New research released by the ONS at the start of this year revealed that a shockingly low number of autistic adults are in employment. Only 22 per cent of those with autism are in full-time or part-time work, the lowest employment rate of any disabled group.
Unfortunately, this worrying new data derives from ongoing stigma and bias those on the autistic spectrum face on a daily basis. While it has been reported that 40 per cent of autistic adults in work would like the option to be given more hours, and 77 per cent of unemployed autistic individuals would like to be given work, the problem lies first and foremost with a lack of education, awareness and flexibility from employers.
While, yes, there will be certain areas of daily working routines that autistic individuals may struggle with, in comparison to their peers and colleagues, employers should instead choose to explore the vast skills and abilities those with autism do have. Leaders should also keep in mind how diverse perspectives can contribute to a company’s success hugely, from more inclusive viewpoints to wider scopes of creativity, an increased breadth of talent and incredibly competitive skillsets.
As Autism Awareness Week drew to a close last week, we reflect on how businesses can break down existing barriers to help support neurodiverse talent through the hiring and onboarding process and begin making positive change.
The application process
Jargon can be rife across job descriptions, a lot of them contain unnecessary acronyms and long-winded phraseology. When planning to post a job advert, it should be as user-friendly as possible. Stick to the bare bones of what candidates need to know, such as job role, place of work, required skills and how to apply. This will help neurodiverse candidates know exactly what is expected of them, making the start of the process much easier and a lot less daunting.
Traditionally, the application process follows a very one-size-fits-all method. Send your CV, write a cover letter and fill out an application form. For anyone on the autistic spectrum, challenges faced and areas where their strengths lie will be something as unique to them as their fingerprint so it’s crucial you cast tradition aside and aim to innovate the application process as much as possible.
Move away from the standardised application process and allow for a range of ways to apply for the role in questions. From digital CVs to video, voice recordings and phone calls – the choices are endless.
A candidate doesn’t have to disclose to an employer whether they are neurodivergent, even when you ask them if they need any reasonable adjustments. However, even if you aren’t aware that your candidate is neurodiverse, the following tips can, and should, be followed nevertheless to make for a much smoother and calmer interview.
- Keep questions direct, avoiding any ambiguity and aim for closed questions which move away from any need for hypothetical answers.
- Where possible, ensure interviews are as practical as possible. This allows candidates to showcase their abilities and skills that will be relevant to the job and, for employers, will help to reduce unconscious or conscious bias.
- Allow for extra time in an interview or assessment if needed by the candidate.
- Think carefully about the environment. Somewhere busy, loud and cramped may be incredibly stressful for anyone, but especially someone with heightened senses. Where possible, interview in a quiet, plain room, and either ensure it’s clearly signposted or have someone on hand to greet the candidate upon their arrival and guide them to the interview room.
If you are aware someone who is neurodiverse is joining your team, the first step is to ensure you give thorough training on neurodiversity to your existing staff members. This will help them welcome all new starters with ease and give them prior knowledge and understanding into any behaviours or challenges new colleagues may face, allowing them to provide tailored support where necessary.
A first day can be daunting for anyone, to help calm the nerves and anxieties of a neurodiverse individual it can help to layout the exact who, what, when and where of their first day in a bullet pointed format. For example, highlighting exactly where to go, who to talk to, what to wear and when to arrive will all be extremely helpful.
From here, it’s important to note that neurodiverse employees should be treated with the kindness, patience and respect any employee would receive during the onboarding process. Where possible, engage in conversations about how best to tailor work to their needs and ensure you assign members of the team as ‘wobble buddies’, someone they can rely on and trust to turn to if the going gets tough. Questions should be answered, concerns should be heard, and feedback should be given at all times.
The breaking down of barriers and stigmas around neurodiversity in the workplace has a long way to go before we can say we’re even scratching the surface of positive change. With more proactive plans in place to educate, inform and implement inclusive processes, employers will be able to nurture a fantastically diverse talent pool as well as move in the right direction towards creating meaningful change across the jobs market.