Recruiting Neurodiverse Talent Isn't As Difficult As You Think

And it will help you retain skilled and experienced employees of all kinds

Penny Horwood
clock • 7 min read
Recruiting Neurodiverse Talent Isn't As Difficult As You Think

 Cubelynx provides independent, financial modeling services to clients across the public and private sector including investors, banks, developers, regulators and local authorities. The company strapline is "we think differently." Mayur Gondhea, Founder of Cubelynx, explains why:

"My son was diagnosed with autism four years ago. "He's hugely gifted, great with numbers and technology, and he's got a really creative mind. I felt that the financial analysis industry that I worked in, working with large datasets and analytics would probably be an industry that's got quite a lot of neurodiversity in - both diagnosed and undiagnosed."


Mayur Gondhea with Jaimin 

The statistics on unemployment, underemployment and pay for neuodivergent (ND) individuals, particularly those with autism, are shocking. A recent government report (of which more later) into employment opportunities for those with autism found an unemployment rate of working age autistic people of 70%.

Autistic people receive a third less pay than neurotypical (NT) people on average. Autistic graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed after 15 months as NT graduates and autistic graduates are most likely to be overqualified for the job they have and most likely to be on zero-hours contracts.

Gondhea sensed opportunity – both to tap into talent to build his business, and to provide great opportunities for ND people to develop their careers.   

"I just felt that there was a massively underutilized talent out there with poor unemployment rates," he says. "That's great ability that we wanted to tap into and utilize in our company.

"I'm really keen to advocate the benefits of neurodiversity in terms of showcasing the talent. We do a lot of awareness raising as well. Since I set up a company, the corporate world is in a different place and I think larger companies, our clients and partner organizations have to be seen to be doing a bit more in terms of their social attitudes. 

"I sit on different neurodiversity task forces and committees, do webinars and events and talk about the different aspects of neurodiversity, like recruitment and also the fantastic abilities that people who are a bit different have." 

Benefits for all employees

One of the factors contributing to the under employment of ND people, is the perception that accommodating their needs can be disruptive to the workplace. According to Gondhea, not only is this untrue, but accommodations also made for the benefit of ND people usually work for the benefit of everyone in the business. Time management is a good example:

"We are careful to make sure that we're setting clear instructions about what's expected of colleagues with deadlines because ND people might struggle when there's an open-ended task."

Of course, everyone in a business benefits from clear communication of expectations. He continues: 

"Other things that we do like promoting flexibility in working schedules benefits the wider workforce and creates a culture that's not only inclusive but allows all colleagues to thrive in their jobs and do well."

Dr James Cusack is CEO of Autistica, an autism research and campaigning charity. Along with Gondhea he makes a strong case that embedding an understanding that everyone sees the world differently benefits all. 

Dr. James Cusack, Autistica

"Autistic people can be something of a canary in the coalmine," he says. "They can flag issues which are relevant to all employees like a lack of flexibility and a lack of ability to realize that everyone sees and understands the world differently. It's easy to see that as an issue only for autistic people but it affects the whole workforce."

Recruiting And Retaining Diverse Talent

Both Cusack and Gondhea think that traditional recruitment practices could with a refresh. Cusack provides the example of "strong communications skills" as a requirement that seems to be in every single job ad, but he questions whether it's always necessary. 

"It's a relative term," he says, "and only a small proportion of the population really has strong communication skills. Why is it on so many job descriptions if it's not an essential criteria?" 

Gondhea develops the point. 

"I think the traditional recruitment process is probably quite outdated. We have tried to make our recruitment process as accessible as possible. The job spec is jargon free, quite short and snappy. We've got a disability confident logo on our job spec. to encourage people from all sorts of different backgrounds to apply. 

"We've tried to focus on competency and as part of that we ask candidates to do a case study test in advance of interview. Once we get the results back, we've got a good idea of whether they can do the job and so the next stage of an interview is more of a formality. We want people to be able to do well in the job that they're employed to do as opposed to knowing how good they are at the kind of interview small talk that can be a bit of an issue for some autistic people."

Sending interview questions in advance is another way to help individuals prepare. Gondhea makes a strong case for ditching the traditional idea that you somehow get the best out of a candidate by putting them on the spot in an interview. 

"When we're working on a project with a client, we're given time to think about it, scope it and deliver the product. We felt the same about the interview process. Why not give our candidates time to think and plan properly for their interview so they have every opportunity to give the best possible answer?"

Why not indeed? When you consider the purpose of a job interview it seems strange that we've done it the other way for so long. Gondhea also invites candidates to bring along anything that might help settle interview nerves. 

"A couple of months ago, we got a response with someone who asked if they could do a Rubik's Cube puzzle during the interview. If someone can knock out a Rubik's Cube whilst doing an interview, they sounded like a perfect candidate for us!"

Gondhea also thinks that his company policy helps with employee retention because the diversity of thought ultimately leads to great results for clients. 

"We're able to come up with solutions from a different perspective. We've got brainpower in our team and great talent and if we're able to create a working environment that people feel comfortable in, they're more likely to stay with us and that gives us a slight edge. 

"I remember when the first autistic person left my company. Initially I was disappointed, but they went on to work for an accountancy company, and so it's nice to be able to facilitate someone's career and develop them and see them carry on in their career." 

Removing Barriers To Opportunity 

James Cusack thinks that while interest in tapping ND talent has increased, that isn't always translating into action. 

"I think a lot of companies see the opportunities but they're wondering what do to next," he says. "We worked on the The Buckland Review of Autism Employment. As an outcome of that review and our own research program, we've came up with the Neurodiversity Employers Index  (NDEI). It's a framework which employers can use, which provides specific, evidence-based recommendations for employing ND talent. 

"The opportunity for us is to double the rate of employment for neurodivergent people," says Cusack. "The win for employers is a more neurodiverse, high performing workforce and a set of tools that will not only enable neurodivergent people but the whole team."

Gondhea is also very enthusiastic about the potential for the NDEI to encourage other employers to follow where his company has led. He makes the point that it's probably a lot easier than they might think. 

"For companies who are looking to recruit more neurodiverse staff, it's just not that difficult. There are a lot of myths and preconceptions, and some employers are scared about changing things. Adjustments and modifications don't need to be expensive or difficult. Sometimes companies just need a bit of support along the way. 

"That's why the NDEI is fantastic because it will give companies a bit more confidence in what they're doing well and what they can work on and give them that support. Once they're on that journey they'll really embrace it and reap the rewards of going down that route. It's just getting started which is the main challenge."

This article originally appeared on our sister site Computing. 



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