Forbes Panelists

How To Better Support Neurodiverse Employees

Diversity and inclusion have recently become a hot-button concern of people both in and outside of major companies. Not only does it strengthen a company’s workforce, it can also drive revenue in ways business leaders could not have anticipated before. 

While racial and gender-based diversity come up more often, neurodiversity in the workforce also has the potential to expand business possibilities if neurodiverse employees feel heard and respected.

To help companies’ neurodiverse employees feel empowered, members of Forbes Business Council shared ways companies can alter their workspaces to better support neurodiversity overall.

Neurodiversity has historically been met with a negative response in workplace settings. Research has shown that neurodiversity is ignored by seven in ten employers, and few employers will make reasonable adjustments to support neurodiverse job applicants. Despite this, there are many characteristics in neurodivergent people that could lead to benefits in the workplace.

Challenges and Benefits

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Neurodiversity has long been seen as a negative in the hiring process. In fact, around 81% of adults with autism are either unemployed or underemployed. Neurodiverse workplaces are ignored and organizations tend to shy away from hiring people on the spectrum. This seems to be a sentiment that is consistent across most industries and is typically seen when we look at job descriptions. There are many desirable traits such as strong communication skills, emotional intelligence, and sociability. Unfortunately, these traits are not strong points in people who are on the spectrum. In fact, even a traditional job interview can be a major barrier for neurodiverse job seekers.

But that’s not to say that there aren’t benefits to establishing a neurodiverse workplace. “Engaging more people on the autism spectrum in meaningful employment can have benefits for the individual, their families, businesses and our communities,” says Dianne Malley, who directs the Life Course Outcomes’ Transition Pathways initiative at Drexel University.

  • Neurodiverse individuals make up a large pool of untapped talent. A large majority of these individuals are unemployed due to the stigma against working with people who are neurodiverse. As such, there is a possibility that businesses can fill in skill gaps by tapping into this large pool of potential talent.
  • People with dyslexia are often seen as having more creative thinking skills. This allows them to approach problems with unique and innovative solutions through excellent problem-solving capabilities. While there is no reliable data to show this right now, researchers are studying the topic and are asking important questions such as what factors and experiences can determine someone’s creative thinking skills.
  • Neurodiverse employees can bring unique experiences to your workplace. As individuals who may have been stigmatized in the past, they understand both the challenges and benefits of working with neurodiversity. As such, they can be excellent consultants that help establish business practices that are friendly towards the neurodiverse population.
  • The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity reports that people with dyslexia have high levels of creativity. This is likely the result of the amount of time and dedication it takes for them to explore new methods of learning. This shows that neurodivergent people are more likely to find alternate solutions and will challenge pre-existing processes if they believe that there are more efficient and effective options to solve something.
  • Some people on the spectrum may bring an enhanced sense of rule-based thinking. These logical approaches to problem-solving may be what a company needs in order to make breakthroughs in its products, services, and even technology.
  • Diversity is a strength regardless of the industry or workplace. It brings different creative minds to the same table, allowing for greater innovations which increases a business’s competitiveness. With more diverse mindsets and backgrounds come more unique perspectives and ideas that your brand can build on.
  • Neurodiversity has been proven as a strength in the workplace. It allows companies to outthink and outperform competitors due to the diversity in ideas and talents.
  • Lastly, diversity in a team setting is always positive. It allows employees to learn more about people from different backgrounds, to share skills among themselves, and also to improve their personal growth thanks to the inclusive nature of a diverse team.

Neurodiversity may still be seen as a negative for some workplaces, but it’s clear that there are some desirable benefits to consider when establishing a neurodiverse workplace.

Approaching neurodiverse hiring

Create Clear & Concise Job Descriptions

When hiring, it’s important to make job descriptions as clear and concise as possible. By separating skills into “must-have” and “good-to-have” sections, it makes it very easy for the neurodiverse community to clearly understand what is expected of them in the particular role. The clearer your job descriptions are, the easier it will be for neurodiverse people to approach you about potentially hiring them.

Interview Differently

In addition, it’s a good idea to approach interviewing your applicant differently. Interviews have long been considered the final test before you make the decision to hire someone or not. However, the interviewing process can be extremely intimidating. Those who are on the spectrum may find it challenging to even attend an interview, let alone look their interviewer in the eye while answering their questions. This has historically put people on the spectrum at a disadvantage. Interviewers may see them as awkward and unfit for a position in the workplace.

  • Don’t surprise your candidate with anything. Give them a very clear description of what the interview will entail, what is expected during the interview, and potentially any questions that you may ask.
  • If the candidate asks for a list of questions beforehand, don’t hesitate to offer it to them. This will give them some time to prepare and think about their answers instead of being pressured to come up with a response on the spot. Even if they haven’t specifically asked for it, you may want to be accommodating and make the suggestion.
  • Don’t make your questions vague. Be as clear and concise as possible when asking questions, and don’t hesitate to reword things if you think they are unclear. You may want to look over your questions before the interview date so that you can get clearer answers that tell you more about the candidate.
  • Don’t rush your candidate. Give them some time to think of a response and don’t pressure them. Let them take the interview at their own pace and try to make them feel comfortable.
  • If they have notified you that they are on the spectrum, then you should make the effort to ask them about any particular accommodations that may make them more comfortable. Making your candidate feel at ease and more comfortable is a must if you want to unlock their potential.
  • While it can be time-consuming, you may want to consider different ways to interview and assess your candidate’s skills. For example, you may want to consider a remote interview over a video chat program. This will allow your candidate to be more comfortable at home. In terms of assessing one’s skills, you may have success in developing different tests or simply asking for samples of their work instead of pressuring them into a timed examination at the interview location.
  • Lastly, avoid associating their performance in the interview with skills that are not necessary for the job. For example, if their position will mostly take place in a solo environment, then eye contact and a lack of interest in small talk are not relevant to their success in the workplace and should not be considered negatives against them. Similarly, if they are not expected to interact with customers, then an unusual tone of voice or stuttering speech should also not be used as negatives.

Whether your company decides to create a different hiring process for neurodiverse candidates or adjusts existing practices to make the interview stage more accommodating, there are many ways to make your company more attractive to people on the spectrum. This can help you attract these talented individuals and puts your company at an advantage over your competitors.