Hiring neurodiverse talent: why employer knowledge gaps prevail

Organisations are aware that neurodiverse hires are good for retention rates but lack of resources, knowledge gaps, and access to talent pipelines have stalled their efforts

The Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements may be encouraging employers to hire more Black and female candidates, but there’s another group whose workplace representation struggles are less known. Unlike those with physical disabilities, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (also known as neurodiverse) have been left out of D&I discussions where 85% are not in work.

Neurodiverse people (an umbrella term that encompasses autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and more) can bring desired skills to an organisation, including pattern recognition, strong memory retention, and strategic abilities. So why aren’t employers hiring them? What knowledge gaps are holding them back?

Creative Spirit, a New-York-based non-profit firm, is trying to bridge the gap between IDD talent and employers by offering upskilling services for candidates while linking them with companies that will give them a fair wage. They also offer training to employers and their staff on IDD candidates.

The company’s mission is to create 1 million jobs for IDD adults, where there are around 10 million who are unemployed in the US alone. To aid their goal, they have produced a report, which surveyed hiring managers and leadership across medium to large organisations, and found that lack of resources rather than prejudice was holding them back from making IDD hires:

Employer knowledge gaps on neurodiverse candidates

The report found that despite the impact of COVID-19, respondents were “very active” in hiring where D&I objectives in recruitment were well known to their organisation. However, D&I hiring objectives favoured African-American and female candidates where disability was at “the bottom of the priority list.”

The report also found that three “myths” surrounding IDD candidates prevailed and included a perceived lack of industry-specific talent pipeline, a question of candidate ability, and lack of “resources and training” among HR teams and staff regarding how to support them.

There was also a degree of uncertainty among c-suite leaders and managers about the resources available, which could explain the lack of pressure among organisations to change their D&I hiring priorities.

With a healthy hiring environment and a growing willingness from organisations to engage in D&I practises, prioritising the hiring of IDD candidates seems the next logical step in the workplace equity discussion. While almost all of the respondents said their organisation had “diversity hiring ambitions” where there was “near-ubiquitous familiarity with IDDs”, this hasn’t translated into a hiring uptake of IDD talent.

Changing perceptions on neurodiverse talent

While some organisations remain concerned about IDD candidates’ intellectual and cultural adaptability in the workplace, the report also reveals that sentiments are changing where more hiring managers said they would be “good for business.” This is seen in the fact that “concerns about disclosure and privacy issues” ranked low for organisations, suggesting they are more open to hiring IDD people.

Respondents agreed that IDD employees tend to be more loyal to an organisation, however, many also said they believed they needed more resources and support to be successful in hiring and managing them.

The report also found “near-ubiquitous interest in Creative Spirit across all size organisations”, including among “two-thirds of VP and higher-level hiring professionals.” Respondents said its offerings, including its candidate matching and employee training services, were what they needed to hire and retain this group. They also said these services bridged the lack of knowledge that had held them back before.

While the results of the report are certainly good for the future of Creative Spirit as a consulting business, it’s even better news for IDD people looking to get hired as it’s clearly not corporate prejudice holding them back from the workplace, but low confidence among businesses in terms of finding and supporting this group.

It’s clear that neurodiverse hires can bring a wealth of skills to an organisation. Still, employers must make an effort to educate themselves and create the supportive ecosystem IDD people need to prosper in their roles, just as they do or should be doing for other underrepresented groups in the workplace.


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