22nd March 2022
Job interviews and professionalism are based on neurotypical standards. Why is that when we live in a neurodiverse world?
Nesceda Blake is an autistic woman who is on a mission to raise awareness of the challenges autistic people face when they are searching for work, applying to job adverts, and being at their best during a job interview.
Packed with great advice, Nesceda's perspective is thought-provoking and constructive. Drawing from her own experience as a jobseeker she questions the neurotypical standard of professionalism and explains that if employers are serious about diversity and inclusion then their processes have to change to enable all people to show what they can do. It's not a big ask to:
- Be better informed about neurodivergence and the challenges autistic people face.
- Ask people what they need to feel supported.
- Ditch preconceived ideas around professional behaviour and focus on skills, personal values and examples of work.
- Consider how a person will enrich and add to your company culture rather than just fit in.
If you are determined to improve your recruitment process and attract talented people with specialist skills then this is a *MUST* watch as Nesceda shares changes we can all incorporate to our application and interview processes.
It's so obvious. And yet we're not doing it.
Jude: Nesceda, I'm going to hand over to you to explain who you are, to introduce yourself.
Nesceda: For sure. Thanks so much for having me, Jude. Like you said, my name is Nesceda. I'm from Australia, Melbourne as you can tell from my voice, I am an autistic woman. I'm 22 years old. And recently I went a little bit viral on LinkedIn after I shared an article talking about the non-inclusive and neurotypical standards of professionalism when it comes to job seeking, recruitment and employment. And I think that's what we're going to chat a little bit more about today. So I'm delighted to be here. Thanks so much for having me.
Jude: There's two things I want to talk to you about. One, you have such passion and such purpose and such an articulate voice as well in terms of the articles that you've written. So I'd just love to talk to you a little bit more about that. But also, I've been in recruitment for 25 years and we obviously spoke last week in preparation for recording this. But until that point, I like to champion inclusive and diverse recruitment. But I think you really distilled it for me. You made it really straightforward in terms of how you describe things and really interestingly afterwards actually, I was discussing with my colleagues. She made an interesting point about how it's time for us to feel uncomfortable. Speaking to you, it's about people with autism who have been made to feel uncomfortable applying for jobs. But actually, let's flip that and let's make other people feel uncomfortable to make sure that we are being the most inclusive that we can be.
So just a few questions.
Jude: What are the changes that employers could make in their recruitment process that would help neurodiverse people get hired?
Nesceda: It's a great question and I think it's probably one that doesn't have a straightforward answer and requires continuous improvement and evaluation of processes. I think the number one thing to know is that job interviews and professionalism, in terms of what you see in a good candidate, are based on neurotypical standards. So non-autistic, non-neurodivergent standards. So the expectation for someone to come in, maintain eye contact, not to fidget, to make sure they smile and nod and use expressive facial expressions, those things can be really unnatural and uncomfortable for autistic people and other neurodivergent people. So that's your first step.
Are you perpetuating neurotypical standards of professionalism by judging a person by their outward behaviours?
And one thing that I was discussing with you last week, Jude, was that really my number one tip is to really have a think about what you are seeking in an employee. Are you perpetuating neurotypical standards of professionalism by judging a person by their outward behaviours, by what's there, by whether they make eye contact with you, whether they're a bit curt, or should you rather base their, you know, view or addition to your team based on their skills and values?
That's kind of what we should be looking for when it comes to recruiting.
Jude: And that's a really interesting point, because what would you say about cultural fit and the importance of culture fit?
Nesceda: I'll answer it with another question. I've seen a lot recently about the difference between culture fit and culture add. When I think about culture fit, what I would ask employers and recruiters, are you wanting them to fit in to be similar to who you are? Are you wanting someone that's like you? They often say, like hires like, like, promotes like, or are there other people out there that maybe you don't share their experiences that you can maybe learn from, that can add value, add their own unique assets to your organisation as well? That's what I would encourage you to think and also really just trying to eliminate all forms of judgment. There's often a perception that's, like, if someone doesn't want to come to the social occasions or they want to get on with their work or they might not respond in a typical way, that they're being rude or curt or blunt or bossy, and that's really hurtful. And that excludes autistic people, that excludes neurodivergent people whose mode of communication is a bit different to the norm. So I'd encourage everyone to just learn what neurodiversity looks like and then talk about culture fit, culture add.
I would encourage you to eliminate all forms of judgment.
Jude: So actually, to your point, it's about tailoring it to the individual.
Nesceda: Absolutely right. What works for one person is not going to work for another. I know plenty of people, autistic people and neurodivergent people that either you know, we talk about remote work with COVID, love working from home, and then a whole other group of neurodivergent people that hate working from home. In terms of for some people, it's your comfort zone, you're able to control your environment, for other people they think going into the office allows that separation so that you can come home and really sort of relax and unmask in a sense. So that's an example of just why we need to really treat neurodiversity and diversity and inclusion as a whole, as a really individual and individualised thing.
Jude: When it comes to employment and recruitment, there's no one size fits all. It's so hard though, because in order to treat everyone as individuals, you also have to take account of their disability, if you like. And I thought it was a really interesting point that you made last week about the fact that when you were at school, you tried to control it and sometimes you felt like you were winning when people didn't know. But now you're out and proud. How do you get the courage?
How can we encourage other people to be courageous enough to say, I'm autistic?
Nesceda: Well, it's a tough one because I don't think we can force that upon others. I think we can encourage others to learn more about themselves and become comfortable with their identities. But really, it's up to employers and the people in charge to take more authority to create accommodations and individualised processes for people, regardless of if they're autistic, if they're open about being autistic, if they're open about having mental health issues or family commitments or anything like that.
People are out of employment and they don't even know why, because they're that burnt out and they can't advocate for themselves.
What we chatted about last week as well is this idea of universal design, which is basically a methodology that's basically saying everything in employment should be customed and catered to each individual person's needs, regardless of disability, regardless of support needs or anything like that. And that in itself is an inclusive act. That way, people don't have to be vulnerable about their needs. I happen to be vulnerable about my needs because I've spent too long not being vulnerable about my needs, not even knowing my needs. And that leading to burnout and mental health issues. And that's so often the case for people where they're out of employment and they don't even know why, because they're that burnt out and they can't advocate for themselves. We can't always advocate for ourselves. I'm just fortunate that I'm in a position that I feel comfortable in myself to do that, but not everyone can and not everyone will. So it's up to the big suits, the corporates and the organisation to take a bit more leadership with that in trying to create things that are accommodating to everyone.
Jude: I'm putting you on the spot and I asked you this last week and you did give me a good answer, but who would you hold up as an organisation that is getting it right? Who is accommodating?
Nesceda: An example here in Australia is a digital marketing firm that I love them so much. I'm not a marketer, but I want to be a marketer just to work for this company. They're called the Digital Picnic, and they're founded and headed up by an autistic woman named Sheree. And she's awesome. I love her so much. I want to be her friend and her employee. Basically, their whole philosophy is really about that concept of culture add, not culture fit. They have multiple neurodivergent people in their team. They put social media posts and blog posts about how they provide varying accommodations and different things for their staff members just based on the way they work best. For example, there was one post about a neurodivergent staff member who really can't work in the mornings. And so they work from eleven 'til seven and it doesn't actually affect anything, doesn't affect their output. It does affect their output because they're more productive, but it doesn't affect anyone else. They do really well, so absolutely check them out for sure.
Jude: We discovered you through your LinkedIn post, which went viral. Why do you think that post made an impact? And has it changed how you're using LinkedIn?
Nesceda: Well, it's changed how I'm using LinkedIn because I didn't really use it before I got on LinkedIn when I was looking for a job, and then I wrote this post about looking for a job. So I wrote this article and then I wrote a post about the article and the post about the article went viral. Its now got over 900,000 views and over 12,000 likes and my previous post had 20. It's not like I have any clout or any famous friends or anything like that. It was really quite strange. I don't know hashtags it's just like.
Essentially, I don't know why it's gone viral. I think what people have been sharing with me is that LinkedIn and other platforms but particularly LinkedIn, is missing a lot of personal anecdotes when it comes to diversity and inclusion because so often they're just sort of chucked around like buzzwords and like, yeah, we should do this here, look at our policy. What are they actually doing? We don't see that. And then also what is the impact of their actions on the people that the policies are meant to represent and uplift? So I think the reason why it may have been may have gone viral is because people haven't necessarily heard our side or haven't had access to our side. They don't know where to look to find out people's experiences like mine when it comes to job seeking and things like that, which I'm not anymore but I was.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion ... so often they're just sort of chucked around like buzzwords. What are they actually doing?
Jude: If it was a rant it was a lovely rant, it was a rant born out of a desire to educate. And it's compelling reading because we can't know what we haven't experienced, even you talking about actually that people want to know where they're going. If you're doing some preparation before you go for an interview, it's common sense or it's good practice, it's a good idea to have a look, to look it up on Google Maps, to work out how you're going to get there, to work out your timings. Some people do a trial run the day before, but you were saying for you it's so important. And actually that even crossing a busy road could have a detrimental effect on you. And cause anxiety on the way to that interview. That would never be taken account of.
Nesceda: No, exactly. It's all good and well to look up the way to get to an interview or something like that. But for me it's a little bit different. Like when I'm looking up a new location, whether it be a new job or a new interview or something like that. I look up on Google Maps, I look up the busiest times, I look up photos of the traffic and what I can try to expect. And I try and do a trial run as well and figure out all the points that are going to be possibly overwhelming. Because if I'm not in tip-top shape, if I'm not feeling well and I am at a busy intersection crossing the road, that could be enough sensory input to then overwhelm me, which means I'm not going to perform as well in an interview or maybe not able to mask my autistic traits as well as usual. So I might be diverting my eye contact a bit more, I might be fidgeting a bit more, I might be less coherent or cohesive all because of that overwhelm from just crossing the road. So it's just things like that that people don't even realise.
I try and do a trial run as well and figure out all the points that are going to be possibly overwhelming.
And a point you made before as well, Jude, about providing questions in advance. That is one of the easiest and simplest things that you can do for job seekers, because it eliminates that anxiety of what are they going to ask and how am I going to answer. You at least know what kind of skills and things they're wanting to know more about. And for me, it helps with my auditory processing, having the questions on the screen so I can actually read them while the interviewer is saying them. It's not so much about preparation as it is about taking in the information. So just something like that, for example, that helps everyone. That's not just helpful to me.
And for me, it helps with my auditory processing, having the questions on the screen so I can actually read them while the interviewer is saying them.
Jude: That would help everyone. Yeah, I know. It's so obvious, though. It's so obvious. And yet we're not doing it.
Nesceda: Yeah. But also you got to think about why don't we do it? Why don't interviewers want to provide the question, why do they want to put people on the spot? But then also, what is that meant to prove? Oh, you can do things on the fly. Okay, what about coming up with coherent ways to explain your skills and values?
Jude: I can tell you actually a horrific experience I had as a graduate 22, same age as you. And I went for an interview, and this lady woman made me stand on a table and recite a poem. Stand on a chair and recite a poem. And halfway through it, she asked me a maths question, which was so straightforward. I mean, it wasn't particularly challenging, but at the time I did it, and I think I've always reflected on that. And she said, I just wanted to see if you could multitask or something ridiculous. I thought, no, actually it was more about power and humiliation. I never actually want to work for you. I did it, and I still didn't get the job. That's slightly galling as well.
Nesceda: Yeah. That's not in the job description. If that's seen as being a priority, it should be in the job description. Can you stand on a table and recite a poem?
Jude: I think it's interesting I asked you last week and I'm interested I want to record your answer. But are we all neurodiverse to some extent, or is that an urban myth?
Nesceda: Well, I think we need to clarify what the terminology actually means. So in the autistic community, in the neurodivergent community, a lot of people use this sort of neurodiversity model, which was coined by, I believe her name is Judy Singer. She's Australian from the 90s. And basically neurodiversity is a model that comes from the biodiversity model, but basically explains that everyone in the world has different neurology, and that makes the world neurodiverse.
Within the neurodiversity spectrum of things you've got neurotypical people being the typical brain of normal, whatever normal doesn't exist, but that's another conversation. You've got neurotypical and then you've got neurodivergent. So divergent meaning anything different to the typical. So that's your autism, ADHD, learning disabilities like dyslexia, dyspraxia, etc. Or tick disorders like Tourettes. And some even extend the model to including mental health disorders as well. So if you think of it that way, we live in a neurodiverse world. A lot of people are neurodivergent.
By acknowledging the world that we live in is going to help us be more inclusive and more understanding of all the different brains that we work alongside and live alongside as well.
Jude: Can you give us some tips or some advice about how we can support neurodivergent colleagues in the workplace?
Nesceda: Yeah, there's so many ways you can support neurodivergent colleagues. I think the number one thing is to just educate yourselves on what neurodiversity and neurodivergence are. For me personally, I've had many experiences where people said, oh, you don't seem autistic, you don't look autistic That comes from a lack of knowledge. And so I'm lucky enough that I have the knowledge to be able to tell people my experience of autism not everyone has that. So I believe everyone has the power and the capability of the internet to find out for themselves what autism and neurodiversity and neurodivergency actually looks like.
Everyone has their preferred methods of communication.
Some of the tips I would have is really focused on communication and communication style. Everyone has their preferred methods of communication. Some people really struggle with impromptu chats, those kind of last minute meetings in five minutes. Oh, can we have a quick chat or something like that? That can be really overwhelming. And for me personally, I can't do well with those. I don't do well with those. Firstly, I think I might be getting fired, even though nothing has indicated that that would happen. But secondly, it leaves me thinking, oh, goodness, I'm not prepared for this. This is thrown off the structure of my day and it really throws things off. So those are just some examples. Writing you said about writing things down. Yeah, that's another one as well. I process information very much better if I write it down or if it's written down for me. So if there's an impromptu chat in the kitchen, I'll usually say, can you just sum up what we've chatted about in an email or I'll go and write it down immediately, because if I don't write it down, it might as well never have been said. It exists for that long in my brain. So I think it's so massive and there are so many different ways.
Jude: We were talking last week and you said, I just don't want it to be a tick box exercise, but I think I want to work towards something where in order to provide practical help to our clients, it is a tick box thing where we're saying to people, to applicants, what are your preferences for interview? Would that be helpful? And have you ever seen that?
Nesceda: So I'd rather have a video interview. I need the questions in advance or I'd like the questions in advance. I prefer things to be written down. I don't want to have impromptu meetings.
Jude: Can we develop a toolkit or would it be really a good idea?
Nescesda: I think it sounds like a great idea. I think also there's plenty of resources and organisations and things like that out there that are doing similar things and have created similar resources. It's just about finding those. So one of my favourite ones that I've sort of been suggesting to employers is called Neurodiversity Hub, and they have a wide range of resources for employers recruitment, all of that. So it's basically a hub of information from a variety of different sources. So that's a good go to point and has various different tips and tricks of managing neurodivergent employees, recruiting things like that as well. But ultimately the best bet is going to be asking the people that you are working with what they need to be and feel supported as well.
Jude: You talk about wanting to be Sherry's best friend and employer I want to be your best friend, what a joy talking to you. I love it and you're so positive you're so positive. You have such a can do attitude. I admire you and what's next yeah, what the next viral post?
Nesceda: You can't plan that stuff. I have no idea. Look, I've been doing chats like this I recorded a podcast last week. I've got another chat tomorrow. There's panels coming up I'm doing a panel with a diversity organisation in Norway in April just all kinds of random stuff. I've started a newsletter but I'll probably just keep posting on LinkedIn just whatever comes to my mind I guess people seem to like that but no, really no real sort of plan.
Jude: Yeah, you just started a new job so tell me a little bit about that.
Nesceda: I'm working at a University here in Australia my background is theatre and performance and I also work as an independent producer of comedy and cabaret shows so my new job is heading up the student theatre and film group, kind of an organisation, collective at an Australian University here in Melbourne which I'm super excited about so I get to help them programme their season create upcoming development opportunities and training opportunities for them and put on some good theatre so I'm really stoked. I've got a festival to put on by Friday which is a lot of pressure but let's do it.
Jude: Well. Thank you thank you for your time. We've spent a couple of hours together and I've loved every minute of it. I'm going offline to buy you a coffee on your buy me a coffee thank you page and I encourage anybody else who's enjoyed this chat to do the same.
Follow or connect with Nesceda on Linkedin.