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How (and why) to recruit for neurodiversity

Posted on 24/06/2019 by Donna Newton

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Diversity is one of the biggest issues currently facing employers. Changing cultural attitudes, combined with new legislation, the growing war for talent and the proven business benefits of employing a diverse workforce have encouraged many charities to introduce policies promoting diversity and inclusion. Gender, ethnicity, sexuality and religion should no longer be barriers to getting hired. However, neurodiversity is still an area that is being neglected in recruitment and those employers who can embrace this could potentially have a big competitive advantage.

A recent survey found that 32% of UK workers said their employers didn’t offer any additional support for those in the workforce with neurodevelopmental disorders, despite that fact that more than 1 in 10 reported that either they, or someone they worked with, was neurodivergent. These findings follow research from the CIPD which found that over 70% of HR professionals didn’t factor neurodivergence into their people management processes, while 17% didn’t know whether or not it was included.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a relatively new term. It is estimated that over 15% of people in the UK are neurodivergent, and have brains that function, learn and process information differently. Neurodiversity encompasses many different and common conditions, including:

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) – a condition associated with hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattentiveness. ADHD Action states that 5% of children and 3% of adults are affected.

Autism (including Asperger’s syndrome) – a broad range of conditions which affect how people communicate and interact with the world. The National Autistic Society believes that 1.1% of the population in the UK may be autistic. Only 32% of autistic adults in the UK are in any kind of paid employment.

Dyscalculia – a difficulty understanding basic maths concepts or grasping numeracy skills. The BDA estimates that around 5% of the population are formally diagnosed with dyscalculia, but around 25% have mathematical learning difficulties.

Dyslexia – a learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) estimates that 10% of the population are dyslexic; 4% severely so.

Dyspraxia – a condition that impacts on movement and coordination. According to the Dyspraxia Foundation, 5-10% of children are affected, 2% to a severe degree. Difficulties continue into adulthood in 50-70% of cases.

These conditions are collectively classed as ‘hidden disabilities’ and the chances are good that at least some of your employees are already neurodivergent, even if it is not obvious.

The Equality Act 2010 classes a disability as 'a physical or mental impairment' which has 'a substantial and long-term adverse effect' on their 'ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'. Therefore, neurodiverse conditions may fall under this category if they have a severe enough impact.

There is some disagreement whether neurodiverse conditions such as autism should be seen as disorders to be diagnosed and treated, or as normal variations in the human brain. Either way, ‘different’ is not the same as ‘worse’.

The benefits of hiring for neurodiversity

Hiring neurodiverse staff can feel like a real challenge. Will they be able to handle their role? Will they be able to work effectively with other employees? Candidates with obvious neurodiverse conditions tend to have much more difficulty getting hired. Even if organisations are proactive in promoting diversity, affinity bias, or our subconscious tendency to prefer people just like us, tends to kick in during the recruitment process.

Charities could be missing an opportunity by failing to embrace neurodiversity. While time and resources may be needed to make reasonable adjustments for neurodiverse employees and minimise any potential difficulties, there are still clear benefits and competitive advantages to having employees who think differently, including:

Increased creativity and innovation

The rise of digital technology means that the charity sector is constantly evolving, and organisations rely on creativity, new ideas and innovation to keep finding new ways to raise funds and help their beneficiaries. Assembling teams with different ways of thinking can really help to boost their productivity, as they can share different viewpoints and bounce ideas off one another.

Better representation of service users

Neurodiverse people represent a significant percentage of the beneficiaries of UK charities, and to really understand their needs and desires, they also need to be represented in the workplace. For charities whose mission is to help those with neurodiverse conditions, disabilities or mental health issues, it is important that they practice what they preach and welcome neurodiverse employees. Of course, many of them already do this, but there is always room for improvement.

Bringing in data and analysis skills

‘Big data’, or that analysis of extremely large data sets to reveal patterns and trends in human behaviour, is becoming increasingly important in the charity sector. Data analysis can be used to identify funding opportunities and to find new ways of helping service users, but it requires employees with the ability to sift through and analyse large volumes of information.

The Charity Digital Skills Report 2018 report shows that handling data is a significant skills gap for charities in the UK, with 62% rating themselves as fair to low with using, managing and analysing data.

Neurodiverse people, particularly those on the autism spectrum, are often highly analytical and can thrive when dealing with database management, data analysis, problem solving tasks or projects that require a high level of attention to detail.

In today’s candidate-short market, every opportunity to widen the pool of potential employees with much needed skills should be embraced.

How to become more neurodiverse friendly

Employing more neurodiverse workers can require some adjustments to your recruitment process and working environment.

Advertising roles

Job advertisements are often written in a confusing way using lots of industry jargon. To attract more neurodiverse candidates, using plain English, focussing on essential skills and experience and avoiding unnecessary information will make the process easier.

Job descriptions are often written from a generic company template and may contain competencies such as ‘excellent communication skills’ or ‘good team player’ that are not really necessary for that particular role, leading to applicants with neurodiverse conditions such as autism discounting themselves. Make sure only the skills and abilities required are included.

If your organisation uses an application form, it needs to be as easy to complete as possible. Provide clear instructions for filling out the form and make sure it asks candidates if they need any reasonable adjustments in order to attend an interview.


Many people with neurodiverse conditions do not do well in traditional interviews. On the spot questions can fluster and confuse them and will not give a true picture of their abilities. Using tests, tasks to complete from home or work trials can all be better ways to assess these candidates.

Obviously, some form of interview is also likely to be required, as candidates will have to be able to communicate with their colleagues. In this case, it’s best to avoid hypothetical and open-ended questions and replace abstract language with very literal instructions, to avoid any miscommunication.

Flexible working

Opportunities to work from home or flexible hours also make it much easier for neurodiverse employees, as busy commutes and noisy office environments can be overwhelming at times.

Fortunately, in the UK there are many not for profit organisations currently offering help and advice for employers who wish to better support neurodiversity, such as:

Charities who are ready to make changes to their hiring processes are already reaping the substantial rewards that come from bringing neurodiverse talent into their teams.