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Why injecting neurodiversity into your workplace is good for business

The case for neurodiverse hiring is especially compelling given the increasing skills shortages within the technology and startup industry. As borders stay shut, there is a rising IT skills shortage in Australia and New Zealand. Recent research shows a major digital skills gap across Australia’s workforce, with 87 per cent of jobs now requiring digital skills and a need for 156,000 technology workers to keep up with the rapid transformation of businesses. Nevertheless, the neurodiverse population remains a largely untapped talent pool. 

An estimated 1 in 150 Australians are affected by autism, and according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, their unemployment rate stands at more than three times the rate of those with a disability and eight times more than those without a disability. These figures have thankfully led corporates to take action and adjust their hiring programs to suit the needs of applicants with autism, but how can businesses ensure that those with other neurological conditions such as dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD and social anxiety disorder are given the same consideration?

Creating a level playing field for neurodiverse job seekers

Neurodiverse candidates often have higher-than-average abilities in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics. Yet, they often struggle to fit the profiles sought by employers. There are clear benefits and advantages to having employees who think differently. So how can businesses set neurodiverse applicants up for success and enable prospective employers to get the most out of a candidate during the interview stage? 

One way businesses can achieve this is via structured interviews. Structured interviews provide a set of predetermined questions rather than a free-flowing conversation. They have been proven to be more effective at recruiting for skill-based roles than a free-flowing conversation, which may impact neurodiverse individuals who are sometimes less proficient at picking up and acting on social cues. These questions have been developed to focus on a candidate’s job-relevant knowledge, skills, abilities, and work styles rather than an interviewer’s opinions or unconscious biases. Like a traditional interview, structured interviews can occur in person, over the phone, via video interview, or through an online assessment. 

Unlike a traditional interview, structured interviews compare each candidate only to the predetermined skills required for the job, instead of qualities such as likeability, gender, age, ethnicity, or personal similarities to the interviewer. They ask each and every candidate the same questions in the same order; evaluate all of those candidates in the same way, and all by the same predetermined job-related criteria. As a result, structured interviews make it possible to predict both the quality and the fairness of your hiring decisions by ensuring that questions are predetermined and can therefore be vetted for content that may be challenging for neurodiverse candidates. Idioms and technical jargon are not as easily understood by everyone.

Making more informed and objective hiring decisions

Hiring decisions have historically been left to chance or a hiring manager’s “gut feeling.” However, today, with the wealth of reliable data we have at our fingertips, we can make more informed, more objective hiring decisions than ever before. Harnessing this data allows modern hiring leaders to predict better the quality and the fairness of their hiring process. 

For instance, AI has been proven to be measurably more accurate at predicting performance than human evaluators as it is constantly audited, tested and retrained to remove adverse impact or bias. Assessment models have a single focus: determining which group of candidates within a given pool are most likely to be successful in a job by comparing them to people already performing the job at the company in question. Tens of thousands of potentially relevant factors are available for inclusion when an assessment model is being designed, but only those that are scientifically validated as predictive of job performance for that job role are considered in combination by the algorithm or model. 

Some neurodiverse individuals can find it challenging to identify and present certain social cues, such as maintaining eye contact or relaxed body language. A human evaluator may interpret this negatively, as disinterest, for example. However, these will likely have little to no impact on that individual’s ability to perform the job effectively. As AI assessment models are trained to focus only on that which is predictive, it is better at ignoring trivial details such as these.

Democratising the hiring process to create stronger DE&I 

With a continued focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I), reducing bias in the hiring process is one of the most important focus areas for 2021. Beyond the direct benefits to individuals of inclusive talent management practices, a more diverse workforce has a compelling business impact. Studies have demonstrated an increase in an organisation’s ability to innovate, maintain a positive customer and employee experience, and ultimately increase profits when they have a more diverse workforce.

The increasing focus on neurodiversity is leading to the creation of diverse workplaces in every sense of the term. However, simply hiring neurodiverse individuals does not count as a success in diversity and inclusion initiatives. Some more effort will have to be taken by businesses to ensure that these candidates are successful in their jobs and positively contribute to the organisation. To help, companies can provide these individuals with the necessary equipment and space to work comfortably. Secondly, create a culture of inclusion while training managers and teams to work with individuals on the spectrum. And thirdly, by modifying their performance management and feedback to account for their unique skills and abilities.

With an increasing skills shortage in Australia, businesses need to look beyond their current talent pool and diversify their business. Through the use of structured interviews and data-driven metrics, businesses can diversify their culture and find the right candidates for the job in today’s finite talent pool. Not only will this increase your company’s ability to innovate, maintain a positive customer and employee experience, but it also opens up the door for those with skills and abilities that sometimes get overlooked in today’s recruitment efforts. 


Read more: Let’s Talk: Degree or experience – deciding what to look for when hiring newcomers


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