I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Parul° Singh, the Senior Talent Acquisition Partner at the company xDesign. She is quite an exceptional human being, and we had a fantastic conversation.
We dove into her views on how businesses can open their hiring processes to neurodivergent talent and create an inclusive culture. This is the recapped highlights in blog form, so read on for valuable insights on how you can be a better employer and recruiter.
How can we make our businesses available to neurodivergent talent during hiring?
I just want to preface that this does not just benefit neurodivergent talent. If you make some of these tweaks, you’re probably going to cater to a wider audience as well. One of the key pointers that I would give is presenting a variety of media. For example, using videos in your recruitment process, and I don’t see a lot of companies doing this. Pretty much all job adverts are just text, right? It’s very difficult to get a feel for and an actual understanding of the company from that. There tends to be a lot of underlying language and reading between the lines, which can be quite difficult for somebody who has ASD and needs literal explanations. If you have a video which is explaining certain elements of the job, presented by different people who are in that role as well, it just gives variety, it’s a little bit nicer, and it’s quite uncommon. You’re standing out against other people that are not offering these things.
Another big one is to reduce your list of required skills. In one of the inclusivity guides, there was an example of where a company talked about a requirement for client-facing communication skills, but it turns out that this was actually not a part of the job. I’m not saying people actively do that, but when you’re putting things on there, and you kind of like, oh, yes, this is a nice skill to have, put that in the required skills, and that’s wrong. There should be literally a few bullet points, be specific about it as well. What do you mean by goals? Communication? Why is it needed? What kinds of communication? Having an easy application format is so helpful because people who have ADHD have procrastination barriers. It’s ridiculous because, working in talent, you’ll see this all the time; there are so many companies out there who ask you to upload your CV, and then it asks you to fill in all the fields of all the stuff they’ve got on your CV. It makes absolutely no sense. That is just going to put people off. Make it easy and straightforward; just a CV, phone number and email address. That’s all you need.
One of the other key parts is to actually explain the flexibility in this role. Are you expected to work certain hours? What’s the flexibility for taking your lunchtime? How long is lunchtime? What happens if you have to do this? Again, it benefits everybody who wants to know the specifics about flexibility in a role. This isn’t the norm at the moment, but it’s something that I would also really like to see.
My final point would be to always include a line at the bottom about your commitment to an inclusive hiring process as well. Do not make this a performative statement because we can tell whether you actually care about it, if you will make adjustments, or whether you just care from an illegality perspective. When I send candidates an invite to schedule the first interview with myself, I also add it again at the bottom of that email, ‘please let me know if you would like any reasonable adjustments during the interview process. It’s a few minor changes, all the way from start to finish.
Another thing which has come to mind is you can highlight the interview process to reduce the element of surprise. Tell people what to expect and what your timeline is, such as ‘when you apply, you’ll hear back in 48 hours, ‘we’ll let you know even if you’re not successful, ‘we’ll give you feedback, ‘the next stage is this’, ‘this is how quickly we’ll turn it around again’ – people actually really appreciate seeing those things. It helps everybody out.
How do we proactively tap into neurodivergent talent pools?
I thought this was a really interesting question because I think you can apply it to other kinds of minority groups as well. There are no job boards that I’ve ever found that have a filter for neurodivergent talent, for example, that will be a thing in the future. If people want to say, ‘Hi, I’m neurodivergent, I’ve got ADHD, I’ve got these great skills, you should hire me because of this, that might be the thing for the future.
Being somebody who recruits who is neurodivergent has actually enabled me to grow a community around me that is also neurodivergent. I’m personally quite active on Twitter, and Twitter’s got a great neurodivergent community. You also have to be seen as a neurodivergent-friendly employer. When we talk about your employee brand and your employer brand, it might be quite controversial, but I think the employee brand is much more valuable than the employer brand. People are always a little bit sceptical. For example, I post on LinkedIn, and I talk a lot about how my employer has made reasonable adjustments and how I’ve been supported at work in terms of my ADHD, and that will just naturally end up on people’s feeds who actually want to see that. I added a guy on LinkedIn, and he accepted, and then he sent me a message, and he said, ‘I see you posted that you know about ADHD and stuff like that; I would love to learn more about it. I didn’t expect him to be looking for a role when he messaged me, but a few weeks later, we hired him. He’s been with the business for the last few months. That little bit of advocacy will naturally attract people. You have to make it organic; you want it to come across as genuine. It’s quite difficult to do, but I am a neurodiversity advocate, so people know that you know what we’re actually doing internally as well. You can’t ask somebody to do that. You can’t be like, ‘Hey, you are autistic; would you like to be our neurodiversity advocate?’ That comes from the individual, but if they feel comfortable doing that, you might have advocated for different things in the company.
Another thing that we are in the process of doing is the disability confidence scheme. It’s basically an assessment to say that you are a friendly workplace for disabled folks. These can obviously be physical disabilities or hidden ones, and they can also tap into candidate pools who class themselves as disabled. Again, it’s a rigorous criterion that you have to pass, but when you’ve gone through it, you can say, ‘Hey, this is a great place to work!’
How do we build an inclusive environment internally that is right for neurodivergent people?
I think the first thing that you need to have is a fixed and comprehensive process for when somebody discloses a neurodivergent condition. I put this on my onboarding forms. This helps HR process and discuss any support or reasonable adjustments a new employee may need. I was told to think about what sort of support I need because everyone’s an individual. With my ADHD, what I need is different from somebody else with ADHD and what they need. I submitted my reasonable adjustments request to my people partner and my line manager, and within less than two working days, I had a formal letter sent digitally confirming that they have approval for reasonable adjustments and also set a date to like review them. If you don’t already have this process, you need to get one in place.
A lot of people who are neurodiverse class themselves as disabled, so if somebody submits a reasonable adjustment request and you do not follow due process, you’re liable for legal ramifications. I’ll tell you now, the disability discrimination awards in tribunals are hefty, I think they’re uncapped, actually, so from a legal perspective, you definitely need to do that. From my perspective as being human, I feel like I’ve thrived because I’ve been given the tools and support and the flexibility to work the way that I like, and that increases my loyalty to the company because they’ve given me everything I could have ever asked for. As long as that continues, as long as I’m happy here, I’m gonna stay, because I’ve got no reason to go elsewhere. Don’t make assumptions about what somebody else needs. If somebody has a visual impairment, a yellow screen filter or a screen reader might not actually do what it needs to do. Actually, ask the individual what they need.
Another thing is that advocacy from the individuals actually really helps. Make sure that they have the ability to make an impact. There’s no point in me running internal sessions and writing stuff on LinkedIn if, when I make suggestions to internal processes and policies, that doesn’t get approved because I’m not in an HR or leadership role. If somebody is an advocate or even they’re coming to you with some improvement, actually listen to the people who are in those shoes. Keep on improving on it.
Flexible and remote working is the way forward too. I really struggled when I was in an office because I felt like I had to be on it all the time, especially working in recruitment, you cannot be seen to putting your feet up for like two minutes. I cannot work like that. I need to work in short, intense sprints. It’s like a HIIT workout where I have 25 minutes where I am going and then I might have like 10 minutes off, but that can be frowned upon in an office. Create an environment which is flexible, and give people the option to work remotely to choose their hours. Some days, if I feel like I’m on a roll, I’m in the zone, I can work a bit more. Can I take that off the next day? That kind of stuff is really not that hard to do. A lot of it actually doesn’t cost employers any money as, well.
What advice would you give to talent teams and businesses who want to start appealing to this talent pool?
Start with some training and consultancy. There are neurodiversity consultants who are specialists in their fields, who can come in and do an assessment of your hiring process, your internal policies, literally everything from the ground up. They can run awareness workshops as well, which is a brilliant place to start. Get your interviewer some training, and make sure that you move away from this fake interview style and practice hiring based on specific competencies. Once you can truly embrace neurodiversity, the benefits are literally tenfold. As a person with ADHD, I am highly capable of taking calculated risks. I am great at communicating with people and building relationships, which has brought me the success that I’ve had in the last four years. Sometimes I struggle with task management and priorities, but these are really easy things to fix. When you compare it to the positives, your business is just going to do great. Don’t tolerate, embrace. That’s my advice.
To hear more about how you can attract neurodiverse talent to your business, listen to the full episode of The Talent & Growth Podcast here.