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How (And Why) To Hire Neurodiversity

17th March 2023

It’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week, a week that challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological difference. Which makes now the perfect time to look again at the benefits of neurodiverse workers, and how to hire them.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity describes the differences in the way our brains work. We’re all neurodivergent to an extent, because no-one’s brain works quite like anyone else’s, but you know what we’re really talking about here: if a ‘normal’ (inverted commas very much intended) brain is neurotypical, a neurodiverse brain is seen as one that does things a little differently. Estimates suggest around one in seven of us has neurodiverse characteristics.

That can create challenges for those living with conditions associated with neurodiversity such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, Asperger’s syndrome, Tourette syndrome and other related conditions. But it can also bring benefits, to the individual and to their workplace.

Benefits of a neurodiverse workplace

A 2017 Harvard Business Review article said some neurodivergent conditions could “bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics.”

In the same article, software company SAP said hiring neurodiversity: “helps offset our tendency, as a big company, to all look in the same direction.”

A 2021 report by JPMorgan Chase, quoted in a PeopleManagement article, found that neurodivergent employees in certain roles could be up to 140 per cent more productive than neurotypical colleagues.

The same article quoted a 2020 McKinsey report that effectively found that the greater an organisation’s diversity, the better its business performance.

If you’re genuinely diverse, you celebrate neurodiversity

That last point really hits home for us, because as businesses we’re all working to be more inclusive, more welcoming and more understanding of the benefits diversity can bring. And inclusivity is an all-in kind of deal. You don’t get to pick ‘bits’. You can’t be inclusive about, for example, gender, race or sexuality and not be inclusive about neurodiversity. That would be, well, weird and plain wrong.

And yet, in a classic ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ scenario, it seems that is what’s happening. This 2020 study found half of managers wouldn’t employ a neurodiverse person. Why? Because they felt uncomfortable doing so. Because they focused on the risks, not the rewards. Because the stereotypes stuck, which is exactly what Neurodiversity Celebration Week seeks to tackle.

How to hire neurodiversity

People are at a premium right now, so it makes sense for every organisation to broaden its approach to talent finding. That includes making recruitment processes (and then the work environment) more neurodiverse friendly. Doing so means making a few simple adjustments, so everyone can feel comfortable.

1. Appeal to the neurodiverse

Don’t just say you’re inclusive – show it. Show it in the way you’ve put your onboarding programme together. Show it in the way you support neurodiversity on your website or in your social media feeds. Show it by shouting about some of the small adjustments you’re making (e.g. noise cancelling headphones or a new lighting) to improve the comfort of your neurodiverse workers.

2. Think about the words you use in job ads

Some (although certainly not all) neurodivergent conditions can lead people to be introverted or feel socially awkward. If the role you’re advertising really does require inspirational communication skills, then fair enough. But we see plenty of job descriptions where you could certainly question whether such skills are really needed.

3. Tailor your recruitment process

You want every candidate to be able to give their best. So look again at processes which may benefit some over others, especially if those processes aren’t best suited to the role. Your regular recruitment boot camp may tend to favour extroverts, for example, which may be exactly who you need when recruiting store managers or shopfloor staff. But when you’re recruiting for finance, data analysis or creative roles, a different approach may deliver better results.

4. Be considerate at interview

Many of the factors that may benefit a neurodivergent candidate at interview will benefit everyone:

  • Create calm, distraction-free environments
  • Ask specific questions about real experiences, not abstract or hypothetical ones
  • Be patient in waiting for responses
  • Adjust traditional expectations: body language and eye contact may be more or less pronounced than the ‘norm’

Neurodiversity can be a powerful asset. And any organisation that is more productive, more insightful, or better able to look at challenges from different perspectives, is a better organisation.

That really is something worth celebrating.

Want help ensuring your recruitment and onboarding processes are wholly inclusive? Talk to us.

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