Although more and more companies are making commitments to equality and diversity, many CEOs remain unsure when it comes to creating an inclusive environment for autistic employees.
There are many ways that you can help to tackle the autism employment gap and allow talented neurodivergent people to flourish within your team as Craig Unsworth Co-CEO of tech start up and Employee Rewards platform The Mór Card explains.
Celebrate diverse skills
Many workplaces stumble at the very first hurdle when they fail to recognise the benefits that hiring neurodivergent staff members could have. As it stands, there is a major autism employment gap, with data from the Office of National Statistics showing that just 22% of autistic adults are in any kind of employment.
Clearly, not enough is currently being done to encourage neurodivergent people to join workplaces and accommodate their needs when they do. Everyone has unique skills, and neurodivergent people are no exception. While some people with autism might struggle with heavy social and communication skills, they are likely to excel in different areas (such as high concentration levels, reliability, persistence, accuracy, technical ability, and memory skills.)
At Mór we are fully committed to recognising and celebrating that neurodiversity brings many positives. When we look for vendors to work with, we’re looking for the atypical. Something special, something different. So of course, it makes sense that when we add people to our growing team, we also look for atypical thinkers.
Despite this potential, the employment gap is still glaring. The next step then is to shake up the way we do things and make recruitment processes more accessible to autistic candidates.
First things first, it’s time to make some key adjustments to the way you advertise new roles. The way job adverts are presented should be clear and simple, so as not to put autistic people off by using jargon, unnecessary information, or language that could be interpreted in various ways.
You should also think twice about the skills that you choose to list for each job. For instance, most job adverts ask for qualities like being a ‘strong communicator’ or a ‘good team player’. While it makes sense that you’d want a new employee to fit into a friendly company dynamic, these kinds of descriptions may discourage neurodivergent people from applying, even for roles that don’t necessarily require these skills.
When a candidate reaches the interview stage, further roadblocks are likely to emerge – especially in traditional interview setups. Conversational interviews, for example, might be ill-suited to many neurodivergent people – especially those who struggle with social interactions, eye contact, understanding body language, and answering abstract questions.
Everyone will experience the interview process in different ways, so including an element within the application form that allows candidates to express and requirements for the interview is a great start.
As well as this, other great ways to make interviews more accessible include:
- Providing the questions that you will ask ahead of the interview.
- Offering clear instructions on how to get to the interview location and what candidates can expect when they arrive.
- Providing a quiet and comfortable space for candidates to wait in before their interview.
- Giving the candidate a clear timetable of what will happen on the day of the interview.
- Avoiding hypothetical, abstract, or overly general questions (such as “how did you find your last job?”, “how do you think you’d cope with this task?”, and “could you tell me about yourself?”
- Asking specific questions that are clear and to the point.
- Providing the names, roles, and photographs of the people who will be present in the interview in advance.
- Allowing candidates to bring someone with them for support.
- Providing regular breaks if the interview lasts a long time.
Adapting the workplace
Once the interview process is complete and you’ve hired a neurodivergent employee, there are still plenty of steps to take to ensure your company is an inclusive and comfortable place to work. An important thing to remember is that autistic people might socialise in different ways or prefer not to socialise at all in the workplace. Because of this, other employees may need reminding to be tolerant and accepting, and that their actions could have a strong impact on their autistic colleagues.
As well as educating other employees and being tolerant, you could also make some other changes. For example:
- Provide regular, organised training and monitoring
- Make sure that the work environment is well structured
- Ask them if they would benefit from any sensory distractions such as noise-cancelling headphones or screens around their desk.
- Prepare them in advance for any big changes in the workplace.
- Make sure they know the exact expectations of the job.
- Offer reassurance in stressful situations.
We may still be a long way from eradicating the autism employment gap, but with greater awareness is sure to come productive actions.
Neurodiversity has been among us for generations, but the corporate world’s understanding of how to leverage it for good (and even genius!) is still in its infancy. We look to leaders like the Institute of Neurodiversity’s Charlotte Valeur for inspiration while we try to make a difference in our own ways.”
Some small changes to your employment process are sure to bring some brand-new talent into your workforce, and different ways of thinking are sure to add quality to your company.
National Autistic Society