July 29, 2016

How can you adapt your interview process for the neurologically diverse?

Diversity and inclusivity are words that HR is very well acquainted with. In fact, the population at large is aware of the need for greater workplace diversity. There are always stories and studies about improving diversity in the workplace, whether it’s related to gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or disability. One area that doesn’t get much of a mention, however, is neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity relates to diversity in terms of people with neurological differences such as autism, ADD/ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.

It is not that people with these neurological differences are any less intelligent or capable than the average person, but that the way that they learn, process information and communicate can be different.

Over half (60%) of people on the autism spectrum, for example, have average or above average intelligence, yet 85% are unemployed. Increasing numbers of organisations are actively trying to tap into this valuable resource pool and are specifically recruiting people with autism and other cognitive disabilities.

It is estimated that globally, one in 100 children have ASD, the umbrella term for several cognitive disabilities.

One of the employment hurdles for people with ASD is that social difficulties are often a feature of the condition. This can make it really difficult for people with ASD to perform well in a traditional interview situation.

How can organisations overcome this hurdle? By changing the format of the interview process, by being prepared to do things differently so that people with ASD are more able to demonstrate their abilities.

Let’s look at a case study regarding SAP. In 2013 the software giant joined forces with a Danish software company called Specialisterne, which has a workforce that is 75% people with ASD. Together they set up a neurodiversity programme. The partnership has proved fruitful, resulting in a substantial number of people with ASD being recruited into the company. Many of those successful candidates were the holders of advanced degrees, but had very little or no work history. In a traditional interview setting, many of the candidates either wouldn’t have passed go or wouldn’t have bothered applying in the first place, presuming that they didn’t stand a chance.

What was different about this interview process? Rather than a formal interview set up, it began with a hangout when candidates worked individually on Lego Mindstorms projects that escalated in difficulty. This was followed by team challenges, which were then followed by a five-week training period developed by Specialisterne.

But the neurodiversity programme didn’t stop with the recruitment process. Once candidates were onboard, they were assigned mentors and team buddies, plus a job and life skills coach.

On top of this, autism awareness training was rolled out to SAP employees.

According to the Autism Network, there are still lots of barriers that make it harder for people with ASD to be in employment. In particular it singles out the recruitment process. It says it is too inflexible, preventing neurodiverse candidates from being able to demonstrate what they can do.

There is also a lot of stigma still attached to these conditions. This can lead to employees who have ASD not receiving the support they may require at work.