Neurodivergence and the workplace: Reducing unconscious bias in the recruitment process

16 October 2023

A man is wearing an aqua colour shirt with white checks. He is sitting at his desk and working on two computer monitors

Image description: A man is wearing an aqua colour shirt with white checks. He is sitting at his desk and working on two computer monitors.

Neurodiversity describes the fact that people experience and interact with the world in different ways1. We are all neurodiverse. Look around your workplace, community, friends and family and you will see that no two brains and ways of thinking are the same.

The term ‘neurodivergent’ is used to describe “people whose brains are significantly different to what is expected in the ‘typical’ population”2. This can include people with a diagnosis of autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and other neurological or developmental conditions.

You may have heard of the term ‘neurotypical’, used to describe “people whose neurological development and state are ‘typical’, expected or within accepted ‘normal’ parameters”3.

Neurodivergence and employment in Australia

  • According to the ABS, an estimated 30 to 40% of the population are neurodivergent, and 34% of Australia’s neurodivergent community are unemployed4.
  • In 2018, Autism Spectrum Australia estimated that approximately 1 in 70 people in Australia were autistic5.
  • The unemployment rate for people with autism was 34.1%, more than three times the rate for people with disability (10.3%) and almost eight times the rate of people without disability (4.6%)6.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias means attitudes and perceptions that are held in our subconscious, prompting hidden or unconscious, biases. As Monash University describe, “unconscious bias influences thoughts and actions, that can result in the creation of unfair advantages or disadvantages, without the decision-maker’s awareness”7.

8 tips to reduce unconscious bias from the recruitment process

  1. Simplify your job advertisements: use clear, straight to the point language and mention in the job ad that candidates with disability, or neurodivergent candidates, are encouraged to apply
  2. Carefully consider the inherent requirements for the role: ensure you are focused on the core skills required to perform the job. For example, many traditional job ads seek ‘excellent communication skills’ or promote as having a ‘fast-paced environment’. The question to ask here is if this skill is necessary for this particular role. If it isn’t a required skill and it’s included as a ‘necessary skill’ in the job ad, it may deter some neurodivergent candidates from applying8. For example, candidates who might have the right skill set for the role but aren’t strong in communication
  3. Check recruitment programs that rely on Artificial Intelligence: Ensure that the data coded into the system isn’t based on neurotypical candidates, i.e., the data isn’t already biased. This could result in a higher probability of neurodivergent individuals being eliminated
  4. Be transparent about the recruitment process: provide a clear and simplified summary of the end-to-end recruitment process and what to expect. Ask the candidate if they have any requests or requirements
  5. Rethink your interview format:
    1. Ideally, replace a typical face-to-face interview with a test, task or simulation
    2. If an interview is required, move away from using outdated ways of assessing someone in an interview. Assessing aspects like direct eye contact or body language is not inclusive of neurodivergent people
    3. Provide all candidates with the standardised list of questions ahead of time
    4. Consider having an interview panel, with interviewers from diverse backgrounds
    5. If multiple interviews are required, spread them out across several days, to reduce stress on the applicants. If candidates need to use a laptop or device let them use their own, as they are familiar with it9
  6. Provide candidates options for meeting: Whether it be face-to-face, video call or over the phone, allowing the candidate to choose the best setting for them can help reduce anxiety10. Offer breaks if the interview is expected to run longer than 30 minutes. If the interview is face-to-face, ensure a quiet space with no interruptions
  7. Provide a task as a core part of the process: Tasks that mimic the kind of work candidates will be doing in the role are the best indicator of the candidates’ potential performance. Interviews are social interactions that neurodivergent people may find challenging, it is more effective to let the candidate demonstrate their skills11. If the candidate emails the task rather than presenting it, ensure a ‘blind review’, i.e., have the names of the candidate removed before you review the task, to ensure no bias creeps in from previous recruitment rounds
  8. Get feedback: Ask candidates for feedback on your recruitment process to see if there are ways to make it more accessible and inclusive for everyone

An untapped asset

Research by Deloitte suggests that teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be 30% more productive than those without them12.

Neurodivergent people have different ways of navigating, solving problems and challenging assumptions. Various scientific studies have identified numerous strengths of neurodivergent people, including creativity, three-dimensional thinking, attention to detail, hyper focus and entrepreneurialism13.

Resolving unconscious bias is vital to mitigate and manage assumptions, while hiring people with disability. It also brings many other benefits to the workplace and to the business.

Build an inclusive workplace to support a diverse workforce

Contact the JobAccess Employer Engagement team – the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC) – to help reduce barriers to the recruitment and retention of people with disability.

JobAccess can also assist employers with advice and implementation of workplace adjustments. Our allied health professionals provide expert and tailored support for neurodivergent employees. Call us on 1800 464 800 or visit our website for more information.

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