At least one in five people globally are neurodivergent. Yet, as I've previously noted, individuals with cognitive differences, such as autism, ADHD, or dyslexia, are often overlooked and misunderstood in the workplace.
According to 2018 research from the U.K.-based Westminster “AchieveAbility” commission, 88% of neurodivergent individuals have felt discouraged from applying for a job, and 52% felt discriminated against during selection. A separate survey from Ireland-based assistive technology company Texthelp found that 32% of neurodivergent workers say they experience a lack of career progression, and 61% cite stigma at work.
Speaking at Texthelp’s Festival of Workplace Inclusion this week, executives leading neurodiversity talent programs at EY, Ubisoft, and Dell shared how they attract this talent pool.
Professional services firm EY operates Neuro-Diverse Centers of Excellence, which pair neurodivergent talent’s unique strengths with clients' needs in more than 22 cities globally. So far, the program retains 500 technologists and boasts a 93% retention rate. But the “aha” moment came when the firm set out to understand why neurodivergent talent doesn't get recruited. The answer lies in how the traditional interview process is structured.
“The light bulb moment was [that] most of the interview assessment candidate process is a behavioral-based process. We are looking for ad hoc behaviors from individuals, [who] we're expecting to create instant rapport and think on their feet,” says Hiren Shukla, leader of EY’s Neuro-Diverse Centers of Excellence. “These are not necessarily attributes that are indicative of performance.”
The firm shifted to a recruitment strategy that instead observes a candidate’s performance over a week, called “super week.” During the assessment, recruiters look for aptitude, acumen, and interest.
“I've not mentioned education. I've not mentioned previous experience. I've mentioned the three things,” says Shukla. “When we know those three align for a candidate, they will be a good fit for a role.”
Technology giant Dell also revamped its recruitment process for neurodivergent candidates. Dell launched its Neurodiversity at Dell hiring program in 2018, providing career readiness training, interview accommodations, and on-the-job support for neurodivergent candidates. The program is available in the U.S. and Canada for intern and full-time roles and will soon expand to other countries.
Candidates can create a professional portfolio showcasing their skills and interests. Danielle Biddick, program manager for diversity talent acquisition, says it is “much more structured and predictable” than a traditional interview, making preparing for it much easier and less stressful for neurodivergent talent. Candidates also work on projects over a week, which gives managers a closer, firsthand look at how they'd perform on their team. Managers can also participate in training designed to debunk stereotypes about neurodivergent individuals and offer guidance on workplace accommodations.
Once hired, candidates have several resources available to them, including:
- An external career coach who helps the candidate and their manager identify what support is needed
- A mentor from Dell’s TrueAbility ERG
- Professional development resources, curated in partnership with Dell’s neurodiversity advisory committee. Recent topics include time management, networking, presentation, and self-advocacy skills.
At video game producer Ubisoft, the company first focused on improving neurodiversity inclusion before targeting external neurodiverse candidates. It created an employee resource group for neurodivergent employees, which has since grown to 500 members across 20 countries, and established a neurodiversity talent program led by Pierre Escaich.
“We think that before trying to recruit neurodivergent profiles, you need first to be sure that your organization is neuro-inclusive and ready to welcome those profiles,” says Escaich. The company recently completed neurodiversity training for all recruiters and plans to do the same with HR personnel and managers.
Ubisoft’s neurodiversity ERG works in tandem with HR and recruiting teams to establish best practices for this employee population.
“That dual approach is very interesting because they nurture each other,” says Escaich. “It's not the responsibility of one individual, but it's a common responsibility where everyone is contributing.”