Diane Lightfoot: Recruiting and retaining diverse talent requires different thinking

The recent Recruitment and Employment Confederation survey, Labour and skills shortages, published September 2021, found that labour and skills shortages are the key issues currently facing recruiters. The impact on lower-paid industries such as hospitality, construction, transport and social care has been well reported. But it is expected that higher-paying industries, including finance and IT, will also be affected.

While general employment levels are high, the percentage of disabled people and people with neurodiverse conditions in work remains low. This includes people with dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD and autism. Taking autism as an example, only 16% of the 700,000 adults in the UK with autism are in full-time work. This is despite research reported in the Harvard Business Review article, Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage, in May 2017, showing that neurodiverse teams can be up to 30% more productive that non-neurodiverse teams.

So why are employers not reaping the benefits? Often, it is a case of employers needing to think differently. If they want to attract a broader range of talent then using the same old recruitment processes will not work. Employers need to consider the roles they need to fill. Do they really need someone with three years’ experience or a particular qualification? Similarly, is a traditional panel interview or a written test the best way to assess a candidate’s suitability for the role? A candidate with autism may find the interview scenario confusing and stressful but perform well in the test. The dyslexic candidate may thrive in the interview but struggle with the test. Both may excel if given the chance to show their skills in a work trial.

Managers need to be ready to discuss and put in place adjustments for people with neurodiverse conditions, not only during the recruitment process, but also at onboarding and beyond. To do this, managers need a good understanding of their organisations workplace adjustments process and know the adjustments available. Business Disability Forum’s Great big workplace adjustments survey, published in 2019, found that flexible working or adjusted hours, assistive IT, and working from home were the adjustments most commonly requested by people with neurodiverse conditions.

But it is important to remember that not everyone with a neurodiverse condition will have a formal diagnosis or even realise they have a condition. Managers need to feel confident to offer support regardless and all staff need to feel welcomed and included. Leaders have key roles to play in creating organisational cultures that embrace and value difference.

If we are ready to think differently, then the current recruitment crisis could, in fact, be an opportunity.

Diane Lightfoot is CEO of Business Disability Forum