Recognising neurodiversity – How good at diversity are you really?

Ian Iceton shares his view on neurodiversity and how you can improve your organisational approach. Ian is speaking at the CIPD Behavioural Science at Work Conference and Workshop, 2-3 October in London. Book your ticket today.

What can we learn from the challenges of recruiting adults on the Autism spectrum?

It is estimated that there are over half a million people on the Autism spectrum in the UK, and of these over 85% are believed to be unemployed or severely under-employed. Furthermore, the level of neurodiversity diagnosis is increasing rapidly as there has become a greater awareness and acceptance, and a larger preparedness for people to self-diagnose and self-declare. My proposition is that many organisations are ill-prepared for this, but that there are some emerging examples of good practice which we can all learn from, and that actually in responding to this challenge we will improve our whole approach to employee engagement across the organisation.

Is equality inclusive?

The HR community has spent the last few decades preaching the message that diversity is crucial in business, that fairness and morality requires us to design every process and every policy to treat candidates and employees equally, with reasonable adjustments wherever practical, and that business benefits will follow from this approach. In a world with growing numbers of skills gaps, and a desire for candidates and employees with creativity and innovation potential, it is even more critical that these policies and processes enable people who meet these criteria to join and succeed in organisations – and yet the evidence is that we are doing the exact opposite with a key talent group that are severely under represented in the current workforce.

Challenges faced

For individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), finding work isn’t just about employment. It is a crucial element of achieving social inclusion, providing personal status and identity that is often missing from their lives. The challenges in finding work start with not receiving adequate career guidance whilst in education. Then the interview process itself is almost always undertaken in a way that maximise the difficulties for ASD individuals, many of whom may be reluctant to declare a condition that they perceive might prejudice their chances.

In my structured review of all the existing work in this area, undertaken as part of my DBA Doctoral research at Cranfield University, I have found that line managers and co-workers have been shown to make assumptions about adults with ASD and are susceptible to a range of biases. Selection processes that comprise primarily interviews only, that involve social interaction, inter personal skills, and picking up nuance and subtly in a strange environment, are all extremely difficult and stressful for ASD candidates.

Options for accommodations in the selection process include:

  • doing the first interview by phone
  • sending a copy of the likely interview questions in advance
  • setting interviews at times that minimises logistical and travelling difficulties

What is also clear is that the use of language in this space is extremely sensitive. Some on the spectrum are not prepared to consider ASD as a disability but rather just a difference of approach or a set of skills, and that so-called neurotypicals are the ones with communication difficulties because they don’t say what they exactly mean, don’t give specific enough instructions, get too upset when they receive direct and honest feedback from the ASD worker, and are prone to the use of metaphor and assumptions.


This is an extremely fertile area of current research, discussion and debate. Emergent good practice already exists but many more organisations, and their HR functions specifically, could look to do more in this area. It is a genuine opportunity to increase talent in your organisation and improve business performance – why wouldn’t you want that?

Ian Iceton is presenting ‘Increasing neurodiversity in recruitment for competitive advantage’ at the CIPD Behavioural Science at Work Conference and Workshop, 2-3 October in London. Book your ticket today.