Revisit the hiring process
In recent years, organizations have been consciously hiring from different sources to acquire different skill sets and capabilities. For example, an individual we interviewed shared how his team is consciously hiring from design schools for consulting roles to encourage diversity of thought and unconventional approaches. Below are some key considerations.
Cast a wider net
It is often the case that organizations continue to recruit directly from a set of colleges and universities that have few or no neurodivergent candidates. It is generally only when they cannot find matching talent directly that they partner with employment support agencies to source neurodivergent talent. One way for organizations to increase their pool of potential neurodivergent candidates is by altering their campus hiring efforts to incorporate schools that cater to neurodivergent individuals or have programs specifically for neurodivergent individuals. Fortunately, there are already many such schools, and the recruiting trend is on the upswing.12
Evaluate screening criteria and processes
As the hiring process is the first interface of potential employees with the employer, it is important to minimize both recruiter and algorithmic bias. AI hiring systems coded using mostly neurotypical candidates’ data could be biased against applicants with autism due to atypical facial or speech expressions; this could result in a higher probability of neurodivergent individuals being eliminated if the algorithm is given disproportionate weightage in the hiring process.13 Thus, to avoid this potential algorithmic bias, it is important for human recruiters to validate the results of one-way AI video interviews. Likewise, recruiters may have unconscious biases; so, it is important to sensitize recruiters and hiring managers to different personality types and alert them against drawing conclusions based on deviations from what may be an expected response related to eye contact, handshake, gestures, etc.
Some companies use talent matching software in their screening process to better understand applicants’ unique abilities. This approach can help appraise hard-to-assess competencies such as risk-taking, perseverance, and emotional intelligence, along with traditional traits, such as logical reasoning and quantitative and verbal abilities. Though not without the potential for bias, it can also help the employer potentially find a better match for open roles than is possible through the traditional CV screening process and also speed up the screening of applications. For any AI tool, organizations, in consultation with their legal counsel, should consider whether and how to assess if the tool could have a disparate impact against any particular group of applicants.
Reinvent the interview
The interview process may also require tweaking. Consider moving from the abstract to specifics, and do not assume that everyone will connect the dots the same way. As one of the specialists we spoke with suggested, “During interviews, do not ask questions such as, ‘How many tennis balls fit into a swimming pool.’”14 Instead, focus on the skills needed on the job to keep the conversation closer to reality.
Some organizations have already tweaked their interview processes to better support neurodivergent applicants. Instead of packing back-to-back interviews into one day, they schedule them across several days to reduce stress on the applicants. Applicants are also allowed to use their own laptops for tests instead of a whiteboard or a company-provided device, so that they feel more comfortable.
Rather than figuring out how to rework the interview on their own, some organizations let candidates have a say on how they would like to interact with the employer, thereby “co-creating” this “first date.” Organizations could also suggest or consider trial work periods, provide opportunities to applicants to demonstrate skills, and arrange collaborative interviews (allowing the candidates to meet more employees in addition to the interviewers), as alternatives to the traditional face-to-face interview.
Expand the roles available
As with all diverse candidates, it is important to steer clear of stereotypes about neurodivergent individuals. A leader from an employment support organization for neurodivergent individuals noted that it is critical to “not categorize people into certain skillsets based on the diagnosis … When we started to talk to post-secondary institutions about who was self-identifying themselves (as neurodivergent) to their accessibility offices, there were more people self-identifying themselves from arts, then there were from STEM, contrary to popular opinion.”15
Freddie Mac, a US-based mortgage-finance company, hires people on the autism spectrum for various roles.16 Initially, they offered internships for securities analysis roles and gradually started offering positions across various departments such as enterprise risk management, information technology management, and loan processing. What started as a 16-week internship program for individuals on the autism spectrum is now a full-time employment model for individuals with autism as well as those with ADD, ADHD, and dyslexia.