An employee spotlight has been put on diversity, equity, belonging and inclusion. HR has created programs, initiatives, and processes to drive broad representation of different groups. Age, ethnicity, and gender are three categories that normally come to mind when thinking of diversity. It is easy to forget that brain differences represent another area of diversity. In fact, the word neurodiversity is still unfamiliar to many. The term refers to people with variations in their genes that differ from what was once considered “typical.” Today, this group makes up 20% of the population and includes diagnoses such as autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Tourette Syndrome among others. And the number of neurodivergent people entering the workforce is growing year over year.
aditional recruitment and employment practices pose several obstacles to neurodivergent candidates. A number of large employers, like KPMG and Ford Motor Company, responded by creating targeted initiatives to support the challenges neurodivergent individuals face in gaining and maintaining employment. A common value seen in successful neurodivergent talent programs is flexibility. While that sounds simple, it runs counter to traditional human resource practices that focus on consistency in evaluating and managing employees.
Let’s start with the interview. This is a common first step in the hiring process and presents a huge roadblock for many autistic candidates (a neurodivergent diagnosis with an estimated 80% unemployment rate). While many candidates with autism may possess the skills needed for a role, interviewing may not be their strong suit. This may be because their social skills do not meet the expectations of a “star” candidate. Maybe they don’t make eye contact or tend to speak out of turn. It could be that they are most comfortable with routines and totally out of their comfort zone with the unexpected. Companies actively attracting this community are using alternative ways to evaluate fit that don’t rely on these traditional assumptions. For example, Microsoft’s Neurodiversity Hiring Program invites candidates in for a four-day workshop where managers can assess candidates in an alternative setting.
Then, consider the work environment. Why spend the time and effort to bring on new staff if they leave in short order because continued support does not exist? Competitive companies are offering accommodations so neurodivergent staff can work comfortably once onboard. Does the individual get agitated with a lot of distractions? Move them to a corner of the office with little foot traffic. Does the individual have a tough time picking up social cues? Assign them a dedicated coach who can help translate the communication nuances as they settle into a new role. Remember, this is not a one-sided effort. Employers must educate teams and managers as well, so they understand how to interact and communicate effectively with neurodivergent hires.
Your traditional hiring and employment practices may not support neurodivergent candidates. Business leaders should familiarize themselves with the changes needed to attract and retain neurodivergent hires. If your company is not prepared to offer full neurodivergent programs, call upon one of the many outside resources that include social service partners or neurodiversity workforce intermediaries to fill in the gaps. The welcoming of neurodivergent employees is a collective issue that must be addressed as a workforce, not an individual.
Haynes, A. (N.D.) Neurodiversity: The Little-Known Superpower. Korn Ferry. https://www.kornferry.com/content/dam/kornferry-v2/pdf/institute/kfi-neurodiversity-the-little-known-superpower.pdf
Bernick, M (February 16, 2022). Is Your Company Inclusive of Neurodivergent Employees? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/02/is-your-company-inclusive-of-neurodivergent-employees