What recruiters need to know about engaging neurodiverse applicants
In a world where cultural, ethnic, racial, and gender diversity in the workplace is increasingly valued, a different type of demographic is rising to the forefront of the collective consciousness – the neurodiverse.
Neurodiversity (ND) is an umbrella term that includes any individuals whose minds are “wired” atypically.
Neurodiversity can manifest in aspects of sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions. It encompasses conditions such as:
- Tourette’s syndrome
The Neurodiversity hiring gap
Historically, people with neurodiversity have suffered under traditional recruiting and hiring practices. Their skills and abilities have therefore been underrepresented and underutilized in the workplace, a big problem today when hiring companies are desperate for skilled workers.
In fact, according to the University of Connecticut’s Center for Neurodiversity and Employment Innovation, the unemployment rate for neurodivergent adults is as high as 30-40%, which is eight times higher than the employment rate for non-disabled persons.
The good news is that companies are learning how much the neurodiverse population has to offer. Robust diversity and inclusion programs are being developed and implemented to make recruitment, interviewing, hiring, and retention processes ND-friendly.
Suggested reading on diversity hiring: Blueprint to drive DEI hiring in the workplace
While neurodiverse conditions are considered disabilities, Aiyana Bailin, an autism care professional and disability rights advocate, asserts in a Scientific American article:
“Autism and other neurological variations may be disabilities, but they are not flaws. People with neurological differences are not broken or incomplete versions of normal people.”
Disabilities, Bailin continues, are a result of society not accommodating the needs of people with differences.
Here’s how recruiters can better meet the needs of neurodiverse candidates.
Legal Considerations of Neurodiversity
Because neurodiversity falls under the disability blanket, it’s protected by the American Disabilities Act (ADA). The most important considerations for ADA compliance in regard to hiring neurodiverse candidates are:
- You may NOT inquire about a candidate’s medical information during the recruitment or interview process.
- You MAY make medical inquiries only AFTER making the candidate a conditional offer of employment, so long as you make the same inquiry of every candidate in the same job category.
- Candidates MAY self-disclose their neurodiverse status at their own discretion.
- Focus on the candidate’s ability to do the job – not on their potential limitations.
- Do NOT steer employees to jobs they didn’t apply for based on what you presume their skill set would be in light of their neurodiversity.
- You may NOT reveal the candidate’s neurological condition to any other employees or individuals.
Where Neurodiverse Employees Excel
Employers have many reasons to recruit and hire neurodiverse employees. Danielle Pavliv, manager of diversity and inclusion for analytics software company SAS, tells us:
“Nearly 62.6% of autistic individuals have some exceptional talent or ability—not always, but often technical skills.”
Of course, every rule has exceptions. Companies have found that employees on the autism spectrum often excel at detail-driven jobs that require handling data like cyber-security, coding, and debugging. And people with ADHD often excel at jobs that require energy, creativity, and innovation.
In fact, JP Morgan Chase has an Autism at Work program designed specifically for the purpose of hiring and training employees with autism. Their metrics are fascinating. They report that employees hired through this program into certain tech roles are 90 to 140% more productive than other employees, they finish tasks with far fewer errors, and they can perform the work of two people.
Susanne Marie Bruyere, a professor of disability studies at Cornell University, cautions us not to misunderstand these kinds of statistics, however. It’s not that neurodiverse employees have superpowers. These individuals are usually placed in jobs that are tailored to their specific strengths.
How to Find and Hire Neurodiverse Talent
If you’re seeking to expand neurodiversity in your organization, the law doesn’t forbid you from reaching out to people with specific conditions.
However, since you’re not allowed to inquire about medical information in the recruiting or interviewing process, the best practice is to approach advocacy groups for people with disabilities, let them know the positions for which you’re hiring, and have them put you in touch with viable candidate pools.
Suggested resource on neurodiverse hiring: Neurodivergent talent: the new frontier in diversity hiring
How to Accommodate Neurodiverse Candidates
When it comes to diverse recruiting, especially in regard to neurodiversity, certain accommodations can ensure that you provide an optimal environment for interviewing, hiring, and training employees on the spectrum.
RoboKind, an education technology company that builds social-emotional curriculum for autistic students, offers seven tips:
- Remove barriers such as generic blanket statements, excessive and superfluous job requirements, and unclear descriptions of the application process.
- Clearly state that you welcome neurodiverse applicants at the top of your job ad or in the job description.
- Understand what to expect from these job applicants. In particular, remove the following behaviors from your list of deal-breakers when you assess autistic candidates:
- Inconsistent eye contact
- Lack of ability to make small talk
- Repetitive movements
- Confusing body language
- Uncertainty or uneasiness
- Let the candidate know what to expect in terms of where, how, and with whom they’ll be interviewing.
- Offer alternative interview formats such as phone, instant messaging, or email. You could also arrange for a skill demonstration in lieu of an interview.
- Be direct and literal in your communication. Don’t use “what if” scenarios or ask questions like, “If you were an animal, which one would you be and why?”
- Give the candidate breaks (hours or days) between interview sessions.
Ready to Diversify Your Candidate Search?
Diversity initiatives are no longer a “nice to have” – they’re a must for companies of all sizes.
At Leoforce, we recognize your need to make data-backed hiring decisions and limit biases in your recruiting processes. Our AI recruiting platform, Arya, continues to get smarter over time, minimizing human bias and gut-feel reactions while accelerating diversity initiatives.
Get a free demo to discover how Arya identifies, analyzes, and sources candidates who are the right fit.