How to attract, recruit and empower neurodiverse talent

Feb 21, 2023 | Diversity, How-to

Neurodiverse talent presents a huge opportunity for student employers. Nicky Garcea and Dr Reena Jamnadas from Cappfinity offer practical recruitment and onboarding advice.

Our session at ISE’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Conference, with specialist neurodiversity consultancy, Lexxic and longstanding clients, EY, was hugely popular.

We look back to share our learnings, the benefits that neurodiverse talent can have on an organisation and how to attract, recruit and empower some of the most creative talent around.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to the different ways our brains are wired and process information.  It can be used to describe alternative thinking styles such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, autism and ADHD.

Whilst many neurodiverse thinking styles are often regarded as a learning difference, there are also a wealth of unique skills that come with it.  For example, individuals with ADHD are known to be innovative, entrepreneurial and work well under pressure.  

Approximately 15-20% of the population is neurodiverse, meaning there is a huge pool of talent just waiting to be discovered.

The importance of neurodiverse talent

In years gone by, a neurodiverse diagnosis was thought of for what it may limit an individual to do.  Dyslexia for example, is a learning difference that may present as difficulties around reading and spelling. 

What is lacking from this definition, however, is the fact that many individuals with dyslexia are also incredibly creative and innovative thinkers, with strong verbal communication skills and excellent problem-solving abilities.  So, those with dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions can be the very definition of ‘thinking outside of the box.’

Neurodiverse thinking presents a huge opportunity for many organisations.  In professional services consultancies, clients are constantly looking for new methods to solve problems in innovative ways.  Neurodiverse talent naturally thinks differently in the way they approach problems, so it makes sense to harness that skill.

There is a range of things recruiters and employers can do to empower neurodiverse talent.  It’s best to break this down to look at the whole candidate to employee lifecycle, starting with attraction right through to support once in role.

How to attract neurodiverse talent

Work with external consultants when advertising roles, not just job boards.  Try to proactively reach out to neurodiverse talent by running adverts and outreach in neurodiverse communities, including disability services, youth groups and refugees. 

It’s also critical to feedback from those groups and to listen to people going through the process to find out how they’re doing.

Take a closer look at your job descriptions and consider whether the terminology could be putting neurodiverse talent off.  For example, a lot of job descriptions will typically look for ‘all-rounders,’ when in reality, we all possess different strengths, characteristics and challenges.

Check if your website is neuro inclusive by Googling your company name and ‘neurodiversity’.  Showcase the stories of your existing neurodiverse employees, what do they love about their job, the company, and the culture?  Neurodiverse talent will want to see real life case studies of neurodiverse talent being supported in their career.

If you’re looking for examples of how other organisations have showcased their own neurodiversity credentials, take a look at EY’s Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence, which was launched to boost client innovation.

How to develop a positive recruitment experience

The recruitment and assessment process can be daunting for any candidate, especially neurodiverse individuals.  Not knowing what’s to come and how best to prepare can create a huge amount of anxiety. 

Neurodiverse candidates may also feel nervous about sharing a neurodiverse condition or the adjustments they may need to perform at their best, but there are things you can do to help.

Firstly, think about the terminology used in the recruitment process itself.  Having to ask for ‘reasonable adjustments’ can make people feel less included.  ‘Accommodations’ can be a more useful word.

Ask candidates to share, rather than asking them to disclose up front, to create more psychological safety.  Ask questions like ‘what would make the process more inclusive for you?’

Provide options on how and what candidates want to do, and which exercises they wish to participate in, rather than taking everyone through the same process.  EY are a great ambassador for this in how they provide offline and online assessments for candidates based on what suits their needs to perform well.

Communicate with candidates at every stage.  This is especially important for those entering the job market for the first time, focusing on what makes a good candidate experience.

Read more on how to improve the recruitment process for neurodiverse talent.

How to onboard neurodiverse talent

Much of this focuses on communication to engage and understand any working preferences or accommodations of neurodiverse talent.  Try asking questions like ‘what can we provide that will help you?’  to gain a better understanding, as well as providing information on what you can provide to new recruits.

The role of the line manager is also very important for helping neurodivergent talent move in and out of projects.  The recruitment team doesn’t need to pass on information shared by the candidate, but they should give them the choice of whether they want to do that. 

Support new intakes by phrasing these conversations with their line manager as ‘working preferences.’  This process is about encouraging individuals to bring their whole selves to work.

Consider the use of technology in supporting a great onboarding and working environment.  It is known that 73% of dyslexic individuals hide their dyslexia from their employer, indicating that they may not have access to the appropriate support that will allow them to thrive in the workplace.  

Asking how you can support neurodiverse talent to make recruiting, onboarding and development more inclusive is extremely worthwhile.

6 starting points for building a neuro-inclusive recruitment strategy

  1. Through the design process, ensure that there is at least one person that specialises or has gained expertise in designing fair and inclusive assessment processes
  2. Start with the element of an audit
  3. Spread knowledge to help scale – have one or two champions that can lead this
  4. It doesn’t require a huge team, but it can be helpful to have a set of principles
  5. Leverage existing technology as much as possible
  6. Look at the key aspects of the candidate experience and touch points


You may also be interested in…

Best practice tips for neurodiversity inclusion in attraction and selection processes

How to improve the recruitment process for neurodiverse talent

Three steps to driving genuine diversity

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