How recruiters can support neurodiverse candidates – Webinar Summary
jobs.ac.uk gathered a panel of experts to discuss how you as a recruiter can support neurodiverse candidates.
Inclusion starts during the hiring process. There are a range of adaptations that can be made during advertising, in the application process, and in interviews to accommodate neurodiverse candidates, ensuring you are seeing them at their best and not excluding them from the process.
Our host, Shazia Hussain, Specialist Technology Recruiter and candidate on the 17th series of the BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’, was joined by Alex Manners an Autism and Neurodiversity speaker and author, David Hull-Watters a Disability and Neurodiversity in the Workplace Specialist and Rachel Morgan Trimmer, Neurodiversity Consultant and Founding Managing Director of SugarCat Publishing.
You can now view the full webinar recording or read on for a summary of the main points exploring the topics.
What is autism?
Autism is a hidden disability that affects the way a person communicates with others and how they make sense of the world around them. Alex highlights the uniqueness of each person with autism as they are all different from each other, quoting the famous saying “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”. However, there are common traits among most autistic people;
- Communication difficulties
- Trouble understanding jokes, sarcasm, and facial expressions
- Highly focused interests
- High levels of stress
- Sensory difficulties
- Love of routine
Rachel describes autism as being in a play, where everyone else has a script but you!
The description she likes the most comes from the Māori word for autism which translates into “in their own time and place”. Rachel also highlights how most definitions of autism use deficit-based language whereas she agrees with Alex that autism is a difference, not a deficit.
What is ADHD?
There are two types of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder).
Type 1 is the hyperactive type most people associate the condition with, and Type 2 is the inattentive type.
Rachel describes having ADHD as an airport where all the planes are fighter jets, there is no air traffic control and for some reason there is a boat! This means you have all this energy and drive but not much control of it.
Strengths of ADHD include:
- Easily distracted
Having those challenges, people with ADHD can have a lot of guilt and engage in people pleasing behaviours to make up for their “deficits”.
Like autism, ADHD is a difference not a deficit and the main challenges come from trying to fit into a world that wasn’t made with ADHD people in mind.
What are dyslexia and dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia is a developmental coordination disorder, impacting a person’s movements and coordination.
Shazia uses the examples of her losing balance during work and how this can contribute to the “ditzy” female stereotype. A way she has masked this condition is through humour. Shazia cautions laughing at these incidents as dyspraxia is an invisible disability and mentions it is okay to say “I have dyspraxia and am struggling with my coordination.”
Dyspraxia can also have similar traits of those with autism in the way of sensory issues. Dyspraxia and dyslexia are far more complex than we might realise.
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects reading, writing and spelling. David delves deeper into this definition, stating how it can affect comprehension, recall, memory, organisation and executive function.
Like the other panellists, David highlights the strengths of this condition, stating the statistic that of a survey of self-made millionaires, 40% showed dyslexic traits. Strengths of dyslexia include:
- Soft-power skills
- Teambuilding skills
How can I make job adverts accessible (job descriptions and application forms)
- Make an advert shorter
- Clarity – don’t use ambiguous language such as good communicator because what is “good” communication? Do you mean verbal, written, presentations, participation in a meeting, or small talk?
- Use an accessibility toolbar that can alter the view of the advert, i.e. text size, background colour, text to voice
- Simple, logical sentences
- Clear instructions
- Literal language
- An easily navigable website
Once you start making changes for neurodivergent people you will find you are being inclusive to a wider audience, such as those who have English as a second language or people who have limited time.
What are some difficulties a neurodiverse candidate might have with job applications?
When stating essential criteria really think about if it is necessary for the role, as autistic people have black and white thinking and will be put off from applying if there is even only one criterion they do not meet. An autistic person could meet 9/10 of the requirements but not apply.
If you have limited space for answers on an application, you could end up missing out on information as someone with autism will fill the space and not write anything further even if they have something to say.
Applications should have a space where an applicant can state if they have requirements for an interview or if they get the job. It is important to list examples of adaptations that can be given and things that have been put in place for others before.
How can we attract neurodivergent talent?
Through inclusive advertising and offering a space to state adaptations in the application.
Further, having your inclusivity policy at the very end of an application or advert, as well as a candidate having to email you with their needs, deters neurodivergent talent as it shows inclusivity is not at the forefront of your company’s values. You are making neurodivergent people take extra steps compared to their neurotypical counterparts.
Another thing that’s a brilliant way of attracting neurodivergent talent is if you have neurodivergent people in your company who are open about their neurodiversity, who can recommend your company to other job applicants.
When people know that your company is a great company to work for, a safe culture and open culture where people can be themselves, you’re going to attract neurodivergent talent.
How can organisations make seen interview tasks (e.g. preparing a presentation) more equitable for neurodiverse candidates?
Making an interview accessible for people who are neurodiverse will make the interview accessible for everyone, regardless if they are neurodivergent or not.
Providing the questions you are planning to ask is a great way to support neurodiverse candidates, even if you just give a guide, or have the questions in writing shown during the interview. It allows them to be more familiar with the content, have time to understand what is being asked, and prepare better.
Alex also gives the example of having a choice of where to sit so the candidate can position themselves in a way where they are not distracted or overstimulated by their surroundings.
We can all fall into the idea of normalcy, thinking that if we can do it, so can everyone else. This is not the case, and it means missing out on talent and expecting everyone to conform.
Those with ADHD or dyslexia, while they might be effective communicators, could struggle with preparing a presentation. Those with autism might be able to skilfully create a presentation but might struggle with the actual presentation. Flexibility in seen interview tasks is key.
Is sharing a copy of the interview questions with neurodiverse candidates enough or equitable during the interview process relative to candidates who are not neurodiverse?
Shazia expresses her thoughts that sharing interview questions as a blanket way to support neurodiverse candidates is not enough and grouping people into a category does not consider individual needs, neurodiverse or not.
Sharing the interview questions beforehand with everyone makes all applicants improve. To be equitable, if they are shared with one, they should be shared with all.
Rachel gives a great example of a study that showed that semantic prompting helped both autistic participants and non-autistic participants alike. It is a clear example of how systemic inclusion works for everyone. You change your processes to help neurodivergent people and everybody benefits, it levels the playing field.
How do you answer someone who says, “We just hire the best person for the job, regardless of race, gender, diversity etc…?”
This question assumes that a diverse talent pool is less skilled which is not the case. From Shazia’s experience as a recruiter, a business that has a diverse team will have a diverse range of skills that complement each other, benefiting the entire organisation because everyone can contribute differently. That is where innovation comes from.
David makes the point that companies with diverse employees will outperform those without. He went on to further make the point that we often don’t get the right person for the job due to unconscious bias and that the onus is on the recruiters to be educated in these areas and bring in diverse talent.
How can I make an interview more accessible through adaptations?
Only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time employment, and while they often have the skills needed for the job, they are not successful in the interview. Thinking outside the box here is key, Alex gives a great example of a company that didn’t give a traditional interview but had the candidates build Lego robots as it demonstrated the skills needed for the role.
Speaking to a candidate about their special interest, either before or adapting the questions to frame them around their interest can have the candidate open up and feel more relaxed. It is a quick and easy way to make a candidate more comfortable, regardless of whether they have autism or not.
How to support employees who show signs of neurodiversity but haven’t disclosed it?
Rachel emphasises how important of a question this is, as around three-quarters of people do not disclose they are neurodivergent at the interview stage as there is a worry that they won’t get the job because of the stigma.
If we start doing the things that have been talked about in the webinar, those interview adaptations, the application adaptations, reaching out to neurodivergent talent, people aren’t going to have to disclose that they are neurodivergent in order for you to support them. It also means that people who don’t know they’re neurodivergent but know they have their struggles are going to be supported as well when you make these adaptations.
Shazia makes an important contribution that not everyone has the means to get assessed for neurodivergent conditions as it is a very expensive process, not everyone knows they are neurodiverse or has an official diagnosis. This is something for organisations to be aware of, as people might be struggling and not know why.
How to support managers who are neurodiverse?
David recognises that managers tend to be of an older generation who did not have access to adult assessments so they might be neurodivergent but not know it. Your managers may need specific support as it may impact interactions with their colleagues. Look at what they’re struggling with, if anything, and find strategies to support them in a compassionate, empathetic way, whoever they happen to be.
What are the positives of having a neurodiverse workplace?
For Rachel personally, the top positive of a neurodiverse workplace is fun. From Rachel’s own experience, working in a diverse environment, and having people think and work differently creates great work and is really enjoyable.
David thinks back to his school days when he was teaching specialist educational needs, it was the most vibrant, exciting, creative environment and bringing that into the workplace is what we need to do to have all those different minds.
Alex says that his Asperger’s brings along, as he calls them, Asperger’s superpowers. These are things that he can do that maybe other people don’t do as well, such as being able to stand up and speak in front of large groups of people. He prefers to look upon his diagnosis personally as a superpower, as an ability rather than a disability.
From Shazia’s experience, the organisations where she has felt the most supported are diverse workplaces. Mentally they are healthier and happier workforces.
Everyone who is neurodiverse, everyone who has autism, is completely different. No two people are the same. And whilst one person may need one thing putting in place, it may be completely different for the next person. While there are challenges of being neurodiverse, there are also many, many positives and what Alex likes to call superpowers of being different.
If you’re not sure about where to start, it doesn’t matter because you’ve already started. You’ve started on your inclusion journey just by turning up here and having that attitude of wanting to listen to neurodivergent people, think about the topic, learn more and be prepared to take action.
We have a legal, ethical and moral obligation to ensure that everyone can harness their potential in life and access the work they can do and to do it to the best of their ability. To employ a neurodivergent employee, you’re doing yourself a bigger favour than you’re doing them.
Let’s not group everyone together, we are all individuals and different with our own needs. Being neurodivergent is a superpower. Let’s celebrate our individuality, let’s celebrate our uniqueness. We don’t need to look the same, we don’t need to walk the same and we don’t need to talk the same.
Meet the Panellists
Host – Shazia Hussain
Diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia, a memory issue and ADHD, Shazia Hussain understands the stereotypes which come with being neurodivergent. Shazia learnt to utilise her differences to her advantage and is highly successful in her field, an Specialist Technology Recruiter for Bupa, founder of Gourmet Mithai and candidate on the 17th series of the BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’. Shazia is on a mission to inspire everyone who is neurodiverse to pursue their goals within the business and corporate world.
Alex Manners is 27, an Autism and Neurodiversity speaker, Asperger’s champion, presenter and author. Alex has talked about his Asperger’s many times on radio and television, published a book called “That’s Not Right! My Life Living with Asperger’s” and featured on series 10 & 11 of “The Undateables” on Channel 4. He now presents talks on “My Life Living with Asperger’s” to many different companies, law firms, schools and universities all over the UK.
An Associate Consultant and Trainer for the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion, David Hull-Watters, is a Disability and Neurodiversity in the Workplace specialist. He has worked with the British Transport Police, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, and the British Library, on projects to enhance working supportively with neurodivergent colleagues and clients. He is a winner of a Vodaphone World of Difference Award, a National Diversity Award 2014, shortlisted for a European Diversity Award 2015, annd an Excellence in Diversity Award 2015.
Rachel Morgan-Trimmer is a leading neurodiversity consultant who delivers training on how businesses should develop an inclusive workplace for neurodiverse people. With a background in the media industry, Rachel is Founding Managing Director of SugarCat Publishing. Having been diagnosed with autism and ADHD herself, Rachel shares her personal experiences facing inequality and aiming to spread awareness of the importance of a diverse, inclusive, and equal world.