Neurodiversity: Four ways to debias your recruitment process

Man sitting on train wearing headphones

Neurodiversity is something that is increasingly on employers’ radars. But what does it mean?

Simply put, neurodiversity is “the diversity of human brains and minds” and a variation of how human brains function.

Despite increased awareness of neurodiversity, the latest data from the Office of National Statistics show that only 16% of autistic adults are employed. Compound this with the fact that many standard recruitment practices (such as the use of technology to assess social skills) can disadvantage neurodiverse candidates. However, companies are beginning to understand that candidates who are neurodiverse often possess exceptional skill sets, such as being able to recognise patterns within large sets of data and prolonged periods of concentration, that other candidates may not. Organisations such as; Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase and Ernst and Young are just a few companies who have striven to improve their neurodiversity hiring efforts.

Multiple studies have shown that there are also correlations between elevated levels of stress caused by uncertainty for those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Therefore, when it comes to recruitment, neurodiverse candidates will benefit from knowing exactly what to expect at each stage of the process.

In 2020, the Robert Walters Group began curating a highly detailed auditing framework using a research-based methodology, enabling us to help our clients understand the impact of their current recruitment process using seven candidate lenses, one of those being neurodiversity. Here we outline some common barriers to neurodiverse candidates and what steps businesses can take to break these down.

Spring-clean your job adverts

Job adverts can be lengthy and difficult to read so conduct a job description audit and review. Are your adverts written using clear and concise language? Are significant key details such as working hours, salary and essential skill sets written in a format that is easy to understand or is this ambiguous? Our experience tells us that job adverts often include lengthy ‘wish lists’ of essential skills, so we recommend challenging these – do all employees really need “excellent communication skills” for example (often a default skill listed), as neurodiverse candidates may be dissuaded from applying.

Successful applicants should be provided detail in a clear format in advance that outlines the recruitment process, such as what to expect on the day, directions to the office or names of the hiring managers who will be interviewing them. This kind of pre-planning is just one change that employers can make to enable neurodiverse candidates to perform at their best.

Check your careers page for bias

In addition to reviewing job adverts, businesses must also consider the accessibility of their careers websites. Visually impactful and engaging careers websites can be a great way to attract traffic to your website and convert passive talent to become applicants, however, rich media can have a disproportionately negative impact on neurodiverse talent, so ensure that your career pages either avoid using any flashing or blinking content or provide users the opportunity to turn it off. Read here how one person with autism literally has to stick post-it notes over their screen to block out flashing web banners.

Audit your assessment

Assessment tech is increasingly used to level the playing field and encourage meritocratic hiring, however, some approaches can disadvantage neurodiverse candidates. For example, some game-based assessments can include elements of pattern recognition which has a disproportionate impact on neurodiverse candidates – therefore, it’s worth requesting full assurance from vendors to understand what initiatives have been undertaken to eliminate this.  

When assessing neurodiverse candidates, hiring managers should consider the type of environment that this will be taking place in. For example, neurodiverse individuals may have a heightened reaction to external stimuli such as noise, so it is worth producing an interview guide that encourages candidates to select an area that will be free of disturbances (if undertaking assessments remotely). 

Rethink your interviews

Traditionally, the interview process has relied heavily on social cues such as body language, eye contact and communication skills. However, during the interview itself, interviewers should focus on the specific skills needed for the job. In this case, it is best practice to allow neurodiverse candidates to see questions in advance of the interview.

It is also important to note that some people may find it hard to wear a face covering due to their sensory differences. There are exemptions in place therefore do bear this in mind if interviewing candidates face-to-face.  

Finally, it’s worth remembering that each individual is different and there is no “one size fits all approach” when it comes to interviewing those who are neurodiverse, and so it is important to ensure your hiring process is flexible and treats candidates as individuals.

Looking to recruit neurodiverse talent?

Rethinking your recruitment process to better engage and support neurodiverse talent can enable your business to leverage untapped talent pools that have been traditionally overlooked. Contact the Robert Walters Group Innovation Team to find out how our Innovation Advisory Audit can help with your current recruitment process.