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A More Inclusive Hiring Process Welcomes Neurodiverse Workers

Companies are beginning to actively recruit neurodiverse people, according to Here & Now.

“There’s just a lot of talent out there,” said Neil Barnett, director of Inclusive Hiring and Accessibility at Microsoft. “More and more companies are seeing that.”

As we pause to honor civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s take a look at a small trend but long-awaited trend. Companies are finally beginning to welcome neurodiverse people to the workplace. Different human wiring in neurodiverse populations translates into neurological differences that show up in dyspraxia, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, Tourette Syndrome, and others, according to the National Symposium on Neurodiversity at Syracuse University.

According to Harvard Business Review, a rising number of companies have made their HR processes more inclusive to accommodate neurodiverse talent. They include SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Ford. The longest running program is SAP’s, which started in 2013.

Underestimated workers

People often underestimate the neurodiverse even though they may have the skills for a job. Prospective employers tell them they are not a culture fit. Sometimes fidgeting or a failure to make eye contact during a traditional interview process can take a person out of the running. Given the requirements of typical interview processes, perhaps it is not a surprise that most people with autism are unemployed.

According to the Boston Globe, advocates see the neurodiversity movement as a civil rights issue. These aren’t disorders, they argue, they just reflect normal variation in humans. And these people should be accommodated.

More inclusive hiring process

Because the traditional interview process is even more of a challenge for people on the autism spectrum, Microsoft tweaked its hiring process to “screen people in” in a more inclusive way said Barnett, who leads Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program.  

Under the Autism Hiring Program, candidates can come and be themselves and showcase their skills over a five-day period, said Barnett. The company lets candidates get to know each other and the hiring team. They do team exercises, like using marshmallows and toothpicks to build a bridge. This gives Microsoft a way to assess a person’s demonstrated capacity for teamwork. And the applicants spend time doing practice interviews. Instead of one day of back-to-back interviews, they spread it out over two days.

Benefits of neurodiverse workers

There are benefits to including neurodiverse workers in your workforce. Neurodiverse people see the world differently, according to John Elder Robison, an advocate and author with Asperger’s syndrome. That can give them a competitive advantage in certain fields. With autism, for example, people may spot patterns that other people cannot. Such a neurological gift can help people test software for bugs and errors.

Companies have profited from lower product defect rates and higher productivity of neurodiverse workers, according to Harvard Business Review. And at SAP, neurodiverse employees helped develop a technical fix that saved an estimated $40 million.

Sometimes accommodations for neurodiverse employees benefit all workers. Because autistic employees don’t necessarily catch nuances or irony, corporate communications at one company became more direct and clear overall.

When he talks to companies that are looking into recruiting neurodiverse workers, Barnett said he always frames the discussion in terms of the benefits to the business. “This is not charity,” Barnett told Here & Now. “This is business impact.”

To learn more:
More companies are seeking out neurodiverse job candidates
Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage  
What is neurodiversity?
Companies tap into an underused but highly capable workforce

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