The Power Of Different
20th March 2018
In the space of a few short weeks two things happened that made me think about the challenges dyslexic people face in their search to get in to work.
I was reviewing the entries to our art competition and the narrative for Finn Reynolds from Alford Academy really stood out. Written phonetically, his teacher had transcribed it so the judges could more easily understand his meaning.
It read "Art helps me forget I can't do other things. Being an artist would help me enjoy my space, see things differently and to develop ideas."
I thought of the advice we share with job seekers on the importance of ensuring there are no spelling or grammatical errors in their applications and CVs – a daunting task for dyslexics.
Finn went on to be a finalist in the competition and at the awards event his sparkling, positive attitude shone through.
Finn Reynolds, Alford Academy, Runner Up 2017 / 18 My Future Aspirations Art Competition.
He is pictured with his self-portrait and the photo he based his work upon.
Then, last week, I was working with an astute, articulate job seeker who was making a great impression during the selection process for a finance director role. When a testing process was stipulated by the hiring client the recruitment process took on a different dimension. Very talented with numbers, words and language are much more challenging and he recognised that this style of testing would not suit how his brain interprets and processes information. Once again, I was struck by the stringent parameters of the recruitment process and how it could undermine this candidate's success.
I did a little research and it turns out that the abilities of individuals who, generalising in the most simple of terms, think differently are beginning to grab the attention of employers.
Dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and ADHD (and more) are now recognised as natural forms of variation in the way we process information with the term "neurodiversity" increasingly used to describe these different ways of thinking. Neurodivergent individuals can have unique strengths that contribute to competitive advantage, greater performance and profitability. They bring a different perspective to problem solving, creativity and originality and progressive employers now recognise neurodivergent individuals as an important source of talent, particularly in sectors with intense skills shortages.
While the list of famous neurodivergent people is long (think Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Ingvar Kamprad) it is estimated that 1 in 7 of the UK population are neurodivergent. That's a lot of potential employees and customers who could add incredible value to businesses that recognise the benefits of inclusion.
If you are looking for inspiration to change your people management processes and progress your diversity agenda you'll find it in this CIPD report Neurodiversity at Work, which was published in February 2018.
Often the impetus for change is crushed by the daunting size of the task; because it only benefits a relative minority or because it will cost too much. But many recommendations within the CIPD report actually benefit everyone. Bear in mind too, it is probable that neurodivergent people are working in your business now – but perhaps not in an environment where their abilities can be best demonstrated or appreciated.
Recruitment practice strongly favours neurotypical people and unintentionally excludes neurodiverse talent. I was particularly interested in the recruitment recommendations within the CIPD report:
- There's increasing evidence that consumers and millennial job seekers prefer socially inclusive companies. If you recognise neurodivergence as an ability, not a disability, start telling people about what you are doing on your recruitment web pages and social media.
- Don't reuse old role descriptions. Review them and focus on the skills and experience that are clearly identified as "must have" and "nice to have". Keep them concise and relevant to the role.
- Stop looking for the perfect candidate, one that ticks all the boxes – they really don't exist.
- Carefully consider whether you need a generalist (often considered a more cost-effective option as they have a broader skill set) or someone who has niche skills and may be able to more effectively expedite changes or solve problems.
- Don't use tired phrases like "excellent communication skills". You hate seeing them in CVs so why use them in your job ads? Rather, explain the type of communication skills are you seeking. Is it social communication or analytic communication that you really mean?
- Review previous work or set practical work trials which will clearly demonstrate the ability to do the job.
- Provide training to interviewers (and line managers) on neurodiversity awareness so they can consider how to enable the applicants to perform at their best and to mitigate ill-informed negative judgements around unusual answers, cultural fit or sociability.
Margaret Malpas MBE, Vice President of the British Dyslexia Association agrees, arguing that many of the adaptations made for those with dyslexia can be of benefit to all employees, "Often it's simple things such as installing an extra monitor for someone who has to reconcile a lot of figures, or allowing employees whose concentration is disturbed by an open-plan office to wear earphones or face a wall. Not communicating everything over email, or not expecting neurodiverse employees to be able to prepare for a meeting in 5 minutes – these are things that can benefit everyone."