Neurodiversity is a word that explains the unique ways our brains work. Being neurodivergent simply means having a brain that works differently from a "neurotypical" person's — ADHD, autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia and Tourette's syndrome are all neurodiverse conditions.
Building a neurodiverse workforce is important from an inclusivity perspective, but it’s also beneficial for companies — whether in AI, robotics, engineering or software development.
In our Startup Life newsletter, we chatted to Joseph Williams, cofounder and CEO of Clu, an inclusive recruitment platform, to hear his top tips for hiring neurodiverse talent.
Don’t make assumptions
People with neurodiversity have a unique set of skills that are valuable to employers, with the caveat being that every brain is wired differently. People with autism, for example, can have exceptional memory, intense focus and superb attention to detail, while people with dyslexia can be highly creative, good at problem-solving and have the ability to think in pictures. Neurodiverse employees may not want or need accommodations in interviews. Instead of making assumptions, simply ask them what is needed to support them.
This goes for supporting neurodiverse employees in the workplace too. Offering a quiet room can often help those who struggle with the visual and auditory distractions of an open-plan office. Setting a flexible work schedule for employees with ADHD, some of whom struggle to concentrate at certain points of the day, can help them complete tasks more effectively.
Get buy-in from leadership
To get your organisation to ramp up efforts to hire neurodiverse talent, you need to make a strong business case to leaders about why this is important — and beneficial.
- Provide leadership with information and resources about neurodiversity, such as the benefits of neurodiverse hiring — which include the potential for increased productivity, creativity, innovation and diversity of thought — the skills and strengths of neurodiverse individuals and the changes that can be made in the workplace to support their success.
- Be clear on how you will support and mitigate risk. Hiring neurodiverse talent is not like increasing gender or ethnicity diversity in a company; it has infrastructural implications. While these are easy to accommodate, they require intentional thought and consideration. Do your research and understand where the gaps are in your current processes and make sure leadership and the wider team are aware of how you can work in more neuro-inclusive ways. For example, performance reviews often rely on an employees’ interpersonal skills and communication style which can put neurodivergent individuals at a disadvantage. Switch them up to focus on meeting deadlines and achieving targets.
- Develop metrics to measure the success of hiring neurodiverse talent, such as retention rates, productivity and employee satisfaction, and share them with leadership to initiate a conversation about how they can better accommodate neurodiverse talent.
Create inclusive job descriptions
To make it easier for neurodiverse people to discover and apply for roles you advertise, use clear and concise language, and avoid overly complex or ambiguous phrasing and compound sentences. Focus on essential qualifications and skills, and leave out generic requirements such as "strong communication skills" or "ability to work in a team" that a) may not be relevant to the job and b) can create barriers for neurodiverse candidates.
Revamp your interview process
Interviews are one of the first barriers to entry for someone who is neurodiverse as they rely heavily on things like body language and communication. Ask each candidate what would set them up for success ahead of an interview and adjust accordingly. Also:
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- Use a structured interview format: This includes standardised questions and evaluation criteria to reduce bias and ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly based on their qualifications and alignment with the role’s requirements.
- Avoid asking vague or open-ended questions. They may be difficult for neurodiverse candidates to interpret. Instead, ask specific and concrete questions that require a clear and concise answer.
- Offer flexible interview options. Remote or asynchronous interview options can accommodate candidates who may have difficulty with in-person or real-time communication.
- Neutralise interview environments. Consider the physical environment of the interview space and remove any unnecessary stimuli, such as bright lights or loud noises, that may be distracting or overwhelming for some candidates.
- Allow extra time for the interview if necessary. Some neurodiverse candidates may take longer to process information or formulate their responses.
Use alternative assessments
Instead of relying on candidates to showcase their skills in an in-person interview, ask for work samples — or get them to do a performance-based task. Only ask the candidate to do what is necessary and relevant to the role. Unless a job requires someone to think on their feet constantly, there’s no need to fire rapid questions, topics or tasks at a candidate.
On the subject of... Hiring neurodiverse talent
🏆 Why you should embrace neurodiverse talent. A report by Harvard Business Review explains how hiring people who see things differently helps companies innovate, and ultimately triumph over, the competition.
🔧 Make recruitment processes accessible. Clu has a handy list of do’s and don’ts when hiring people with neurodiversity.
🤝🏽 Understand and accommodate people with ADHD. Some employees may struggle with perfectionism, while others may find planning and being easily distracted as their biggest challenges.
❓How to hire disabled candidates. Don’t overthink it. Simply asking the right questions and being flexible can make a world of difference.
📣 ‘Neurodivergent things’. Disability advocate Franziska Hauck did a five part series on LinkedIn about things people with neurodiversity do and how they behave to raise awareness.