Neurodiversity: three barriers to seeing true potential (and how you can overcome them)
Friday 17th March
Read time: 5.5 minutes Author: Federica Rusmini, Head of Customer Success
A sea of potential to be explored
One in ten people in the UK are neurodiverse. But, despite their prevalence, UK employers are still some way from grasping this group’s unique strengths. And the latest data proves it.
While 77% of the UK’s neurodiverse population want to work, ONS research shows that up to 40% are unemployed. There have been signs of recent improvement – neurodiverse unemployment topped 60% ten years ago. But it’s also clear that UK employers have a way to go before they can fully harness neurodiversity’s gifts. When 9 in 10 recruiters say that labour shortages are their biggest concerns, leveraging this talent can be mission-critical.
So what’s holding them back (and perhaps you, too)? What keeps UK employers focused on the supposed pitfalls of neurodiversity while hiding the positives? Let’s explore three key barriers: mindset, disclosure, and approaches to selection.
Mindset & misconceptions
Frankly, some employers seem concerned about hiring neurodiverse people.
Of 500 companies surveyed, one third said that they wouldn’t knowingly hire an applicant with a learning disability. Much of this comes down to the perceived training required. In fact, 79% of respondents felt that neurodiverse candidates will take more training to get up to speed than their neurotypical counterparts.
But this view overlooks all the unique benefits neurodiverse people bring to the table: creativity, innovation potential and attention to detail are just some of the traits that characterise neurodiverse people. And if JP Morgan’s Autism at Work program, which found that employees with Autism were 90 to 140% more productive than their neurotypical peers, is to be considered an example, a diverse workforce is not only a moral imperative but good business.
But one thing is building a diverse workforce, another is creating an inclusive culture. Many processes are rooted in a rigid narrative: that there’s one good way to get things done, and neurodiversity isn’t it. Let’s look at communication as an example.
From ‘one way’ to ‘many ways’
Most of the wiseness around good communication includes some form of archetypal picture of what active listening looks like: strong eye contact, nodding with intention, a composed demeanour, avoiding fidgeting and wondering eyes - in one form or another, we’ve all been thought this.
Now imagine you are Amir, on the Autism spectrum, listening to a training session on those lines. Your natural propensity would be to be fidgeting or wandering eyes, but what you’re hearing is that this is wrong. That you are wrong.
You’re likely to learn to suppress any telltale signs of your conditions. In short, to mimic what you see and are told to be ‘normal’ behaviour. This is called camouflaging. You’ll overly focus on eye contact – even though this makes him uncomfortable. And this kind of difficult behaviour, repeated over time, can lead to burnout and illness.
All stemming from a set of inflexible definitions and expectations.
What if, instead, we shifted our focus to outcomes, rather than appearances? In the case of communication, employers should prioritise the shared meaning of a message (“Did Amir understand?”) rather than the visual shortcut (“Did Amir look like he understood?”). Or in an interview setting, “Did Amir’s responses demonstrate the right behaviours, knowledge or skills” rather than “Did Amir look engaged?”.
Inclusivity with neurodiversity means accepting that there are different routes to get things done, and it is the outcome that matters, not the route. One of the often underestimated advantages of neurodiversity awareness programs is that managers often report becoming more aware of individual differences, preferences and approaches, which leads to better outcomes for everyone, including neurotypical teammates.
After all, we’ve learned that the world doesn’t fall apart when people write with their left hand.
Many neurodiverse people don’t feel safe disclosing their neurodiverse condition at work. Let’s look at the stats:
Only 23% disclose their condition at the application stage. 46% disclose after starting the job. And even then, they don’t feel like disclosing to everyone: 55% disclose only to some people at work.
In short, disclosure increases when it feels safe to do so.
Not disclosing means not accessing the necessary accommodations to perform tasks at their best, be that a part of the recruitment process or a job task.
So the question is: how to foster psychological safety? And how to do so much earlier in the process?
There’s a number of initiatives that could be encouraged, we normally recommend 3 quite simple but very powerful ones:
Make your materials more appealing to neurodiverse applicants: can you shorten your job description? Can you replace text-based content with video on your career page?
Highlight your commitment to providing accommodations, and make sure that there is enough information on your career website about what to expect in each of the stages of the selection process. A list of accommodations that you can provide may go a long way: it is less awkward to ask if what you are asking for is on a menu :) but make sure it is clear that the list is not meant to be exhaustive and you are open to conversation.
Give visibility to your neurodiverse workforce: what can your existing neurodiverse workforce share in terms of experiences and learnings? Would they be open to joining a mentorship program? Can you have their quotes on your website? Involve them at a career fair? The more stories you can share of successful neurodiverse employees, the more people will realise that there are people like them who are welcome in your organisation.
Selection process barriers
This brings us to our third barrier – the selection process. And, in particular, the typical toolkit of CVs, traditional assessments, and interviews.
We know this tired toolkit hinders diversity. Neurodiverse people will often be suitable for roles – but they may struggle to shine through the typical recruitment hoops. They may be the typically great interviewee (remember Amir?) and they often struggle with lengthy text-based assessments.
That’s why, at Arctic Shores, we suggest three key steps for customers targeting fairer, more accurate selection processes:
1. Review your criteria
For each role, you’ll often start with a long list of desired qualities. Try whittling this down to the essentials – and forget ‘nice to haves’. Often unnecessary hurdles in the process hinder diversity and whittle out excellent talent.
2. Review your selection methods
Consider carefully the inclusivity of your selection approach. Is your assessment designed with inclusivity in mind? If it uses a text-based approach or emphasis visual cues it might not be so. A robust assessment should be designed to observe a candidate’s behaviour. An assessment provider should be responsible for monitoring that the tools is not negatively impacting neurodiverse candidates or any other protected groups on a regular basis. Interviews should always be accompanied by other forms of information, such as interview scoring guides or assessment scores - to avoid biases creeping in.
3. Accommodate, accommodate, accommodate
If you’re talking about traditional psychometric tests, ‘accommodation’ tends to just mean ‘extra time’. But this cookie-cutter approach is often overly simplistic: dyslexia’s symptoms are different from those of dyspraxia, so why should they be treated in the same? Conditions often are comorbid, or on a spectrum - so a blanket approach is often not effective.
Accommodations should go deeper: what adjustments can be provided based on the specific needs of each candidate? What challenges is each condition associated with, and what accommodation can be reasonably given to leverage the playing field?
The word ‘reasonable’ here is key. Any accommodation should consider what is realistic in the context of the job. But according to CIPD, 57% of accommodations are totally free – examples could be providing practice questions, a quieter room without distractions…
The fair & the feasible
Like all things in your hiring process, capturing neurodiverse potential is a balance of what should be done, and what can be done. The good news is that many of the steps we’ve suggested – from shifting your outlook on neurodiversity to rethinking accommodation – are often totally free. They may take a bit of work, but the benefits are there on a plate.
Of course, a bit of guidance goes a long way. And, at Arctic Shores, we’ve got a long history of helping UK employers grasp all the gifts of neurodiverse talent. To start seeing more in your neurodiverse candidates,arrange your free call today.
"Despite one in ten people in the UK being neurodiverse, employers in the UK and around the world are still a long way from understanding neurodiverse individuals’ unique strengths. The reasons for this are wide-ranging, but through collective effort and education of businesses, we can overcome these issues and create inclusive working environments that create a space where every individual can thrive.
In doing so, not only will we create a workforce where everyone feels welcome, but we will also harness the unique strengths that neurodiverse people have to offer. At Bright Network, we have led the way in championing diversity for over ten years, and we are committed to driving change for neurodiverse individuals with our dedicated partners like Arctic Shores".