Rethink standardised recruitment to attract neurodiverse talent, businesses warned

Businesses have been urged to introduce changes to their recruitment practices to make them more accessible to neurodiverse people, or risk missing out on valuable talent.

Speaking at an event yesterday, Adam Livesey, analyst at Deutsche Bank, said companies needed to stop standardised recruitment processes if they wanted to benefit from the skills of staff with conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Livesey, who was himself recruited through a tailored autism internship, said that rather than being faced with timed aptitude tests and quickfire questions, application processes should include a “calm interview”, and candidates should not be put in over-stimulating situations or required to answer questions under extreme pressure.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Diversity Project, he noted that some companies were “making real waves” by having specialist recruitment programmes such as the one he was hired through. 

Daniel Aherne, director of Adjust, said current estimates about the number of neurodiverse people in the workforce were probably too low. The CIPD estimates that around 10 per cent of the workforce could be neurodiverse, but Aherne said this might be conservative. 

He noted that between 2011 and 2017, the number of people graduating from university with a known neurodiverse condition increased by 31 per cent, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, and suggested this could be a result of more people being diagnosed and receiving support.

“I think you are going to be seeing a lot more people coming through being open about their neurodivergence,” Aherne added.

Hannah Turner, equity analyst at HSBC, said encouraging disclosure was not enough to be inclusive. Although she was open about her own dyslexia, it didn’t always mean she received appropriate support in the workplace. Companies “have that information but they don’t know what to do with it”, she said.

Just 10 per cent of HR professionals consider neurodiversity in their people management practices, according to CIPD research, which Aherne said reflected a need for more education about neurodiversity in workplaces.

He emphasised that to improve accessibility for neurodiverse staff, employers needed to train managers to better understand the adjustments required, look again at their HR and recruitment processes, and educate colleagues and other staff. 

Speakers at the event also highlighted the value neurodiverse people can bring to the workforce. Bev Shah, CEO of City Hive, said having exclusively neurotypical people in an organisation – with brains that functioned in a similar way – could disadvantage businesses. She suggested environments without real diversity “really are going to miss out”, and would fail to hear important outside perspectives. “We’ll fill a room with people who all went to Oxbridge and did the same thing, and wonder why the stock market crashes,” she said.

Meike Bliebenicht, a senior product specialist at HSBC, added that the best thing about making adjustments in the workplace, such as offering flexibility around working hours and creating quiet areas in the office, was that they tended to benefit everyone. 

Bliebenicht said the key to creating a workplace inclusive of neurodiversity was “quite easy actually. It’s called understanding.”