Barriers in the traditional hiring pipeline continue to disproportionately affect people with cognitive diversity, also called neurodiversity.
The result is an untapped collective of highly qualified and innovative candidates overlooked by neurotypical talent acquisition strategies. In fact, 72% of HR professionals do not consider neurodiversity in their practices.
In this post, we continue our two-part series exploring the benefits of boosting neurodiversity in the workplace. In Part One, we discussed the hiring hurdles neurodiverse applicants face. Now, we turn our attention to showing businesses how to adjust talent acquisition strategies to be more inclusive.
Neurodiversity refers to how we all learn and process information differently. There are natural cognitive variances in the brain that affect how we think, learn, function, and socialize. Here are some commonly known examples of neurodivergence:
The neurodiversity movement at the talent acquisition level is aimed at building more inclusive hiring frameworks for people who are neurodivergent. The goal is to reimagine the “neurotypical” way of recruiting and hiring so that more neurodiverse people are represented in the workplace.
Sean Gill is the Associate Director of Neurodiversity In The Workplace, an organization that works with enterprise-caliber businesses to build a framework to hire more neurodivergent people. Gill says neurotypical hiring strategies create a barrier that is nearly impossible for neurodivergent people to pass through.
“The overall mission is for neurodiversity to become an integral part of the standard workforce,” says Gill. “What that looks like is creating an environment and hiring and talent pipelines that are inclusive of all different neurotypes.”
When put into effective practice, most businesses reap the rewards. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports 87% of businesses indicate a positive return on investment in hiring neurodivergent individuals.
This neurodiverse movement is still in its relative infancy, especially at the enterprise level. Although prominent companies such as SAP, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell Technologies, and VMware have successfully implemented programs to expand neurodiversity in their workforces, neurodivergent people are still woefully underrepresented in the workforce nationwide.
Approximately 85% of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed. And there are few resources that show the totality of unemployment or underemployment for the neurodivergent community.
Two of the biggest hurdles created by the neurotypical hiring process are Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and communication-based interviews. Gill says these tools automatically screen out anyone who may present with divergent thinking, struggle with interpersonal skills or processing patterns, and have different skill sets. Unfortunately, both have become increasingly useful to businesses that are still battling through the pandemic.
Gill says there is also a misconception that revamping a traditional recruiting pipeline will drive up costs and increase the human resources department’s workload to manage any adjustments neurodiverse employees may need. For example, a candidate with dyspraxia may have difficulty or pain with hand-writing notes in team meetings. They may request to take notes digitally instead. At that point, the company can work with the employee and their manager to decide what adjustment best helps the employee perform their job.
“Talking about adjustments – I prefer that term over accommodations – unfortunately, it has some baggage attached to it that relates to HR paperwork and costs to the company. We’re not talking about that when we talk about adjustments,” says Gill. “We’re talking about how you have a conversation with your employee or candidate to help them bring their best self to the job. That should be a universal best practice in management and hiring.”
To build a truly inclusive workplace, Neurodiversity in the Workplace helps businesses focus on three things:
1. Accessible interview practices that focus on job-related skills – Creating a project for an applicant to complete may minimize any biases a recruiter may have and create an equal opportunity for candidates to showcase the skill set needed for that position. Many interviewers are naturally drawn to charismatic candidates and may select them based on their performance during a communication-based interview. A project-based interview allows all applicants to showcase their skills first, and then discuss interview questions after they’ve proven their abilities.
Organizations like Neurodiversity in the Workplace that work to pair neurodivergent applicants with businesses interested in building inclusive workforces, may conduct these projects with applicants before approaching recruiters. They compile a “workstyle profile” from a variety of data points like technical skills, professional abilities, and preferred working style and then provide this data to hiring managers to assist them in their decision making.
2. More varied support services such as job coaching – Leadership at many enterprise-caliber companies believe they are successful because of standardized, scalable processes. But what they fail to consider is that conformity stifles innovation and, in some cases, efficiency. Neurodivergent candidates, who may see the world a little differently, may not thrive in standardization and may ask for workplace adjustments. They are not “trying to be difficult”, they are trying to be their best, productive selves at work. Managers may need additional job coaching to support this behavior. Leadership can help managers by encouraging them to focus on an employee’s outcomes, rather than total compliance with a standardized procedure.
3. Promote open communication regarding individual needs – Communicating with neurodivergent individuals is different than with neurotypical people. Complicated, multilayered instructions may not work, nor will making assumptions they will understand your deeper meaning. Clear, written expectations are best – don’t be afraid to be decisive and have intention. Bulleted lists work well, as do outlines of daily, weekly, and long-term objectives. Avoid esoteric or corporate speak. Provide immediate feedback.
“Direct communication is a chief indicator of honesty, and it has been vital in building trust between employees and their superiors,” writes one SAP employee with autism.
The push to build an inclusive workforce continues to gain traction within recruiting and hiring circles. Much of this focus is on improving gender roles and racial diversity. But building a neurodiverse workforce is a fair and equitable practice, and it delivers a major return on investment. Accenture reports companies with inclusive and accessible workplaces have 30% greater economic profit margins and 28% higher income.
A neurodivergent person has a unique way of problem-solving, creating, strategizing, and communicating. Organizations can benefit from tapping into this underutilized talent pool. For more information on Neurodiversity in the Workplace, click here.
Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.