Workplace diversity begins with hiring diversity. As a company that hires a lot of tech experts, Averro is proud to be on the front lines of building up a more diverse workforce. While there’s been a lot of attention on diversity of gender and race, neurodiversity is equally important and less understood. April is Autism Acceptance Month, and given how many autistic people* excel in the technical roles we hire for, we’d like to share strategies to make the hiring process more inclusive for people with ASD—and, by extension, for everyone.
There are several parts of the traditional hiring process that can create barriers to autistic individuals:
You may have noticed that these friction points actually apply to a lot of other people, neurodiverse or not. So how can we alter the hiring process to be inclusive, informative, and fair to everyone who walks through the door? Here are four strategies:
1. Reduce uncertainty in the interview process.
Interviewing makes everyone anxious. You have to do your best in front of a group of strangers, and how you act and respond can get you or cost you the job. For autistic people, uncertainty in general can be anxiety-inducing, so to accurately assess a candidate’s skills, make your interviews less uncertain. Providing interview questions in advance means you’ll get smooth, thorough answers. Letting them know how the interview will go (with an agenda, names of who they’ll meet with, and a picture of the room, for example) will help make your candidate both more comfortable and more prepared.
2. Communicate clearly and respect communication differences.
Autistic people communicate differently from neurotypical people and can come across as direct, blunt, or even rude. Vague phrases or metaphors may be confusing and distract the candidate, and oblique questions like “Tell me about yourself” (when what you really want to know is, “Tell me the highlights of your career that are relevant to this job”) may not get the answer you’re looking for.
To avoid miscommunication, speak plainly and be clear about what you need to know to understand if the candidate will excel at the job. Additionally, be mindful of body language or social norms that people with autism may not follow, like not returning a handshake, avoiding eye contact, or reacting to changes in tone of voice. Remember that these differences of communication aren’t detriments to a candidate’s ability to do the job—it’s a gift to develop a work culture where people communicate honestly and directly—and emphasize hiring based on the strength of their work, not how much you’d like to get a beer with them.
3. Create a comfortable environment.
To get the best results from your interviews, be aware of what environmental factors can overload someone with autism’s senses. Sensory overload can be triggered by a number of factors, such as flickering lights, a prolonged sound that others can block out, or even smells. We recommend having your interview room assessed and altered accordingly so that you have done the best you can to create a space for inclusive interviews.
In addition to adjusting how we hire, broadening how we work and where we work can help make a business more inclusive. Virtual work has been helpful for neurodiverse people who prefer to talk online than face-to-face, and it allows them to create a consistent work environment. With much of the workforce hoping to remain remote, this is a major opportunity for businesses to not only broaden their hiring processes to improve diversity and inclusion, but also broaden the pool of talent available to them.
Why is it important to have an inclusive hiring process?
There’s often friction when it comes to changing such an important part of the company, with people worrying that new systems will accommodate some at the risk of missing out on other excellent candidates. But creating a less uncertain, more comfortable hiring environment where people communicate clearly and assess people based on their skills…that’s the kind of interview process we all dream of. Inclusive hiring practices won’t reduce the quality of candidates that make it through—they’ll widen the net to bring in the best candidates from all walks of life.
Bottom line: Creating a work environment that’s welcoming to autistic people improves the culture of a business - not only for neurodiverse people, but for everyone in your office.
* Note: In this article, we use identity-first language (e.g. "autistic people" instead of "people with autism") per the recommendation of the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, a non-profit organization run by and for autistic people.