conditions – from attention deficit disorder (ADD) to autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Around 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodivergent, but unfortunately, many employers struggle to tap into this potential. In a poll conducted by the CIPD, 72 per cent of HR professionals said neurodiversity hadn’t been considered adequately within their organisation. Although the benefits of a diverse workforce are now widely recognised, more understanding is needed to welcome employees whose brains’ function, learn and process information differently.

Ask for external support and advice

Staff training can help to understand neurodiversity and its implications for your business.  Teaming up with an external organisation who can offer professional expertise can help you to re-examine and revaluate your hiring process accordingly.

Charities like the National Autistic Society often work with employers to create accessible job opportunities. Companies can also sign up to the government’s Disability Confident Scheme or receive advice from the Business Disability Forum. Signing up to training programmes like this not only demonstrates a commitment to be inclusive, but it also makes it easier for potential employees to see that you’re serious about providing support.

Adjust your adverts and application forms

Just 16 per cent of autistic adults in the UK work full-time. For many in this category, and others who are neurodiverse, adverts and applications forms aren’t as accessible as they could be.

Imagine a job description which asks for someone with impeccable communication skills or a good team player, for example. These types of phrases may be discouraging if you can’t identify with these attributes. So, try to include essential skills only.

Similarly, if you use an application form, it should be as easy to complete as possible. A report from the Westminster AchieveAbility Comission for Dyslexia & Neurodivergence (WAC) gives a flavour of some of the hurdles potential neurodiverse employees face even before interviewing, with one person commenting that: “Because I find the application process so stressful, by the time the interview comes I’m usually exhausted.”

Reconsider your interview process

Traditional interviews rely on social competence. Candidates are hired on their ability to connect with managers, and to answer questions effectively. Unfortunately, this puts neurodivergent candidates at a disadvantage. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) writes that “there is a substantial risk… ill-informed, unempathetic interviewers could make negative judgements on an applicant’s suitability.”

Some organisations like the Specialisterne Foundation, are demonstrating how this can be done differently. It has created a new way to test candidates called ‘hangouts’. These half-day sessions allow for informal interactions with managers before additional assessments and training. If you are hiring, choose your interview format carefully. The National Autistic Society gives a good list of recommendations, and even suggests providing panel questions in advance.

Be ready to provide additional support

Your application should include a box asking whether candidates require adjustments during the hiring process. Prepare to provide this support by considering what you might need to do differently – from changing online tests to providing additional aids, equipment, and software. Being able to suggest alternatives will, again, prove you’re truly inclusive.

When you hire someone, you’ll also need to make reasonable adjustments within the workplace. Try re-examining your HR processes and policies with this in mind. Remember, not everyone who is neurodivergent will have a formal diagnosis, and others may choose not to disclose this. Making changes will benefit both future and existing employees.

Nancy Doyle, founder of social enterprise Genius Within, says: “When you have an organisation that insists everybody does something in the same way, that’s where you are going to start excluding people.” To support neurodiverse talent through the hiring process, you may need to trigger a culture change. Begin this by training your staff, enabling them to understand the need for this transformation and to see the real benefits of having a neurodiverse team.