Is Your Hiring Process Excluding Neurodivergent Talent?

  • February 22, 2022

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The benefits of recruiting for diversity in your workplace are well documented. We’ve previously referenced the McKinsey study in 2020 that revealed companies in the top quartile for gender and ethnic diversity are 36% more likely to financially outperform their competition.

But, diversity is about more than ethnicity and gender. There are so many ways in which we, as humans, differ from each other in terms of our genetics, our environments and our experiences. So, the question is also – how neurodiverse is your workforce?

The benefits of recruiting for a neurodiverse workforce

The benefits of a neurodiverse workforce can offer similar competitive advantages to gender or ethnically diverse employee pools. But, there can be significant barriers to employment for many neurodivergent people. The traditional hiring process is one of them.

Before we go into how you can make your hiring process more inclusive of neurodivergence, let’s talk about why.

Why would neurominorities give your company advantage?

Neurodivergence (ND) is an umbrella term that covers an ever-widening range of neurodevelopmental conditions and disorders that essentially refer to the way people think and process information. Examples of neurodivergence include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder/Conditions (ASD/C)
  • ADHD
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Tourettes syndrome
  • Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
  • and other learning disabilities and mental health conditions

Many ND conditions are considered disabilities and are therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010, though they are not always viewed as disabilities by the owners of neurodivergent brains. Many even identify as having “superpowers” amongst their challenges.

What is a “spiky profile” and why should employers desire people who possess one?

While neurotypical people tend to have a relatively rounded set of skills, strengths, weaknesses and attributes across the board, ND people tend to have what is known as a “spiky profile”. This is where they will have huge spikes of strengths and extraordinary abilities in certain areas, and often very deep deficits in others.

For example, an ADHD person might possess incredible numerical skills, but struggle with processing verbal information. The obvious benefit to employers of these spiky profiles is that where the deficits can be mitigated and supported, the potential found in the profile peaks can be huge.

At many points of the hiring process, and during employment in general, a lack of understanding and support for the deficits can alienate and exclude a range of potential candidates due to their neurotype.

Here we outline the stages that can serve to exclude ND people, and how they can be more inclusive.

Job descriptions and advertising

As cliched as it might be, interpreting things very literally can be a common trait of neurodivergent people. When reading job specifications, it can be off-putting when endless lists of requirements seem like must-haves. Think about what’s really important to the role – does everyone actually need “excellent written and verbal communication skills”?

Be wary of unnecessary skill demands putting off potential applications. Make your job descriptions clear, literal and free of jargon. Consider explicitly stating that applicants don’t need to have everything on the list to apply, or even that you’re actively seeking applications from ND individuals or those with disabilities and are prepared to make reasonable adjustments.

The interview process

There are so many reasons why the interview process can be a stressful one for people of all neurotypes. ND people can be less able to regulate their emotions and more affected by nerves and anxiety. ND people can also have sensory and information processing difficulties. This can make it difficult to focus on different people talking, such as on an interview panel, so consider interviewing with different stakeholders, one at a time. Neurodivergent people may need more time to think or process answers and putting people on the spot could produce a stress response.

Giving interview feedback

We’re going to say it. It’s hard to see how hiring for cultural fit could not be dangerous ground in terms of discrimination. In a world where we’re trying to tackle a global skills shortage, why are we still hearing “we’re not sure this candidate would be a good social fit with the team” in interview feedback?

We believe that affinity bias is the biggest barrier to a truly diverse hiring process. By employing only similarly minded people you will be missing out on the diversity of experience and thinking that can create opportunities for creativity and innovation. What could happen when great minds DON’T think alike? Values fit is more important than culture or personality fit.

Be ND engaged and disability confident

Look to the businesses in this showreel by IBM thought-leader Andrew Williams for inspiration. So many businesses, most of a STEM nature, are creating neurodivergent talent acquisition and retention programmes in recognition of the incredible potential to be found in ND people and their spiky profiles. Why not be one of them? Many businesses offer support to employers in becoming disability confident, and there’s even accreditation available from Exceptional Individuals.


Team up with a recruitment partner who understands how to make recruitment a more inclusive process. Contact us today.

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