Neurodiversity in the Workplace

When you’re working hard to recruit candidates for open positions, you want no stone to go unturned as you search for the right fit. But your traditional hiring practices might unknowingly be excluding incredibly talented candidates.

Neurodiverse employees add significant value in organizations, yet this largely untapped talent pool is being screened out by recruitment and selection policies, including automated personality tests, that have been shaped exclusively for neurotypical minds.

The candidates who you may not even get to see —applicants on the autism spectrum or who have other neurocognitive conditions—may indeed be your best hires yet. Many of them have exceptional skill sets, so you don’t want to miss out on leveraging their abilities. Here are some ways to ensure that you’re reaching this rich talent pool and promoting neurodiversity in the workplace.

What Does Neurodiverse Mean?

Neurodiversity refers to the different ways that our brains may be wired and, broadly speaking, it encompasses autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and other neurological conditions. Although many neurodiverse individuals have exceptional talents and other superior attributes, unfortunately, they remain poorly understood and stereotyped particularly when it comes to hiring, leading to high rates of unemployment or underemployment.

So what does neurodiverse mean in the workplace? The fact is that the behaviors of many neurodiverse candidates run counter to common notions of what makes for a good job interview and a solid hire. Strong communication skills, persuasiveness, confident body language, interpersonal skills, and adherence to social cues are criteria that systematically screen out neurodiverse applicants in conventional interviewing formats.

People who see things differently and act differently struggle to get past traditional assessment tests or to fit the profile that prospective employers are usually seeking.

The Advantages of Neurodiversity in the Workplace

While this may be overlooked during the interview screening process, employers that hire workers with disabilities outperform their competitors, averaging 28% higher revenue, according to an Accenture study. Diverse workplaces also see gains in employee retention and engagement, quality, and innovation.

Great minds don’t always think alike — and that’s good. After all, different ways of thinking often drive innovation and efficiencies. Many neurodiverse individuals have higher-than-average abilities and varied talents that complement a variety of roles, including but not limited to:

  • Software engineering
  • Data science
  • Animal science
  • Accounting
  • Content creation
  • Manufacturing

Individuals with dyslexia, for example, tend to have strong problem-solving skills, exceptional spatial reasoning capabilities, and often score high on creativity tests. Autistic and other neurodivergent people can have special abilities in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics. They often thrive on repetition and routine, and have an eye for detail.

Updating Practices to Embrace Neurodiversity

So how can you be more inclusive of these talented individuals? First take a look at your hiring practices.

“Hiring processes have often become stale and rely on a manager’s sense and gut feelings. This inevitably leads to bias as it is a natural instinct to want to hire people who are just like you or who have similar experiences and backgrounds,” says Joseph Riddle, MPH, Director at Neurodiversity in the Workplace, a non-profit program dedicated to opening doors for neurodivergent talent.

“The typical hiring process also relies heavily on behavioral/social communication questions that are a really poor indicator of any future success and can be difficult to answer and can be anxiety-inducing for a lot of people,” Riddle says.

Workplace inclusion initiatives, including changes to your hiring process, can help attract all relevant candidates, including neurotypical minds, and get you the candidate that you need, and not the one that you think you want.

Areas Where Hiring Processes Fall Short

If you’re not finding talented hires for tough-to-fill roles, look no further than your technical interview processes. Applicants are often subjected to technical tests to evaluate critical thinking and problem-solving skills which have no bearing on the actual job role and responsibilities.

Neurodiverse candidates often possess the crucial aptitudes and qualifications, but get flustered from the stress and mechanics of the interview process. Their performance can be critically hampered which often leads to their non-selection.

In addition, candidate selection processes have rigid conventions around what constitutes a smooth social interaction with an emphasis on social skills. This can prove to be a huge barrier for candidates that struggle with interpersonal cues.

Pre-employment filtering tools, including personality tests and AI software, are increasingly being recognized for their potential to amplify hiring bias and inaccuracy. For example, the widely-used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test has been outed as a bad arbiter of ability, and unfairly excludes different groups of people.

Ways to Support Neurodiversity

As you strive to promote neurodiversity in the workplace, you might want to start by seeking out expert advice from a neurodiverse recruitment specialist. Partnering with a specialist — and with neurodiversity-specific recruitment sites — can not only help you design a more neuro-inclusive hiring process that, but can also help you find creative ways to reach this talent pool.

After reaching out to the experts, take a look at the roles in your core business. While tech companies are leading the neurodiverse advantage, underutilized neurodivergent talent is equally present in every sector and industry. Find out what positions in your organization may be a strong fit for neurodiverse candidates and build your recruitment strategy from that point.

In addition, the place where you may find the best insights is neurodivergent employees (or candidates) themselves. Ask them what they find as supportive and unsupportive in the workplace and work with them to improve your hiring process and efforts to promote neurodiversity in the workplace.

Here are a few other changes that you can make:

  • Use branding and messaging to make it clear that your organization welcomes and values diverse applicants. Include case studies or neurodivergent employees on your recruitment website pages.
  • Review your job descriptions to ensure that they’re more inclusive and clear on key skills each role requires — those nice-to-have attributes may not be so essential, for example, in a data entry role. Use images to illustrate duties where possible.
  • Simplify your application forms and interview questions to avoid confusion. Share the interview itinerary with the candidates, including the interview questions, in advance of the interview. Keep communication streamline and transparent across the process.
  • Let them show you what they can do. Retool your interviewing process to include different assessments. “Have options for skill-based hiring, and discourage unstructured behavioral formats that often allow for bias to creep in,” Riddle says.

Neurodivergent Hiring Best Practices

Pioneering companies like EY, SAP, Dell, and Microsoft, are revolutionizing neurodivergent hiring and sharing best practices with anyone who will listen.

EY’s Neuro-Diverse Centers of Excellence (NCoE) were designed to create community and professional relationships to connect the talents of neurodivergent individuals to client needs.

In changing their own hiring practices, EY moved away from the traditional behavioral-based interview process to a performance-based assessment process. Their neurodiversity hiring program identifies hires through a customized, week-long session called Super Week, which involves components of observing, applying, and coaching candidates.

Similarly, SAP has also made significant changes to customize their hiring process to neurodivergent candidates. This includes a month-long screening process that proceeds in the candidate’s preferred format.

Does Your Hiring Process Promote Neurodiversity in the Workplace?

Organizations are benefiting from embracing neurodiversity in ways that go beyond employment equity. Diverse perspectives drive better business outcomes. To learn more about how you can recruit amazing talent in an untapped pool, Monster’s free hiring insights and data can help you stay ahead of the competition.

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