Disability Pride Month: Bringing Awareness to Neurodiversity in the Workplace

July 24, 2023
Disability Pride Month: Bringing Awareness to Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Celebrated each year in July to commemorate the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Disability Pride Month is a great opportunity for businesses to review their recruiting and hiring practices, ensuring they are welcoming qualified persons with disabilities as a vital step towards compliance with applicable federal, state, and local requirements and creating a more inclusive workplace culture. However, one area often overlooked is neurodiversity. Before any changes can be made, it’s important for employers to understand the ways in which they can embrace neurodiverse candidates and employees.

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to differences in brain function from person to person in areas including sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions. It gives an inclusive view of cognitive diversity, highlighting the differences at a neuro-biological level while considering the socio-cultural contexts of a human's lived experience.

An estimated 15-20% of the world’s population exhibits some form of neurodivergence, with an unemployment rate of 30-40% for neurodivergent adults. While neurotypical people make up a large portion of the workforce, it’s important to note that people exist across all levels of the neuropsychiatric spectrum and often have incredible talents that compensate for difficulties surrounding specifics, such as social interactions and focus. We put together some considerations for businesses as they look to attract, hire and retain neurodiverse talent. Due to the wide spectrum of neurodiversity, neurotypical people may or may not be considered to have a disability due to their neurodivergence. Please note that this discussion focuses on general best practices and not on specific compliance requirements that may apply for those considered to be disabled due to their neurodivergence.

Screen Your Recruitment Process for Bias

Standard recruitment processes may inadvertently exclude neurodiverse people from the job market, whether it’s due to outdated technology or language used in job ads. Keep in mind, it is up to the candidate or employee to self-identify as neurodiverse, so reducing or eliminating barriers in the hiring process is crucial.

  • Train all managers and employees – The first step after making the decision to hire neurodiverse candidates is providing proper training. While you should provide extensive inclusivity and diversity training to managers, it’s just as important to train employees at all levels. Some people might have an outdated understanding of conditions such as autism, and they’ll be grateful to upgrade their awareness. Neglecting this step could result in confusion from existing employees who see someone who appears neurotypical getting reasonable accommodations. When someone who is neurodiverse comes into your workplace, it’s important that they feel accepted and understood by their colleagues.

  • Tidy up job postings – Some job ads are overly lengthy and full of jargon, making them difficult for some people to read and understand. Important details, such as skill requirements, salary and working hours, should be clearly written in a format that’s simple and easy to understand, and some laws may even require specifically defining certain information related to compensation. For example, does a certain position genuinely require excellent verbal communication skills? This language might prevent a neurodiverse individual from applying if they have other preferred communication methods. Depending on the role, you might consider broadening the requirement to “excellent verbal or written communication skills” instead.

  • Review your website – It’s not just job ads that may need an audit. You should also ensure your online careers pages are accessible and inclusive according to applicable requirements, such as the ADA, which has published guidance on website accessibility. While rich media can be a great way of making your pages stand out, blinking or flashing content can be unbearable for some people. Check your entire document catalog, including any content about neurodiversity, to ensure it doesn’t include ableist language. Terms, such as “special needs” and “normal” can be offensive, so be sure to review and update your online and offline documents to remove outdated terminology.

Develop an Inclusive Interview Strategy

As more companies recognize the value of including neurodiverse individuals in their organizations, competition for this talent will rise. Here are a few considerations recruiting and hiring teams should review to ensure qualified job seekers are not inadvertently filtered out or passed over due to a candidate's neurodiversity.

  • Be considerate with the environment – People who are hypersensitive to stimuli can find noisy, distracting settings highly uncomfortable. Choose a quiet location that’s free from loud noises, bright lights and distracting smells to help candidates, especially those who are neurodiverse, feel at ease. For example, candidates with autism often have a literal understanding of language and may find it hard to understand rhythm, inflection, and colloquialisms over the phone. And the telephone interview screening process risks putting anyone with a non-typical communication style out of the running. If this process element is removed, it removes another hurdle so neurodiverse candidates can move through it and play to their strengths.

  • Avoid large groups – Neurodiverse candidates may find elements of social interaction challenging, particularly in a larger group setting. If your interview process includes several stakeholders, consider scheduling sequential interviews, rather than conducting a panel interview situation. This way, neurodiverse candidates can be interviewed by different parties without becoming overwhelmed.

  • Be direct – Asking direct questions will be more successful, as people with autism respond well to questions related to things they have actually experienced, rather than situations that may not appear to relate to the job responsibilities. Using closed questions that focus on the candidate's actual experiences and tangible processes will be more successful than open-ended or vague questions that can cause confusion.

  • Limit hypothetical or abstract questions – To minimize confusion, avoid asking vague or potentially misleading questions, as well as questions that ask the candidate to address what other people may do or think. Using questions that begin with "describe a time when you…" can help elicit an appropriate response. A neurodiverse candidate may interpret your word choice literally, so avoid the use of potentially confusing language such as idioms, metaphors or hyperbole.

  • Focus on skills – Instead of the more traditional interview format, many companies reporting success with interviewing and hiring neurodiverse employees are using skills-based methods, such as cognitive assessments or work trials, which provide the benefit of focusing on the applicant's ability to perform the specific tasks required in a particular role. Additionally, reviewing past work samples when possible may be a good way to evaluate a candidate's skills.

  • Check your social expectations – Typical interviews often end up acting as a test of social competence rather than a means to measure a candidate's ability to perform specific tasks. But candidates with neurodiversity may not be able to follow social norms carefully, and some candidates may have trouble making eye contact, be prone to fidgeting, or exhibit physical tics. Unless the position requires social cues, avoid letting small social missteps impact your decision making.

  • Don't interrupt – Neurodiverse candidates may take longer to consider how to answer questions, so be patient before jumping in to clarify or prompt.

Support Neurodiverse Employees

One of the most significant ways to support neurodiverse members of the workforce is through empathy and understanding. Take the time to learn about neurodiversity and the unique challenges faced by individuals with conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others. Educating ourselves can break down stereotypes and stigmas that may inadvertently affect fellow team members.

Flexible work policies can be incredibly beneficial for neurodiverse employees as well. This may include offering remote working options, flexible hours, or quiet spaces in the office to reduce sensory overload. Remember that many flexible work options are specifically mentioned as reasonable accommodations that should be provided to eligible employees with disabilities under applicable federal, state, and local law. By providing an environment that caters to the diverse needs of our team, we can ensure that everyone feels comfortable and empowered to perform their best work.

Supporting our neurodiverse colleagues is also about standing up for them when needed. Be an ally by challenging stereotypes, advocating for their needs, and celebrating their unique strengths. If you see or hear something potentially harmful or offensive, address it. Your support will not go unnoticed.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, celebrate neurodiversity. Recognize that our differences make us stronger and that each team member brings something unique. Encourage a culture of appreciation where everyone is valued for their individual contributions.

Having the right HR partner can guide your organization to welcome diversity in all forms. In adjusting the business culture to embrace neurodiversity, and in hiring and supporting employees with disabilities, companies may find that all aspects of their organization become more inclusive and better able to take advantage of changes in the marketplace.

© 2023 TriNet Group, Inc. All rights reserved. This communication is for informational purposes only, is not legal, tax or accounting advice, and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance. TriNet is the single-employer sponsor of all its benefit plans, which does not include voluntary benefits that are not ERISA-covered group health insurance plans and enrollment is voluntary. Official plan documents always control and TriNet reserves the right to amend the benefit plans or change the offerings and deadlines. 

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