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Uptimize founder Ed Thompson shares insights for hiring from a neurodiverse talent pool

Business · 4 min read

6 ways to help your business recruit and retain neurodiverse talent

Uptimize is an organization that helps corporations attract and leverage neurodiverse talent. It was founded by Ed Thompson, an Oxford alumnus who previously founded the successful Tech City Stars apprenticeships program to help organizations attract, hire and retain neurodiverse talent. We spoke to him about why hiring from a talent pool that includes neurodiverse people is good for business.

1. How can businesses go about attracting more neurodiverse employees?

Firstly, companies need to carefully consider the skills needed for a role – and make sure these are then reflected in clear job descriptions. Don’t just re-use the same job specification template that you have on file – and make sure that you have made what you really need explicit, which skills are ‘must haves’ and which skills are just ‘nice to haves’. Use simple language. And you should think about mentioning that you welcome neurodiverse applicants in the initial job descriptions too.

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2. What adjustments should the HR team make?

It’s a combination of making both strategic and tactical adjustments. Let’s say we’re talking about a manager who has some responsibilities for recruiting new team members. That manager will ordinarily use the recruitment process already embedded in the company. So, the manager isn’t recruiting particularly strategically – it’s not likely that they’ll say, “Look, I think we should just recruit in a totally different way.” But it is likely that they’ll be the person to write a job description, to communicate with candidates and review different types of assessment.

The tactical adjustments include re-writing the job profiles to make them more accessible to neurodivergent people and then also adapting the interview process. There are a whole lot of things you can do in an interview to be more empathetic and avoid punishing unusual body language or lack of eye contact. You should try not to make an immediate, emotional decision based on social rapport, but to try to use an interview to dig out the specifics of somebody’s experience and skills and marry that up to the more deliberate job description that you put together.

The strategic side comes with more holistic consideration of, for example, a hiring process. Are we doing enough to combat unconscious bias? Have we ensured that all elements of the process, from application forms to psychometric tests, have been road-tested by neurodivergent people for inclusivity? And are we using the right mix of interviews and practical assessments, and putting the right weighting on each in our decision making?

HR Directors: think about adjusting your hiring processes, and the soft skills that your employees deploy within them, to be more inclusive. Then, you can actually hire people more effectively, which then means you can avoid losing people with neurodivergent qualities through the hiring process.

3. On embedding a more neurodiversity-friendly culture

Boosting your company’s culture should always be a combination of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’. When approaching things from the top down, you have to take steps to demonstrate that there is leadership, commitment, interest and resource backing this. That’s the first thing. So, sometimes we start with training the senior people, to make sure they are equipped to lead in this way.

Then, it’s also bottom up – and we teach people how to apply professional empathy at the co-worker level. One thing that we do a lot of, is use the interviews we’ve done with our focus groups in our training. So, we’re literally taking out the middleman and showing managers videos of people who have had good or bad management experiences, and who are themselves neurodivergent. We’ve found that’s an amazing way to build empathy and in a relevant way.

4. How can pro-neurodiverse initiatives benefit the bottom line? 

Although its early and data is still quite atomized, we are already starting to see a proven business case for neurodiversity at work. For example. JPMorgan Chase has found teams that are more deliberately neurodiverse – in their case, including hires from their 'Autism at Work' program – have been as much as 50% more productive in comparative studies. We’re also starting to see the team-level impact of cognitive diversity on innovation and creativity – some hires from these programs have even filed patents, and one manager from DXC Technology’s Dandelion program described their autistic professionals as already benefiting the organization: "They’ve actually helped sharpen up some of the thought processes amongst the teams."

We’ve seen clients successfully identify and remove roadblocks to this talent too. For example, Microsoft has found that around half of the hires they made in their neurodiversity initiative had previously applied to the firm, and not been successful – evidence that what had been a boulder in the road for this demographic has now successfully been addressed. And retention has been great too – over 80% at Deutsche Bank and over 90% at DXC Technology, both surpassing averages for typical graduate recruitment. 

5. On joining the wider equality, inclusivity and diversity debate

There’s been a big change in the last five to 10 years, where diversity as a whole has gone from a CSR initiative to a business imperative. These days, if you read the annual reports of Fortune 500 organizations, they are now stating inclusivity and diversity as absolutely key business priorities, so it’s no shock to see neurodiversity jumping to the front of that queue.

6. On raising general awareness of neurodiversity

Ask yourself, “How can I modify my interactions, so that can I work in a team in a way that is more inclusive?” Which means that people shouldn’t just assume that everybody wants to communicate in the same way as them and that everybody wants to organize their work in the same way. That sort of empathy building needs to come from the bottom and then if you get those things right, you’re in a position to demonstrate commitment from the top.

Ed Thompson, in conversation with Discover DHL
Ed Thompson, in conversation with Discover DHL Uptimize founder

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