Article by Steve Butler, CEO of Punter Southall Aspire and author of Inclusive Culture: Leading Change Across Organisations and Industries

The business argument for greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace is simply this: the more ways in which you can look at a problem, the better chance you have of solving it. Added to that is the fact that every business should reflect the clients and customers it serves if it really wants to understand and connect with them. This is simple enough but what is uppermost in your mind when you look to recruit a new individual for your business? Are you looking for someone who has the same skills and background as the person they are replacing? Is it important that they come from a well-respected university? That they’ll get on well with the rest of the team, and share a similar outlook to yours? That their ‘face will fit’?

That’s the safe route, and it’s the traditional way that most companies have recruited. It’s also why the workplace lags so far behind society in the diversity of its workforce – especially in smaller organisations. Have you ever wondered if the safest route is actually the best way forward for the future of your business? A few things to consider next time you recruit that will open up a wider talent pool:

Consider an individual who doesn’t have the qualifications and technical ability required for a role, or who doesn’t slot in as a direct replacement – but who has the potential and will contribute most to their team.

Look for someone with a different perspective that will complement the others while challenging their and your thinking when necessary: The more cognitively, ethnically, and socially diverse your teams are, the better they reflect the clients they serve and the more effectively they can rise to the opportunities and challenges they are presented with.

Try to hire in clusters. That way, it’s a lot easier to hire diverse talent. For example when hiring graduates, if recruited together as part of a wider strategy there would be the widest possible talent pool at certain times of the academic year whereas if recruiting as singles as and when needed there may not be as much choice.

Use structured interview processes and cognitive tests. This will ensure you collect objective and comparable data on candidates and remove some of your unconscious bias in your decision making.

Embed flexible working throughout the business and encourage everyone to be as effective as they can be. It’s OK for different people in a team to work in different ways – we all need different things at different stages of our career.

If ‘cognitive diversity’ is your aim, neurodiversity has to play a role. Neurodiversity is the infinite variation in how our brains are ‘wired’. From an organisational point of view, these variations in cognitive functioning can increase diversity of thought and reduce groupthink. It also provides ready access to sought-after skills: the more neurodiversity we have in our business, the more able we are to look at things in a different way and question established ways of thinking and working.

To attract neurodiverse talent businesses need to simplify job their descriptions. They should be concise, with clear distinctions between must-haves and nice-to-haves. They should also demonstrate that neurodivergent talent is welcomed. Include case studies on recruitment websites or state your commitment to neurodiversity in job descriptions. Once this is done, recruitment teams need to post job vacancies on dedicated websites. For example, the charity Autism Speaks runs an online jobs board, and the LinkedIn group The Spectrum Employment Community is dedicated to employment for people on the autism spectrum.

 Next businesses need to review their interview process and techniques. Interviewers should be aware that neurodivergent candidates will often directly respond to the question asked and may not know how to expand in ways that will highlight their additional skills or experience. Training can help interviewers ask the right questions and interpret the responses they receive. Providing direct feedback on interview performance is important. Many neurodivergent candidates struggle to ‘read between the lines’. It will help them if your feedback is concise and to the point, especially if you decide not to take forward discussions.


Lisa Baker

Author Lisa Baker

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