3 Ways to Attract and Engage Neurodiverse Candidates

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Aug 6, 2020

While many employers have robust diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs to hire and retain diverse talent, one often-overlooked area of opportunity in the hiring process is neurodiversity. The term refers to the viewpoint that neurological differences — such as ADHD, dyslexia and autism — are healthy variations of the brain rather than deficits.

Unfortunately, many neurodiverse candidates never make it past the interview round due to perceived eccentricities. Consequently, opportunities for incredible talent are lost. 

Now, it is true that neurodiverse people may require workplace accommodations (think headphones to combat auditory overstimulation), in most cases, such efforts are manageable and yield incredible benefits. Plus, it’s also true that when neurodiverse individuals are placed in roles best suited for their skill set, they were found to be 30% more productive than their counterparts. 

Rather than view neurodiverse candidates as having deficiencies, employers are better off focusing on the talent they can bring to an organization. Formulating recruiting approaches to attract these candidates will improve the overall diversity of your team and prove a valuable culture add.

The best way to start is by understanding that there is no standard, “normal” brain. Recognizing this concept will make you more aware of negative language when talking about neurodiversity, which may be stifling talent in the early stages of recruiting. 

Once you shift your mindset, consider taking these three steps to increase your pool of neurodiverse applicants.

1. Determine Your Neurodiverse Employer Brand 

Examining your current perception and internal practices. What does your existing brand say about DEI? If it doesn’t say much, acknowledge that you’ve missed out on opportunities in the past before putting out a new DEI statement. Also, ensure your employees understand why you are developing programs and reports around DEI so they know how to get involved. 

Is your company DEI statement prominent on your website and careers page? If not, it’s time to create one. It’s important to communicate publicly how diversity fits into your mission and values. Frequently, DEI statements address race, gender, religion, and physical disabilities, but do not include neurodiversity language. 

SAP is a great example of a company with a strong DEI statement. The organization outlines its commitment to all employees “feel free to be their authentic selves for our company to perform at its best.” Its statement also references that SAP values differences based on mental ability. Plus, it includes a host of D&I metrics. With language supported by numbers, the company is able to show that it does more than just talk the talk when it comes to diversity hiring.

2. Reexamine Your Job Descriptions

As Harvard Business Review puts it, “the behaviors of many neurodiverse people run counter to common notions of what makes a good employee — solid communication skills, being a team player, emotional intelligence, persuasiveness, salesperson-type personalities, the ability to network, the ability to conform to standard practices without special accommodations, and so on. These criteria systematically screen out neurodiverse people.” 

Ask yourself: Are such soft skills genuinely required for certain positions? Are they really necessary for, say, software-developer or data-analyst roles? Are they essential, or just nice to have, or perhaps neither? Neurodiverse candidates may self-select out of the hiring process based on the belief they are lacking in those areas and therefore not equipped to do the job effectively.  

3. Change Your Interview Expectations 

Although neurodiverse candidates have the skills and ability to perform the job satisfactorily (and, in some cases, better than their neurotypical counterparts), they generally do not interview well. For example, those with autism may not be comfortable with eye contact, while someone with severe ADHD may switch topics frequently or speak in tangents. 

Instead of standard interviews, try non-interview-based assessment processes. One idea instituted by other companies is to host a showcase day for neurodiverse candidates, where they have an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities to company representatives, managers, or the hiring team. A showcase like this puts the focus on skills and knowledge rather than interview ability.

You may also consider partnering with local organizations that are committed to helping people with physical or neurological differences obtain jobs. These nonprofits are a fantastic resource for making introductions to skilled workers and being a sounding board for recruiting and hiring initiatives. 

And so while hiring for neurodiversity can be both intimidating and eye-opening, it can also ultimately enhance your company’s performance. Investing in DEI programs inclusive of neurodiversity today will prepare you for a successful tomorrow.

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