Busting 5 prevailing myths about neurodiversity in the workplace


To mark this year’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week, here are some common misconceptions about neurodivergent employees and tips for HR to harness the potential of this cohort. 

As a long-time neurodiversity advocate, and someone who’s spent time with HR managers and executive leaders from almost every industry, I’ve seen countless organisations place neurodiverse recruitment in the ‘too hard’ or ‘not for us’ basket based on simple misconceptions.

In reality, the evidence is stacking up on the benefits of cognitively diverse teams. Studies indicate diverse teams see higher productivity, make better business decisions, and are more innovative. Add to this, data estimates around 15-20 per cent of the world’s population exhibits some form of neurodivergence, meaning those hesitant to hire neurodivergent candidates are also missing out on a significant chunk of the potential workforce.

Major global companies such as Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and IBM are already leading the way with neurodiversity hiring initiatives, but common myths continue to derail the broader conversation when it comes to bringing neurodivergent talent into the workplace. 

Below, we debunk five of the most common myths about neurodivergent employees.

Myth 1: Accommodating for neurodiversity in hiring practices is creating an unfair advantage

Traditional hiring practices – including job descriptions with strict ‘must-have’ requirements and formal interview formats – can be challenging for some neurodivergent candidates to navigate. But simple accommodations, such as sending interview questions to a candidate beforehand, can enable neurodivergent individuals to arrive better prepared and demonstrate the full suite of their expertise. 

This is  a way to provide equity to neurodivergent candidates who face far higher unemployment rates than neurotypical individuals. By adopting a more inclusive hiring process, you’re creating a fairer starting point for these candidates and ensuring a level playing field. 

Myth 2: Accommodating neurodivergent employees is costly and disruptive

Many employers believe that making accommodations for neurodivergent candidates in the workplace will be expensive and disruptive to other employees. In reality, many accommodations are simple, cost-effective, and can be of benefit to all employees. 

For example, flexible working hours, quiet workspaces, providing written meeting notes and agendas, and the option to work remotely can enhance productivity and job satisfaction for everyone. In fact, investing in these accommodations has been associated with improved employee wellbeing and reduced exhaustion, burnout and fatigue. 

Accommodating differences in the workplace isn’t something specific to neurodivergent individuals – it’s just good people management. 

Myth 3: Neurodivergent people are only suited to tech roles

While I have a vested interest in encouraging neurodivergent people to consider roles in tech because of my role at WithYouWithMe, this certainly isn’t the only field their skills and abilities are suited for. 

Neurodiversity covers such a broad spectrum of experiences and abilities that there are neurodivergent candidates well-suited to every type of role. In fact, chances are, you already have several neurodivergent team members succeeding across all your business functions. 

“Instead of thinking about why you shouldn’t hire neurodivergent candidates, consider what your business could gain if you did.” – Ian Handley, VP of Oceania at WithYouWithMe

Myth 4: “We just don’t have any neurodivergent candidates coming through our pipeline”

This is something I hear a lot from hiring managers, and while it can be true in some instances, there are several factors that may explain why:

  1. You do have neurodivergent candidates, you just don’t know it. As with any form of socio-cultural differences or disabilities, individuals don’t have to self-declare, and many don’t want to for fear of stereotyping. Others simply don’t see it as a defining factor of who they are.
  2. Your job advertisements outline rigid ‘must-have’ role requirements such as educational credentials, past job titles and years of experience. Some neurodivergent people tend to think in black and white – meaning if there’s one requirement of the role they don’t specifically meet, they won’t apply.
  3. You have a lack of visibility around your inclusivity efforts. Unless you clearly communicate that you welcome neurodivergent candidates and are eager for them to apply, people may assume the working environment is not welcoming, supportive or able to accommodate their needs. Sometimes you need to invite people to take a seat at the table. 

Myth 5: Hiring neurodivergent individuals will lead to cultural misalignment in the team

Many people are apprehensive about broaching certain topics like neurodiversity or disability in the workplace and worry about saying the ‘wrong’ thing. While this apprehension is well-meaning, it doesn’t foster a culture of inclusivity. Rather, it leads to hesitancy around embracing differences and a perception that those differences will somehow change the culture of an existing team and lead to misalignment between old and new members. 

In reality, building a strong organisational culture is not about increasing uniformity, but instead about embracing the variations and fostering an environment where all team members feel valued, supported and encouraged to share their ideas. Especially in the fast-paced business environment we find ourselves in today, innovation and outside-the-box thinking is critical, and history has shown it doesn’t come from maintaining conformity. 

As businesses strive to navigate a competitive recruitment landscape and a growing lack of digital skills in the market, it’s time for a shift in mindset away from screening people out for their differences and instead seeing those differences as opportunities. 

So instead of thinking about why you shouldn’t hire neurodivergent candidates, consider  what your business could gain if you did. 

Ian Handley is Vice President of Oceania at WithYouWithMe, an Australian social impact tech organisation. In his role, he works alongside leading Australian organisations in defence, government and industry to implement skills-based hiring, enable internal talent mobility, and diversify workforces.

Ian is a neurodiversity advocate and change management leader with a technical background in training management, design and delivery, across 15 years in the defence, government and technology sectors.


Need support enhancing your HR capabilities? Take AHRI’s capabilities analysis test to learn where you can enhance your skill set and receive a personalised report outlining what your AHRI learning journey could look like. Learn more here.


 

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Fiona Krautil
Fiona Krautil
30 days ago

Thanks for sharing. Great article It’s so important we as HR professionals challenge these myths leading with these practical actions.

Pete Greenaway
Pete Greenaway
30 days ago

Perhaps one of the biggest barriers are those who still consider neurodivergence a disability. Unfortunately, when attempting to demonstrate that neurodivergent individuals face higher unemployment rates, this article links to an ABS report on Disability. Yet I couldn’t find any stat’s in the report specifically relating to neurodiversity. By equating Neurodivergence with Disability, this article is demonstrating the very attitudes they are attempting to rectify.

Anonymous
Anonymous
24 days ago

This article may be hurtful and/or triggering to read for those with neurodiversity. Having to read the assumptions and prejudices that people hold such as “accommodating neurodivergent employees is costly and disruptive” or “Neurodivergent people are only suited to tech roles” might be a bias that a neurodivergent person wasn’t aware that people held against them or an internalised belief that they are working hard to unlearn. It could not only be re-traumatising to read these myths but reinforce an internalised bias. Perhaps trigger warnings could be considered at the beginning of the article to warn those reading about the… Read more »

More on HRM

Busting 5 prevailing myths about neurodiversity in the workplace


To mark this year’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week, here are some common misconceptions about neurodivergent employees and tips for HR to harness the potential of this cohort. 

As a long-time neurodiversity advocate, and someone who’s spent time with HR managers and executive leaders from almost every industry, I’ve seen countless organisations place neurodiverse recruitment in the ‘too hard’ or ‘not for us’ basket based on simple misconceptions.

In reality, the evidence is stacking up on the benefits of cognitively diverse teams. Studies indicate diverse teams see higher productivity, make better business decisions, and are more innovative. Add to this, data estimates around 15-20 per cent of the world’s population exhibits some form of neurodivergence, meaning those hesitant to hire neurodivergent candidates are also missing out on a significant chunk of the potential workforce.

Major global companies such as Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and IBM are already leading the way with neurodiversity hiring initiatives, but common myths continue to derail the broader conversation when it comes to bringing neurodivergent talent into the workplace. 

Below, we debunk five of the most common myths about neurodivergent employees.

Myth 1: Accommodating for neurodiversity in hiring practices is creating an unfair advantage

Traditional hiring practices – including job descriptions with strict ‘must-have’ requirements and formal interview formats – can be challenging for some neurodivergent candidates to navigate. But simple accommodations, such as sending interview questions to a candidate beforehand, can enable neurodivergent individuals to arrive better prepared and demonstrate the full suite of their expertise. 

This is  a way to provide equity to neurodivergent candidates who face far higher unemployment rates than neurotypical individuals. By adopting a more inclusive hiring process, you’re creating a fairer starting point for these candidates and ensuring a level playing field. 

Myth 2: Accommodating neurodivergent employees is costly and disruptive

Many employers believe that making accommodations for neurodivergent candidates in the workplace will be expensive and disruptive to other employees. In reality, many accommodations are simple, cost-effective, and can be of benefit to all employees. 

For example, flexible working hours, quiet workspaces, providing written meeting notes and agendas, and the option to work remotely can enhance productivity and job satisfaction for everyone. In fact, investing in these accommodations has been associated with improved employee wellbeing and reduced exhaustion, burnout and fatigue. 

Accommodating differences in the workplace isn’t something specific to neurodivergent individuals – it’s just good people management. 

Myth 3: Neurodivergent people are only suited to tech roles

While I have a vested interest in encouraging neurodivergent people to consider roles in tech because of my role at WithYouWithMe, this certainly isn’t the only field their skills and abilities are suited for. 

Neurodiversity covers such a broad spectrum of experiences and abilities that there are neurodivergent candidates well-suited to every type of role. In fact, chances are, you already have several neurodivergent team members succeeding across all your business functions. 

“Instead of thinking about why you shouldn’t hire neurodivergent candidates, consider what your business could gain if you did.” – Ian Handley, VP of Oceania at WithYouWithMe

Myth 4: “We just don’t have any neurodivergent candidates coming through our pipeline”

This is something I hear a lot from hiring managers, and while it can be true in some instances, there are several factors that may explain why:

  1. You do have neurodivergent candidates, you just don’t know it. As with any form of socio-cultural differences or disabilities, individuals don’t have to self-declare, and many don’t want to for fear of stereotyping. Others simply don’t see it as a defining factor of who they are.
  2. Your job advertisements outline rigid ‘must-have’ role requirements such as educational credentials, past job titles and years of experience. Some neurodivergent people tend to think in black and white – meaning if there’s one requirement of the role they don’t specifically meet, they won’t apply.
  3. You have a lack of visibility around your inclusivity efforts. Unless you clearly communicate that you welcome neurodivergent candidates and are eager for them to apply, people may assume the working environment is not welcoming, supportive or able to accommodate their needs. Sometimes you need to invite people to take a seat at the table. 

Myth 5: Hiring neurodivergent individuals will lead to cultural misalignment in the team

Many people are apprehensive about broaching certain topics like neurodiversity or disability in the workplace and worry about saying the ‘wrong’ thing. While this apprehension is well-meaning, it doesn’t foster a culture of inclusivity. Rather, it leads to hesitancy around embracing differences and a perception that those differences will somehow change the culture of an existing team and lead to misalignment between old and new members. 

In reality, building a strong organisational culture is not about increasing uniformity, but instead about embracing the variations and fostering an environment where all team members feel valued, supported and encouraged to share their ideas. Especially in the fast-paced business environment we find ourselves in today, innovation and outside-the-box thinking is critical, and history has shown it doesn’t come from maintaining conformity. 

As businesses strive to navigate a competitive recruitment landscape and a growing lack of digital skills in the market, it’s time for a shift in mindset away from screening people out for their differences and instead seeing those differences as opportunities. 

So instead of thinking about why you shouldn’t hire neurodivergent candidates, consider  what your business could gain if you did. 

Ian Handley is Vice President of Oceania at WithYouWithMe, an Australian social impact tech organisation. In his role, he works alongside leading Australian organisations in defence, government and industry to implement skills-based hiring, enable internal talent mobility, and diversify workforces.

Ian is a neurodiversity advocate and change management leader with a technical background in training management, design and delivery, across 15 years in the defence, government and technology sectors.


Need support enhancing your HR capabilities? Take AHRI’s capabilities analysis test to learn where you can enhance your skill set and receive a personalised report outlining what your AHRI learning journey could look like. Learn more here.


 

Subscribe to receive comments
Notify me of
guest

5 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Fiona Krautil
Fiona Krautil
30 days ago

Thanks for sharing. Great article It’s so important we as HR professionals challenge these myths leading with these practical actions.

Pete Greenaway
Pete Greenaway
30 days ago

Perhaps one of the biggest barriers are those who still consider neurodivergence a disability. Unfortunately, when attempting to demonstrate that neurodivergent individuals face higher unemployment rates, this article links to an ABS report on Disability. Yet I couldn’t find any stat’s in the report specifically relating to neurodiversity. By equating Neurodivergence with Disability, this article is demonstrating the very attitudes they are attempting to rectify.

Anonymous
Anonymous
24 days ago

This article may be hurtful and/or triggering to read for those with neurodiversity. Having to read the assumptions and prejudices that people hold such as “accommodating neurodivergent employees is costly and disruptive” or “Neurodivergent people are only suited to tech roles” might be a bias that a neurodivergent person wasn’t aware that people held against them or an internalised belief that they are working hard to unlearn. It could not only be re-traumatising to read these myths but reinforce an internalised bias. Perhaps trigger warnings could be considered at the beginning of the article to warn those reading about the… Read more »

More on HRM