How welcoming are your recruitment practices to neurodiverse people? Could you be missing out on the best possible candidates because the way you word your job ads or conduct your interviews unintentionally excludes neurodiverse people, like those with ADHD, dyslexia or an autism spectrum disorder? Here’s why that matters for your company.
How welcoming are your recruitment practices to neurodiverse people? Could you be missing out on the best possible candidates because the way you word your job ads or conduct your interviews unintentionally excludes neurodiverse people, like those with ADHD, dyslexia or an autism spectrum disorder?
In this article, we’ll discuss why that matters for your company. But, first of all, let’s take a closer look at what we mean by “neurodiversity” or “neurodivergence”.
What is neurodiversity?
If someone is neurodivergent it means their brains develop or work differently to a typical human brain. It’s a non-medical term. Here’s how the Cleveland Clinic defines it:
“The term ‘neurodivergent’ describes people whose brain differences affect how their brain works. That means they have different strengths and challenges from people whose brains don’t have those differences. The possible differences include medical disorders, learning disabilities and other conditions. The possible strengths include better memory, being able to mentally picture three-dimensional objects easily, the ability to solve complex mathematical calculations in their head, and many more.”
Why might you want to encourage neurodivergent candidates?
That last sentence gives you a good idea of why some organisations, including Britain’s intelligence and cybersecurity agency GCHQ, are changing their hiring practices to attract candidates with dyslexia and other neurological differences.
Jeremy Fleming, the head of GCHQ’s signals and digital intelligence wing, said in 2019 that neurodiverse employees were integral to the workings of the UK’s security services. He said the agency had three times the national average of dyslexic people in its apprenticeship programs.
He said dyslexic employees were particularly good at “joining the dots, simplification, seeing the bigger picture but also… team working—an organisation of 10,000 people is a big business and nothing happens in my business unless we work properly as a team.
"I have everyone from the country’s best mathematicians, some of the most talented engineers and hopefully some of the best analysts. But I also have people who are keeping the show on the road, who are making the machines work, who are making sure we are giving our best every day, and I can see dyslexics in every bit of the business”.
How does hiring for neurodiversity advantage a company?
David Joseph, the Chief Executive of the record company Universal Music in the UK, reckons inclusive recruitment practices explicitly designed to attract neurodivergent candidates have given the company a competitive advantage.
“It’s not as though someone has just switched a light on to the power of alternative thinking—it’s said that 25% of CEOs are dyslexic,” he said in 2020, at the launch of a handbook he developed for companies wanting to recruit neurodiverse people. “There’s a recognition that world-changing ideas come from people who think differently. But according to autism.org, just 16% of autistic people are in full-time paid work.”
In an interview with the BBC in December 2023, he reflected on how well this inclusive approach to neurodiverse recruitment had worked: “We’ve found that people have applied to work here who would not normally have applied. These are the reasonable adjustments that would have really suited me, if I had ever gone for an interview. I think it’s a massive competitive advantage for us. I see this as making us more creatively excellent.”
How to make your hiring practices inclusive of neurodiverse candidates
Despite the potential advantages of having a more neurodiverse workforce being clear, very few companies have a specific or formal neurodiversity recruitment plan as part of their diversity and inclusion strategy. According to research conducted for Universal’s neurodiversity handbook, only 17% of companies even know how many neurodiverse people they already have on staff, let alone understand whether their recruitment practices might be deterring neurodiverse candidates.
Universal’s Joseph says traditional recruitment processes are not great for neurodivergent people and can actually discourage them from applying for jobs they’d be ideal for.
So, how can mining companies encourage neurodivergent candidates?
Start with your job ads.
- Are they clear and concise? (Are they easy to understand?)
- Is the design simple and clean? (Too much clutter or moving images online can put off some neurodiverse people. Don’t overdesign your ad)
- Have you included essential info like working hours, skill requirements and salaries? (Make your ads informative and easy to understand)
- Are the essential skills listed really essential? (e.g., We often automatically put “good communication skills” on ads, but this can be off-putting to some neurodivergent people who don’t feel confident with social interaction)
- Have you included a diversity and inclusion statement on your ad? (And does it include a statement about neurodiversity?)
The application process
- Have you clearly explained/outlined the full application process, including how long it’s likely to take? (This information can help a candidate feel comfortable in the process as it takes away mystery and sets expectations. Obviously, keep candidates updated if a process is dragging out)
- Have you acted to limit unconscious bias that might affect neurodiverse applicants? (e.g., When you’re sifting and scoring candidates, are you potentially sifting out neurodiverse jobseekers because they’re less likely to have specific skills or experience?)
- Is submitting a resume even necessary? (Could neurodiverse candidates apply for the job another way, perhaps via video or telephone application?)
- Have you clearly explained/outlined the interview process? (Let them know the structure of the interview, who will be doing it, and who their contact person on the day will be)
- Can you supply the candidate with the questions you’ll ask, ahead of the interview? (So they feel less anxious about the interview and can prepare their answers)
- Could you interview via video, rather than in person?
- If you need/prefer to interview in person, could you offer the candidate the opportunity to visit to see where the interview will take place? (This helps take some of the anxiety out of the interview for some neurodivergent people)
- Can you frame the interview as a conversation, rather than an interview? (This helps take some of the anxiety or fear of rejection out of the process)
- Does the candidate need to sit down? (A formal interview panel can be very intimidating. Could you, for example, conduct the interview walking around the building/facility, chatting while showing the person around?
- Can you give the candidate an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities instead? (Could you offer a work experience placement or internship?)
- Can you keep the communication channels open? (Hopefully you follow up with all candidates after an interview already, but this is particularly important for neurodivergent job applicants, who can benefit from feedback)
- Can you learn from the candidate? (Whether they were successful or not, there’s an opportunity to ask the candidate how you can improve your processes to support neurodivergent jobseekers).
A word about onboarding
No doubt you have smooth onboarding processes. Most mining companies do these days—they run like well-oiled machines. However, it’s possible your process doesn’t take into account the needs of neurodivergent people. Now, neurodiversity comes in myriad forms so you can’t treat every neurodiverse employee the same, but you can take a few key steps to make onboarding successful.
- Make sure their line manager and chain of command is aware of the employee’s neurodivergence and are not only supportive but know how to be supportive (you may wish to offer them specific training, including anti-bias training)
- Make it clear to the employee that they can approach you (or their manager or HR or whomever is appropriate) at any time to ask questions or report a problem
- Explain important processes and procedures, rather than assuming the employee will know or understand them. (e.g., Show them the process for filling in timesheets, booking leave or making a health and safety report)
- Ask your employee what they’re comfortable with and what they need in terms of social interaction. (e.g., For many neurodiverse people, attention during “get to know you” events might cause severe anxiety, so ask them how they would like to meet to the team)
- Set up their workspace to meet their specific needs. (e.g., Is there any technology they need—like noise-cancelling headphones if they’re sensitive to excessive noise—or facilities—like a quiet space they can retire to away from everyone else if they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated?)
Creating a healthy, happy, neurodiverse workplace
This is an increasing amount of quality information out there about how to create a happy, healthy, supportive, neurodiverse workplace. Many companies have begun to incorporate a neurodiversity plan in their diversity and inclusion strategies. Some companies are now providing training to their teams, to help them be supportive of neurodiverse colleagues. This is all fabulous to see.
With a little thought and care in our recruitment processes, we can help neurodiverse candidates compete on a level playing field with other jobseekers and find great roles in great companies where they can become valued colleagues and wonderful assets.