Experts talk: hiring (and championing) neurodivergent grads
Experts talk: hiring (and championing) neurodivergent grads
Even in the context of DEI, neurodiversity is rarely discussed. Is neurodivergent hiring at risk of being overlooked, especially for early talent? Here’s what our experts had to say…
Neurodivergent representation in today’s workplace
We’re going to put this plainly: neurodivergent talent has a hard time entering the workforce. In the UK, just 1 in 5 autistic people are in work. And this isn’t because they lack the ability or credentials — 85% of graduates with autism find themselves unemployed today.
We’re fighting hard for gender, race, and LGBTQ+ diversity and starting to move the dial. But when it comes to embracing neurodiversity in our workplaces, we’re surely missing a chance. How can we extend the same DEI opportunities to neurodivergent talent as well?
And, more specifically, how can we make the world of work more welcoming for neurodivergent graduates just starting their careers?
We invited a panel of specialists to discuss the challenges a neurodiverse workforce faces and how we can help.
Tom Price-Daniel, CRO at Headstart was the chair of the conversation. Tom understands navigating dyslexia in the workplace, first-hand.
Let’s talk 🗯
- The challenge of an “invisible” disability
- A spectrum of unique gifts and abilities
- Does your hiring approach champion neurodiversity in graduates?
- How to support neurodivergent early talent in your teams
- 3 things to remember for building a neurodiverse, inclusive workplace
- Watch the full discussion [Video]
The challenge of neurodiversity as an “invisible” disability
How many neurodivergent team members do you have?
Are you sure?
Neurodiversity often isn’t obvious to friends, employers, or co-workers, and there is still some stigma in disclosing it. This is a challenge for those of us interested in better understanding neurodiversity and improving both representation and support.
Making the decision to talk about being neurodivergent can feel high-risk, particularly for early talent. Labels such as “dyslexic” or “autistic” can incorrectly position candidates as “less than” in some recruiter’s minds. And these biases carry into the workplace once (or if) they arrive.
For those who do decide to talk about being neurodivergent, the response isn’t always ideal.
It’s essential to realize that neurodiversity is more… well, diverse than we may subconsciously anticipate.
A spectrum of unique gifts and abilities
You’ve probably heard people talking about being “on the spectrum”. But have you considered what that spectrum might look like? And what challenges and opportunities it can present for neurodivergent employees?
Neurodiversity covers vastly different experiences, even for those with the same condition or “label”.
Many also never receive a formal diagnosis. Autistic women, for example, are often diagnosed with social anxiety or depression instead.
The spectrum is more far-reaching than we realize, too.
Our panel was keen to highlight how more information might help co-workers understand their own neurodiversity — and how that could help improve inclusion and remove bias around neurodiversity at work.
Our job is to create an environment that makes it easy for neurodivergent talent to perform at their best. And, arguably, that should go double when hiring neurodivergent grads — those who may be even less connected with the gifts and abilities their “condition” brings to the fore.
So how do we do this? What support can we offer, and what adjustments should we be making?
We need to start by focusing on recruitment…
Does your hiring approach champion neurodiversity in graduates?
For most organizations, the answer is a firm no.
Traditional recruitment methods — application forms, psychometric testing, and assessment days, for example — often fail to highlight a neurodiverse candidate’s strengths.
The recruitment process becomes even less equitable when hiring remotely. Many neurotypical people struggle to read social cues or maintain eye contact during video calls. And this may come across as despondent or disinterested to recruiters, not in the know.
So how can we rethink recruitment to make it fairer and more inclusive for neurodiverse candidates?
Creative recruitment attracts neurodivergent talent
Neurodivergent individuals make constant adjustments to fit in with society. So we, as employers, owe them the same. If traditional recruitment processes don’t show the talents of neurodivergent candidates, what will?
Start by considering exactly what skills you are looking for, and how you can recognize those in neurodivergent candidates. The panel was clear that embracing neurodiversity takes more than a few tweaks to the system. We need to consider inclusivity throughout the recruitment process and make significant changes from top to bottom.
How we handle the recruitment process tells neurodivergent candidates a lot about our commitment. So what message do you want to put out there?
Dedicated neurodiversity training for all assessors
Our panel discussed the “absence of knowledge” (Tom Price-Daniel) regarding neurodiversity at work.
Diversity training isn’t perfect, but it’s undoubtedly an essential step in training recruiters and other assessors on why neurodiverse grads may appear a certain way or struggle with a specific part of the recruitment process.
How to support neurodivergent early talent in your teams
Recruitment is only the first step in our DEI efforts. What can we do to support neurodivergent early talent once we’ve found it?
👉 Make adjustments to allow neurodivergent talent to shine
Asking for adjustments can be stressful for neurodivergent employees — especially early in their careers. Be proactive and ease the process by offering adjustments and asking what would help.
We need to offer up and make these suitable adjustments, but we need to consider how those adjustments will play out in reality as well.
Yes, you’ll be ticking the boxes for inclusion and equitability if you have a dedicated “quiet zone” for neurodiverse workers. But if you make a big song and dance of the fact that people need to ask to use it, then you risk doing more harm (and embarrassment) than good.
The neurodivergent employees you’re trying to help are best placed to advise what works and what doesn’t.
👉 Provide dedicated mentors for neurodivergent grads
Excellent management isn’t reinventing the wheel; find what works elsewhere and apply it to your business.
Universities are having great success with mentorships for neurodiverse students, and so can we. When done right, mentorships can be incredibly influential, building confidence and empathy, among other benefits — especially for early talent.
How could your mentorship program be better suited to neurodivergent talent?
👉 Help neurodiverse early talent to be “out” in your organization
Ask yourself: are our neurodivergent team members open about their ‘disability’? Do they talk about it publicly? Do we want or need them to be?
Increasing visibility is an important part of reducing bias and stigma, but this can still be a difficult question. We don’t want to impose an additional burden on neurodivergent talent — least of all right at the start of their career journey.
How can we find a middle ground? We want to encourage discussions about neurodiversity, without asking neurodivergent talent to be responsible for driving change. Tom Moran suggested “disability passports” as one solution:
3 things to remember for building a neurodiverse, inclusive workplace
We’ve covered a lot in this blog post — you might well be feeling that your organization still has some way to go for neurodiversity DEI. So, by way of a summary, here are the three most important things to bear in mind when recruiting and supporting neurodivergent early talent:
Ditch the labels, forget what you’ve seen on screen, and treat each candidate as the individual they are. Not only will this help make the process more manageable for you, as a recruiter, but it also helps reduce the risk of generalization and positive discrimination, too.
Everyone can be an educated ally
You don’t have to fight this fight alone. As we mentioned before, there could be way more neurodiverse people in your workplace than you know of today. Equally, there are doubtless many more allies and partners who can support you as you work to make your organization more equitable.
Headstart’s Hire Up Network could be a great place to begin.
Use data to work out where your biggest barriers exist
Workplace and employee data helps expose the full story and true picture of diversity and inclusion in your organization. You may be met with criticisms or denials: “We don’t have a problem with diversity here”. But armed with data that supports your case? Well, then you’re unstoppable.
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The live debate
Of course, we couldn’t fit in all the insights. To hear directly from our incredible guest panel, you can dive into the full live discussion below.
Hungry for knowledge? Sign up for our Hire Up newsletter to be updated about upcoming Headstart Presents.
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