Jim Mullan is the CEO of Amaze, a leading autism organisation driving positive change for Autistic people and their families. Jim was the headline speaker and one of the expert panel members at DCA D&I Insights Program event: Attracting, Retaining and Progressing Neurodivergent Talent. The conversation explored how organisations can successfully tap into neurodivergent talent and help employees flourish. To continue the discussion Jim maps out some of the key advice he has for changing how organisations recruit.
I am writing this blog to follow up on the important event hosted by DCA recently in Sydney on attracting, retaining, and progressing neurodivergent talent. During the event, there were several questions about recruiting neurodivergent candidates and whilst I am happy to share the Amaze experience of this pursuit, this advice comes with a forewarning: my experience is in the recruitment of Autistic talent, but I believe that there is enough overlap to provide some practical steps for those seeking to engage with the wider neurodivergent community.
And so, I’ll outline 10 guiding principles of neurodivergent recruitment, bearing in mind that many of these will serve all candidates.
1 – Act with intention
Whilst I hear that many organisations would like to access the skills and abilities of the neurodivergent workforce, you would struggle to discern this from their website or job ads. If you are committed to diversity and inclusion across the employee journey, say it and be specific about what you mean by diversity. Hope is not a strategy.
2 – Go to where the candidates are
If you continue to use the same hiring practices and practitioners that you have always used, to paraphrase Rita Mae Brown, you’ll continue to get the results you’re already getting. There are specialist recruiters available who can assist you to connect with the neurodivergent community, and online forums and websites that offer tools and resources to ensure that your connection is impactful.
3 – Be specific
In my experience, you can’t provide too much detail for neurodivergent candidates. The more information you provide in a very clear and concise way, the more comfortable they’ll be with the process and the happier they’ll be to engage. People and Culture, and hiring managers need to be clear on the actual requirements and skills required for the role. Clarity in job design, description and process is essential.
4 – Use plain English
The Oxford Dictionary defines Plain English as ‘clear and unambiguous language without the use of difficult or technical terms’. Don’t misinterpret this guidance. This doesn’t mean that neurodivergent candidates are not highly skilled in activities involving complex or technical language, but that it is important to use clear and straightforward language in your job ads. Avoid jargon, acronyms, or company-specific terms that may create unnecessary misunderstanding.
5 – Paint a picture
Provide in-person interview candidates with a written description (with images if possible) of where they are going for the interview, what the possible transport routes are, where the entrance to the building is, which floor you’re on and who they will be meeting. The same goes for online interviews. Provide candidates with information about what video platform the interview will take place on, how to access it and who will be on the other end of the video call. Developing these types of resources will be of benefit to any interview candidate or, indeed, any visitor to your organisation.
6 – If you want answers, provide the questions
Providing interview questions to candidates in advance of the interview produces the best results for both neurodivergent and neurotypical interviewees. Amaze first introduced this practice to assist Autistic candidates in managing anxiety around interviews and the surrounding unknowns. However, we have found that the quality of all our interviews has improved by introducing this as a standard practice across the board.
7 – Remove metaphors, avoid misunderstandings
Related to principle no. 4, the use of figurative or metaphorical language can be very unhelpful in the interview process. My experience of a colleague’s physical response to my suggestion that “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” will remain with me forever.
8 – Welcome aboard
Traditional induction processes can be challenging for neurodivergent staff. An organisation’s claims that they are accessible, inclusive, and committed to diversity can be quickly undermined by an induction process that is not ‘reasonably adjusted’ to consider a new physical environment and, perhaps more importantly, the varying processing styles and times of new neurodivergent team members. A discussion about workplace adjustments needs to take place in advance of the allocation of a workspace.
9 – Adjustments are not ‘set and forget’
It is helpful to consider workplace adjustments as a process of continuous improvement. The sensory experience for many neurodivergent team members only reveals itself over time. Committing to continuously checking in with your employees to ensure that they have the right supports in place will help support optimum performance from team members. At Amaze, we take this approach to support the performance of all team members.
10 – There are few epiphanies, this is about constancy of purpose
Retention and development of neurodivergent staff is about flexibility of thought and creativity in consideration of job design but, I would argue, most importantly, constancy of purpose on the part of the organisation. W. Edwards Deming’s guidance around continuous improvement of organisations holds true. Cultural change, the embedding of practice and the normalising of diversity and inclusion across the workforce will always have more of the features of ‘coastal erosion’ than ‘eureka’ moments.
These principles are not an exhaustive list of considerations but rather, they capture some of the key characteristics of what ‘good’ and ‘better’ looks like in the attraction, retention, and advancement of neurodivergent talent.
Jim Mullan is the CEO of Amaze, a leading autism organisation driving positive change for Autistic people and their families. He is leading the organisation’s national growth in the areas of advocacy and service provision to ensure that Autistic people can live their best lives and participate in meaningful employment. Jim also has lived experience of supporting an Autistic family member to navigate the world.
To find out more about Amaze’s approach to employment or to enquire about their A-Plus Employment Program that empowers employers to create autism-inclusive workplaces, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can connect with Jim on LinkedIn here.
See the recording of the D&I Insights Event here: Attracting, Retaining and Progressing Neurodivergent Talent (Member-only content)
Leading Practice Principles – Disability and Accessibility (Member-only content)