Neurodivergence Paralysis

Neurodivergence Paralysis

Written by Theo Smith

Theo is a Welsh Wizard. After leaving his Celtic land he set out on a journey to help organisations attract more talent. This has included global executive search, RPO, in-house and recruitment marketing. He now talks on a wide variety of recruitment related subjects. He is also the podcast host for Neurodiversity – Eliminating Kryptonite & Enabling Superheroes

Neurodiversity, diversity & inclusion! Your hearts in the right place, you want to do something, but you don’t know where to start.

We’ve all been there, right?

It’s that office moment where you’re stood there paralysed by the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing.

So you say and do nothing!

Well I’m going to have a go at how we can all start to look at making our environments, workplaces, recruitment processes a little better and more Neurodiverse friendly for 2019.

And here’s the thing, this is not a private group, it should benefit everybody. Because at the end of the day, being different is just a part of being human, but by embracing our differences we can get the best out of them.

So let’s focus on inclusivity rather than exclusivity.

I’ve broken it down into some key areas that each one of us can look at changing or just adjusting this year.

If you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into ‘Neurodiversity at work’ then read the CIPD’s GUIDE in partnership with Uptimize.

This is not an exhaustive list, more of a ‘Starter for Ten’… (as an aside the comedy book Starter For Ten by David Nicholls is a good fun read if you’ve not already read it, the film was on over the festive period!)

Feel free to make your suggestions in the comments section. This list is as much for me as it is for everybody else, so there is work to be done by us all 😉

I’ve initially broken it down into these key areas, to get us started:



  • Job Copy
  • Branding/EVP
  • Recruitment Marketing

Interview Process

  • Assessment
  • On arrival to the interview
  • At the interview


At Work

Away from Work

Training and Development


First things first; we need to start talking about this subject.

The more I talk about Neurodiversity online, at work and with friends, the more people open up about their own experiences.

This is paramount to influencing and impacting change.

Diversity of any kind can at times, be a highly challenging, contentious and emotive subject, so bringing down the barriers by allowing people to have the opportunity to learn and engage in a safe environment is really important.

You can run ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, which is what we plan to do here at NICE, as well as incorporating it into your hiring manager recruitment training. Include the subject in newsletters, your internal comms and intranet. You can also introduce it into other monthly and quarterly meetings.  Or you can just start blogging about the subject and start raising awareness that way 😉

There is also no reason you couldn’t start a working group that can help with carrying the conversation forwards and creating some tangible outcomes. Having a senior level stakeholder can help ensure the conversation moves on from just a conversation.

It can also plug into your current diversity and equality agenda.


‘Start with the end in mind’

Our communications are key to promoting not just our vacancies but also our EVP (Employee Value Proposition).

You may need to revisit this during the year, as you start to improve and enhance your offering.

Promoting the fact your Autism friendly and then giving them a shocking experience isn’t the answer. However it is okay to promote that you’re on a journey to become autism friendly and you’re looking for feedback on how you can improve.

But don’t forget to look inside before you look out, you may already have some hidden superstar advocates who can help on the journey.

Go and talk to your internal comms/marketing team and see what information they hold. Or look at the data from the last employee survey that may help highlight some immediate challenges, areas to focus on.

Job copy

  • Are you using words, sentences and descriptions that make sense and get to the heart of whats required?
  • Are you using your job adverts to display your culture, values and EVP?
  • They say there is no ‘I’ in Team, except when referring to the things ‘I’ do, that you won’t!
    • Are you including lazy skills like ‘good communicator’ for a data cleansing vacancy that will require hyper focus and concentration, but communication is more about the perceived team ethos than the requirements of the role?
    • Trust me, the team will be happier if the job is done by somebody who is suitable for the task rather than a ‘good communicator’ who ultimately doesn’t get it done and the Team end up picking up the slack
    • So make sure the copy reflects the role and highlights the EVP and culture without enforcing pointless requirements
  • Are you including, where possible, ‘learn more’ links or ‘attached docs’ that highlight what you currently have in place to support those with diverse needs and requirements



  • Images and video that bring your environment and people to life
    • You don’t need to show somebody with an ‘I’m Autistic’ T-Shirt, but certainly having video or a short-hand profile of an individual who is Neurodivergent could encourage others to apply.
    • Don’t pick somebody for their ethnicity, their disability or their gender. Pick somebody for their story! The people should reflect your workforce. If you aspire to change, then use external professionals to help you on that journey, rather than creating fake personas.
    • If video is too scary or prohibitive, a blog will do the job, just make sure it’s visible to those who may want to view it
    • Here at NICE we share a lot of blogs on our internal communications channel NICE-Space. Here we share a lot of personal stories, experiences, as well as updates, information and guidance. It works really well and some of this information can be re-purposed, with consent, for external communications and branding
  • Demystify the process with a step by step guide on what’s expected as part of the application, interview and assessment process
    • Nobody will complain with having more information upfront and everybody will feel less anxious and more prepared
    • This can be as simple as promising to provide water and a restroom on arrival, but I’m sure we can all try a little harder than that 😉
    • One simple step we took here at NICE has been to create this VIDEO to help candidates with the application process. But this is just the beginning!
    • We’ve also created meet your manager video’s and meet a member of the team, to help paint the picture of a department.
  • Promote what you already do whether you’re ‘Disability Confident’, a ‘Stonewall Diversity Champion’ or you’ve signed the ‘Time to change employer pledge
    • Although they are not specifically focused on the inclusion of Neurodivergents, they do show you are already focused on diversity initiatives and improving inclusion and accessibility for all
    • If you’re not a member of anything yet, well here’s the chance to get started!
    • But remember membership is a commitment to change, not change in it’s own right!

Recruitment marketing

  •  Use social media to positively target Neurodivergent groups to highlight yourselves as an employer of choice for these communities
    • Not everybody is an aspiring Developer who will be picked up by SAP. There’s a wide group of capable people looking for workplaces that will take them seriously and offer them real opportunities
    • Both Twitter and Facebook are fantastic examples of where you can promote vacancies and content to highly targeted audiences and groups.
    • For a very small budget you could work with your marketing/comms team to A-B test some campaigns.
    • Through research, workshops, 121’s and survey’s, we created personas here at NICE to identify what it is to really be a Developer or Health Technology Analyst. This has helped with our planning and allowed us to use much better targeting on social channels and other niche publications and channels.
    • The results have been really good and highly cost effective, we just need to do more around ensuring it’s helping with diversity and inclusion. But that’s another big project linked to our recruitment process, technology and assessment.

Interview process


Is your assessment fit for purpose and could it put any particular group or individual at a disadvantage?

A video interview may suit some, but be a major barrier for others, so ensure your selecting technological solutions that help you without eliminating potential talent.

Could you have alternative options and what can you do to give the candidate plenty of time to prepare themselves for what’s going to be required.

Some firms have found ways around the traditional interview process. German software firm SAP, which also employs those on the autistic spectrum, offers candidates the chance to build Lego robots instead of a formal interview

But it doesn’t have to be complicated and the important thing is don’t pick it because it’s a ‘fad’, pick the right solution and assessment that works. If in doubt, trial it, test it, get feedback and adjust accordingly.

There are HR tech companies that can help with a huge variety of assessments and although I have seen nothing yet which has been specifically designed with Neurodiversity or those who are Neurodivergent in mind, we are making real advances and 2019 could be the year!

But let me know if you know of any?

On arrival to the interview

  • Have they got a cup of water
  • Do they have access to a restroom
  • Are you providing the most suitable and accessible environment to interview
    • Preferably not in a fish bowl, in a café, with a lot of background noise, with little context and no introductions
  • Are they meeting a friendly face or at the very least somebody who is helpful and supportive, before being shoved in an interview
  • Are you being clear around what’s going to happen, who they’ll meet and what’s expected
  • Giving candidates 10 minutes pre-interview, with the questions you’ll be asking in a quite room, could help relieve anxiety, improve the answers they give, and improve the overall experience for all involved

At the interview

We make judgments in seconds and face to face interviews instantly favour some over others, which I’ve wrote about previously in this fun reflective look at my younger self ‘Would You Hire This Guy’

  • Try to hold off making a judgment in the first minute of meeting somebody, it’s tough but could lead you to treat them differently to others through the whole interview. Consider what their day may have been like, and allow them the time to settle into the interview
  • Be aware that eye contact may be fleeting or prolonged, depending on the individual
    • It doesn’t mean they have a lack of capability to do the job or that we should assume they are being rude
    • Do candidates have bad interviews or is it bad planning on our part? Are we being the best facilitators at getting the best out of others?
    • What can we do to support ourselves and the hiring community to better plan and structure the interviews, and why not put the candidate at the heart of that thought process
    • If we had to go through this interview, how would we feel?
  • A candidate who’s talking a lot and giving a lot of information may need to be told they’ve answered the question well enough and you’d like to move on.
    • Or you may need to be more specific in your questioning so there is no room for ambiguity
    • Don’t assume if they get the job, all they’ll do is talk all day! They may be facing a challenge to judge how much information you need rather than an inability to stop talking

I know this is something I struggle with personally, and often where I’ve been successful in interviews, the interviewers have been supportive and flexible in their approach.

At the end of the day a candidate is really just guessing at what you’re looking for and for those with ADHD or Dyslexia, we may just throw everything at you and the kitchen sink, which may come across as if we’ve not really done what we’ve said we’ve done or just be too much information for you to take in.

The reality is we’ve probably done a lot, been involved in a lot and made a lot of things happen, but just need some guidance to help us get to the golden nugget you’re looking for.


So Onboarding is on trend…

The market has gone boom, with the introduction of technology that can facilitate automating some communications whilst combining real life engagement!

A company that we are currently speaking with Enboarder can help you create a much better employee experience in a simple cost effective way. There are plenty of providers in this space, so go out and find one what works for you.

Your ATS, CRM or Employer Branding partner may also have an option or solution for onboarding.

What I would say, is that this is a good opportunity to maximise all the great content you start to create as part of your overall corporate and recruitment communications strategy. You can share it at different parts of the candidate journey, interspersed with some real life human interactions 🙂

It also offers a great candidate and employee experience by giving them access to a wide verity of information prior to joining.

And remember your focus on ‘Awareness’ that we discussed at the beginning of the blog; it can start here!

At Work

The advice given by the government on Reasonable Adjustments, I find to be structured around physical disability and health conditions rather than neurological differences is.

So some things we can consider, beyond their advice:

  • Do you have a quite space/s for people to get away from the hustle and bustle of work? There is a requirement for flexible spaces in the workplace that can adapt to the needs of the workforce. New parents may need space, those who pray, those with mental health conditions. So we now have many good reasons to ensure we offer such a sanctuary to our employees.
  • If it’s suitable for the work they do, i.e. not driving a school bus or in a call centre answering calls, can you’re employee’s access noise reduction headphones or wear headphones to listen to music to help reduce the noise pollution that can be associated with stress and anxiety in the workplace? It wont be right for everybody, but we should be offering safe sound havens to all our employees.
  • Do you have an internal messaging service so people can communicate in a variety of ways? We want to increase engagement and activity across our organisations, however it needs to be in a way that is suitable and accessible to all. Otherwise all we are doing is facilitating those who are confident to approach somebody physically, to approach more people, while doing nothing to help the rest of the workforce increase engagement. It can leave a lot of people feeling isolated and alone.

Away from Work

Want to be inclusive, attract more high performing employees and keep them?

Consider allocated days for those who suffer from ‘anxiety’. Not just to support mental health, but also to support those in need of extra time away from work to support their productivity.

So organisations are starting to get savvy and offer ‘carers leave’ for those who need it. Because running off to look after your Mum with Dementia or a child who’s sick and can’t attend school, is not fun and it’s certainly not a holiday.

If you’ve already made the progressive step towards allocating a good amount of carers leave, why not focus 2019 on achieving allocated days for those who suffer from anxiety, that can impact on their employee experience and ability to be successful in their role.

Then take the next step of promoting it and ensuring that the workforce understands the purpose of those days and when to take them.

We offer 10 days paid carers leave here at NICE and in the year I’ve been here I’ve taken half a day carers leave, when my childminder had to leave to go to hospital at short notice.

I was very grateful that it was my manager who suggested I take this type of leave.

Nothing works in isolation, without guidance and good communications!

Training and Development

It’s not always possible to invest in expensive courses, and online training isn’t always regarded the best way to change people’s views and working practices in the area of diversity and inclusion.

But it is important to keep up-to-date on best practice and ensure we are not implementing solutions or working practices that have the opposite effect to what we’d hoped or that contravene the law!

So I guess every organisation will be different here and I find variety and at different touch points is key to successful T&D.


Employee experience, candidate experience, diversity; the subjects that seem to be trending currently, for me are all about ‘inclusion’.

  • How can we be more inclusive in all aspects of our working life?
  • What can we do to help and facilitate other?
  • When we are considering how we will assess, select, and onboard our employees, can we also consider they’re journey and what it feels like from their perspective.
  • Are we using feedback and evidence to improve our process and environment?

I think it’s all too easy in our busy lives to focus on what’s immediately in-front of us and a hiring manager telling us that they need a recruit asap, easily takes precedence over thinking more strategically around a more diverse workforce.

But neurodiversity is more than a single line of focus, it impacts and improves areas of the organisation, its performance and environment, way beyond its own self.

If you can get simple measures and practices in place to make improvements, these improvements plug into other areas and by lateral association and interconnecting parts will achieve far more than just a neurologically diverse workforce.

You will improve productivity, employee engagement, employee experience, wellbeing and mental health.

But also you’ll be playing your part in changing the way we work and the way we experience work.



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