What Does Professional Look Like Anyway?
1st October 2022
October is ADHD Awareness Month and it coincides with the end of the ADHD Foundation’s Umbrella Project which we’ve supported throughout the summer.
While the umbrellas were a very welcome splash of colour on our granite office the purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness of, and celebrate, neurodiversity, the “umbrella” term for the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits.
It’s estimated that 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodivergent, and have a range of learning and behavioural differences, including ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyspraxia. This figure may be an underrepresentation as more and more people are learning they are neurodivergent later in life, often when they have been working for years.
How neurodivergent people learn and process information is different from neurotypical people. These abilities can be strengths in the workplace because they disrupt established ways of “doing things”, and lead to innovative problem-solving, enhanced creativity, and competitive advantage.
Employers that want to innovate and drive transformation recognise that they must bring diverse ways of thinking, unique perspectives, and remarkable skills into their businesses. Yet, there's a disconnect because in spite of our diverse society most companies recruit based on neurotypical standards and that has created disproportionate unemployment for neurodivergent people who are more likely to be excluded by a typical recruitment process.
Earlier this year we met Nesceda Blake, an autistic woman who is on a mission to debunk neurotypical myths around professionalism and recruitment. Honestly, she opened our eyes to the obstacles neurodivergent people face and talks passionately about the benefits of universal design in resourcing. Rather than expecting people to fit the traditional process, the process has to accommodate the individual, giving them an equal opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. It's fair that everyone should start from a level playing field.
Dedicated strategies and partnerships can accelerate the development of initiatives that support a neurodiverse talent pool. However, small changes can also have a big impact and our suggestions are not dramatic or expensive and will help you attract a more diverse range of applicants.
- Gaining knowledge and commitment, 64% of employers admit to having a 'little' or 'no' understanding of the cognitive differences people may have.
- Learn about neurodiversity and get buy-in from leadership that neurodivergent people will be supported and valued across the business.
- On your website and social media share stories, metrics, employee testimonials, events, and any other activities that will help neurodivergent people imagine themselves working in a business where they feel supported and included.
- Train your brain to embrace diversity. Train your recruiters to be aware of and manage unconscious bias.
- Move on from thinking about culture fit as this just reinforces the influence of the “likeability” factor.
- Instead, think progressively about the individual's skills, values, and competencies, and what they will ADD to your culture.
- Learn about an individual’s communication style, how they’ll react under work pressure, and the best way a manager can support them by introducing psychometric assessments to your recruitment process.
This is an opportunity to make your job descriptions better with simple changes that actually make your adverts more appealing to everyone:
- Make it clear that your organisation welcomes and supports neurodivergent people.
- Use a simple format, avoid jargon language, and be explicit on the essential skills and behaviours required for the job.
- Neurodivergent people tend to interpret information literally and may not apply if they feel they do not have all the specified criteria.
- Ditch meaningless generic information that's found in every job spec, such as "good team player" and "excellent communication skills".
- Provide step-by-step guidance on the application process and the information the applicant is required to provide.
Clarify your application process:
- Provide guidance on how long the application process will take.
- Ask if support is required and if it is, provide alternatives. For example, offering everyone the option to submit an application using different methods. Some neurodivergent people communicate best in writing, others find that is their biggest barrier and will submit a much stronger application over the telephone or in a video recording.
- Consider the time it takes to complete the application process, and if you are inadvertently putting obstacles in the way. For instance, do you require applicants to duplicate information such as listing their education in a portal when it's detailed in their CV? This is inefficient and takes a lot of energy.
- Offer extra time to complete assessments.
Personalise the interview:
Job interviews focus on how a person performs under pressure, and “thinks on their feet”, this can be particularly challenging for people who find social interactions and rapport-building uncomfortable.
- Give clear information on what to expect at the interview and ask the applicant what they need to be supported.
- Clarify how to get to the interview, providing a map and travel options. Alternatively, offer video interviews so the anxiety associated with travelling to a new place is removed entirely. Nesceda worked with a recruiter who did a walking interview to a coffee shop when he noticed the candidate was particularly anxious and uncomfortable. This made the candidate feel far more relaxed.
- Send questions in advance of the interview, to allow time to process and think.
- Reduce sensory stimulation. Loud noises, bright lights, and concurrent conversations can all be overwhelming.
- Say exactly what you mean, avoid metaphors and jargon.
- Ask one question at a time and switch out behavioural questions for skills-based assessments, sample work tests, and interactive conversations where the applicant can show you what they can do.
- Don't get hung up on the dress code and traditional interview behaviours such as a strong handshake and making eye contact.
You may raise a sceptical eyebrow about providing interview answers in advance but, a recent job seeker herself, Nesceda explains how helpful this is:
"For me, as an autistic person with anxiety, this kind of offering is a game-changer. Getting the questions in advance, plus information about what to expect in the interview is the difference between a great interview experience and a terrible one.
"My auditory processing skills are better when I have the words written in front of me - particularly in a high-pressure situation like an interview.
"I have a better understanding of what the panel is going to ask of me and can manage expectations before I get there. It means I can almost play the scenes out in my mind because my brain thrives on structure. Not knowing what to expect can lead to extreme overwhelm, and might mean that I can't answer questions coherently and feel embarrassed.”
Follow up verbal communications in writing and clearly explain any change to plans.
Be tactful in your candidate feedback, and avoid framing it in a personal way.
Pause for a moment and consider all the guidance you've read. These changes would actually help every applicant and job seeker. Your recruitment process would be improved for everyone and that can only be a good thing for your business.
For more guidance on how to offer a more inclusive recruitment experience watch our interview with Nesceda.
There's a comprehensive library of guidance and education materials on the Neurodiversity Celebration Week website: https://www.neurodiversityweek.com/business-resources