Should you create jobs specifically for neurodiverse people?
This is a reasonable question. And one that often gets asked when an organisation is beginning to think about actively pursuing a broader diversity and talent agenda.
Are there roles that might better suit neurodiverse staff? In order to hire in, should new roles be created and carved out for them? What approach makes the most sense and will be more successful?
It is these questions that I’ll explore and offer some thoughts on in this article. I want to remove some of the uncertainty here and make it easier for you to start hiring neurodiverse candidates.
Begin with Why
Just a Simon Sinek outlines in his book, “Start with Why”, your team, colleagues and the people you’re looking to hire will be more engaged and bought into your “What” ie, hiring neurodiverse people when your “Why” is clearly articulated.
Also understanding why it’s important to you to hire neurodiverse people will help make it clearer where in your organisation there are aligned opportunities. Whether it’s skills shortages, the need for particular capabilities or where there are teams and managers who can provide the right environment for success, there will be some pockets of your business that will be easier to start than others.
A view on equality and dedicated roles
The question of whether you should create roles that will be dedicated to neurodiverse staff is directly related to your perspective on equality and inclusion.
You may have come across a version of these images before.
The principle here is in the left image, the people are treated equally, ie given the same job in the organisation. For some this may work out well and for others, not so well. This is where many organisations start out, expecting everyone to perform under the same conditions in the same roles without any allowances.
In the middle image adjustments have been made to the role and the person’s environment to allow them to perform the same role in the same way in the same environment as their peers. Reasonable adjustments have been incorporated for the ‘disadvantaged’ employees allowing them to otherwise operate in the same role and under the same circumstances.
The right hand image would represent where the roles being performed by each person have been redesigned and the barriers that were holding them back have been removed.
In the last example it’s less about fitting people to roles and more about fitting roles to people.
So when you think about having dedicated roles, you’re already starting to think about the middle and right hand side of this equation. There is a how you go about doing that which you’ll want to also explore.
So where to start?
When beginning to hire neurodiverse staff, my advice to clients is look at where you can create an intersection of interest and relevance.
Interest being where there is a manager or team leader who is supportive of the initiative and who has the qualities that will enable them to be successful. These qualities being characteristics such as:
an openness to learning
Relevance for me relates to where there is either a compelling business need, ie a requirement for specific skills sets or capabilities that could really harness the typical attributes a neurodiverse person may bring to the role. Or alternatively where there is an immediate resourcing need.
I don’t believe you need to go out of your way to create these opportunities either. How often in the course of your business do you find there is a resource gap due to either team expansion or someone moving on? Equally, there will often be times where there would be real benefit in having someone who can bring that something extra to a given team in terms of achieving team and organisational goals.
Neither do you need to necessarily find a large number of roles. I firmly believe you can be just as successful (if not more so) recruiting roles one at a time as they arise than if you found or created a volume of roles and filled them with neurodiverse candidates in one stroke.
Catering roles to individuals
It’s certainly not essential to alter an existing role, or create all new roles in order to be successful at hiring neurodiverse staff.
By starting with the business need first, your recruitment efforts will be focused on finding those people who are more likely able to help resolve that problem. By beginning the other way around you may find yourself trying to establish roles to suit people (either individually or in groups) and justify the exercise. This may end up being a little more artificial overall.
Having begun with the a business need and finding people with the skills, aptitude and capabilities that will drive success any changes to roles will more likely be refinements around the edges rather than wholesale changes.
As you recruit people and get to understand their working styles and preferences, particular skills and strengths you can then take stock of the work that exists across their team and look at how that work can be rebalanced or redistributed to allow all teams members to play to their strengths as much as possible.
The environmental and process changes, such as working hours, seating arrangements or adjustments for sensory sensitivities can all be worked in regardless of your approach. They don’t need to be part of your decision process when it comes to creating or defining roles for neurodiverse team members.
There is another factor you’ll want to consider if you do go down the path of creating dedicated roles specifically for neurodiverse staff. That is, career development.
Just like any other employee, expect your neurodiverse staff members to have aspirations and a desire for growth. Will a highly tailored approach to creating roles for them make it harder for you when it comes to finding their next internal opportunity?
Is the approach that you’re considering repeatable? Who else is required to support that each time a neurodiverse person wishes to change roles? Will it support their movement into managerial positions or are you creating an environment that wont effectively support their development and growth?
Creating and defining roles and having a development approach that is fundamentally consistent across all your employees will help to increase overall inclusion of neurodiverse staff members. It will also reduce any potential future complexity when it comes to their personal and career development.
Whilst I don’t believe it’s important that you create specific or dedicated roles for when you wish to start hiring neurodiverse staff. I do believe it’s important that you take a considered and thoughtful approach to where and how you recruit them.
Understand that neurodiverse team members have the same underlying needs and desires as the rest of your employees and ensure that you not only create an environment that supports them on day one but also every day thereafter. In doing so you’ll make it both easier to integrate them into your existing teams, but also provide smoother pathways for their future career growth.