There’s nothing new about neurodivergence. And the world would indeed be a duller place without the likes (and legacies) of famously-neurodivergent thinkers like Tim Burton, Lewis Carroll and Steve Jobs.
But what’s oh-so-refreshing about today’s landscape is our changing attitude towards those individuals who…simply see things a little differently. Workplaces (and the world in general) are waking up to the wonders of neurodivergence. And, may we say, not a moment too soon.
Samantha Nuttal, founder of The Neurodivergent Coach and a 20 year veteran of graduate recruitment, knows this topic inside out. She lives with dyscalculia (the numerical version of dyslexia), coaches neurodiverse people to thrive in their careers and educates organisations on workplace inclusion. Oh, and she also keeps her foot in the early careers door with a part time gig at Sydney University.
In other words, the perfect candidate for our final Emerging Trends in the World of Emerging Talent podcast. In fact, Samantha gave us the jolt we probably all needed when it comes to inclusive practices.
She gave her unique insights into why organisations are crazy not to consider neurodiverse candidates, how to discover those people in the first place and what we can all do to be truly inclusive.
But first: let’s back up a bit.
What is neurodivergence and how is it different from neurodiversity?
Just because we hear the words a lot, do we actually know what they mean? Over to Samantha.
‘The word ‘neurodiversity’ simply means we all have different brains,’ she explains. ‘Neurodivergence’ [refers to those] individuals who…live with conditions such as ADHD, autism or dyslexia and whose brain wiring and chemicals are different to neurotypical people.’
The big OMG moment here? Neurodiverse people make up some 15% of our population. And they have every right to enjoy stimulating, satisfying careers.
Is your organisation missing out on diversity of thought and talent?
Organisations are very good at spruiking their love of diversity. But this only becomes a reality if that 15% of today’s emerging talent is in with a chance, too.
‘If we want that diversity of thought, we need to be pulling from the widest pool possible,’ Samantha tells us. ‘If we (however unwittingly) exclude neurodivergent individuals in our recruitment processes, we’re going to miss out on that diversity and find it tricky to fill our roles.
‘There’s often an untapped pool of individuals who have degrees and are doing great things at university, but because they think a little differently and might present a little differently at interviews…they may not fit our assumptions of what a good candidate looks like.
‘So it’s important graduate recruiters are…giving organisations that opportunity to think more creatively and solve problems in different ways.’
Obviously, we love the sound of this. In the hard, cold light of graduate recruitment, though, how do we actually navigate neurodivergence?
The application process: tailoring for neurodivergent candidates and spiky profiles
When we talk about neurodivergence, we’re often talking about hidden disabilities. And these aren’t necessarily going to be obvious during the recruitment process, points out Samantha.
‘The processes we run aren’t fair…they don’t spot talent in everyone and they actually have barriers within them,’ she says bluntly.
So…not great. You want to bring in neurodivergent employees – yet your application process is set up for neurotypical brains. Where to from here?
‘One of the most important things we can do…is to be aware of asking candidates if they require adjustments through the process,’ Samantha says. ‘People who are neurodivergent often have what we call ‘spiky profiles’. This means there’ll be some things they’re absolutely amazing at – probably better than anybody else in the whole organisation – but they may not be that completely well-rounded candidate that we expect, or say we want.
It could be time to (slightly) rejig the job description.
‘We might want to talk to managers or directors and say ‘Hey, I’ve got this person who is just beyond amazing at these things, but it’s going to mean we need to shift the job a little in this direction.’ And by doing that, you’re able to really hire for talent, rather than take that cookie cutter approach.
You know what else matters (kind of a lot)? Feedback. Asking for it straight and acting on it quickly.
Why you can never get enough feedback (and why it really matters with neurodivergence)
If we want to run genuinely inclusive graduate recruitment processes, we need to talk to those who are taking part. And not just your successful candidates, alright?
‘We all know how useful data is in recruitment, but making sure we’re asking for feedback from all our candidates…and including a question about disability and neurodivergence [means]…we can see where we might not be quite hitting them up with our process.’
Well, then…shouldn’t we just take a universal approach to recruitment in the first place?
Absolutely, says Samantha. And over in Utopia, they do. But it’s not necessarily that straightforward back in the real world.
Strivin for universal design
‘We talk a lot about authentic leadership, being yourself and bringing your strengths [to the workplace], but then we design competency frameworks that don’t enable everyone to do that,’ she laments. ‘So yes, in an ideal world, we do need to challenge those assumptions…about what makes a good employee and redefine those for some people.
‘And if we want to do more of a universal design process, we need to think more deeply about what we’re trying to assess. That’s obviously tricky when we’re doing graduate recruitment, so it really does need to be a whole-of-organisation approach.’
Taking a holistic view
We can make recruitment as feel-good and inclusive as a warm hug, but unless that flows through to an employee’s actual experience, we haven’t solved anything.
‘It’s not that tricky to recruit people who think differently, but it is tricky to keep them and help them be successful at work if we’re not going to change anything once they’re there,’ Samantha says decisively.
The good news is, these changes aren’t always especially drastic.
‘With neurodiversity, we’re talking about co-designing ways of working,’ Samantha reminds us, ‘and [those adjustments] don’t need to be that complicated.
‘For example, after a meeting, [I ask people to] drop me a quick email summarising the main points. Or, it could be working to someone’s strengths…and taking that piece they find challenging and giving them more of the stuff they’re really good at.
‘Getting people through the door is one thing; keeping them is another. And helping them thrive is really the ultimate point.’
The best question you can ask
You don’t have to understand the intricacies of someone’s brain to support them. Actually, all it takes is 4 words:
How can I help?
‘No one expects you to have all the answers as an HR professional or manager,’ Samantha assures us. ‘[It’s about] understanding the extreme vulnerability that person is showing you and offering to help them in whatever way they need.’
It really is as simple as that.
‘Just ask how you can help and what you can do. That’s it! [It’s about] making them the expert of themselves. It takes the pressure off the recruiter and the manager [who] aren’t expected to be an expert in everything.’
A workplace without neurodivergent employees is no workplace at all
Granted, we’ve been slow off the mark to embrace neurodivergent talent. But we’re here now – and thankfully, there’s no turning back.
Because here’s the secret: organisations who don’t accept everyone for who they are actually lose out. On creative thinking, new perspectives and, in the end, productivity.
For more ‘why did I only just realise this?’ moments, tune into our Emerging Trends in the World of Emerging Talent podcast. It’s as diverse, refreshing and inspiring as our up-and-coming grads – and it’s available now!