Navigating Neurodiversity: a Practical Guide to Empowering Workers Who Think Differently

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Looking for exceptional permanent talent while also increasing diversity & inclusion in your workforce? Adecco is here to help you uncover and nurture the wealth in untapped talent pool.
April 11, 2022
Inclusive Futures

Today’s talent market, permanently changed by the Covid pandemic and the associated Great Resignation / Re-Evaluation, is a story of labour shortages and skills gaps, creating an ever-increasing headache for HR managers across the world.

At the same time, a growing pool of potential, such as workers with disabilities or veterans, are unemployed or underemployed, but remain effectively hidden from most businesses.

It’s important to work alongside those within these overlooked talent pools, and the very real benefits they can bring to companies. Every year we connect thousands of people who are at-risk in the labour market with purposeful jobs, providing them with meaningful careers, while also giving companies first-class employees.

At Adecco, it is our core mission to make the future work for everyone. We believe in talent, not labels, and we know that differences are not deficits. In Neurodiversity report, we share our thinking on how employers can solve their hiring woes by seeking out – and empowering – this untapped talent.

Why you need neurodiverse talent

The benefits of a robust diversity and inclusion (D&I) policy are well documented. In short, you cannot afford not to have a diverse and inclusive workforce and leadership team. Not only do companies with strong D&I policies enjoy better staff retention, D&I can positively impact innovation, productivity, and profit.

But while some might believe D&I is all about race, gender or sexual orientation, a truly inclusive workforce should be wider than that, embracing all of society, including those whose specific diversity might be hidden. One example of this is neurodiversity.

The term neurodiversity is a combination of ‘neurological’ and ‘diversity’. It is the notion that brain function differences are just another form of identity and that there’s no such thing as neurologically normal (or neurotypical).

Every innovation starts with someone thinking a little differently

While neurodivergent people may struggle with specific skills, they tend to have above-average abilities – think of them as superpowers – in other areas, including analysis and pattern recognition. Neurodiverse teams see things that others don‘t see, because they are comprised of people who literally think differently. As such, they can come up with novel ideas, improve product quality, and adapt in step with a fast-moving market.

But neurodivergence isn‘t all superpowers. Nuanced, and sometimes invisible, neurodiversity is also one of the most challenging areas of diversity and inclusion for employers. Many companies still do not include neurodiversity in their diversity and inclusion strategies. As a result, neurodivergent people encounter many practical barriers at work as well as more subtle challenges like lack of co-worker empathy.

How can employers redress this imbalance?

By taking a customer-experience approach to candidates and new hires. Here‘s how:

Write inclusive job descriptions

Job descriptions that only appeal to candidates who conform to conventional standards effectively screen out neurodiverse talent.

Take time to define the exact needs of the role. Don’t assume that you know because you already have an old job description. Previous job descriptions may contain outdated, exclusionary requirements or terminology. Start fresh, every time.

Separate ‘must-haves’ from ‘nice-to-haves’. Neurodivergent candidates are unlikely to tick all the boxes.

Only use phrases like ‘excellent communication skills’ or ‘attention to detail’ if they are truly core to the role. These sorts of terms can discourage candidates who struggle with social skills or concentration in certain settings.

Include a ‘neurodiversity-positive’ statement. Be explicit that you are happy to discuss reasonable adjustments – and be truly happy to discuss reasonable adjustments.

Clear and concise communication is a best practice for all candidates, but certain neurodivergent candidates will have difficulty interpreting context. Be direct. Avoid jargon.

Ensure fair selection

Your selection process should not be designed to weed people out, especially in today’s tight labour market. Here’s how to make it neurodiverse positive.

Cast your nets wide. Don’t go to the same candidate sources over and over. Actively seek out and engage with neurodiverse communities and bodies.

Acknowledge internal biases. Make sure that your processes are designed to find the right people and not just the people that you are comfortable with. Set up training or workshops on diverse hiring for everyone involved in the process.

Don’t penalise the past. Avoid discounting candidates with breaks in their educational or work histories. Neurodivergent individuals often deal with stigma and/or lack of support, which can lead to gaps on resumes.

Beware automated systems. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and Recruiting Management Systems (RMS) often exclude potentially high-performing neurodivergent candidates who don’t fit the mould. Regularly audit any used by your company to ensure they are not amplifying prejudices. For more, read the full neurodiversity report from Adecco.