While diversity has rightly become a focus for employers, there are groups of potential candidates whose specific needs might get disregarded with the broad brush strokes taken by recruiters to eradicate discrimination and minimise adverse impact in recruitment processes.
One such group at particular risk are candidates with autistic spectrum conditions (ASCs). Note the terminology here and the avoidance of the term 'autism' – a term that that has become worryingly stereotyped and to an extent, stigmatised.
While all with a spectrum condition will share the dyad of impairments (issues with social communication and interaction, or restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities), that is where the extent of uniformity begins and ends.
Many individuals on the spectrum will demonstrate a combination of symptoms that are so unique that their condition remains unclassified. These may be cognitively high-functioning, who indeed are numerous within every walk of life and candidate pool. As potential employees, their strengths may be considerable, including but not exclusive to a strong aptitude for data work & analysis, high levels of compliance to organisational rules & procedures and unfettered independent thinking.
Paradoxically, all valuable skills that are actively sought in recruitment processes across numerous roles
While the needs of many may be met by the provision of additional time for online tests, others may find the format of some tests - for example, those involving analysis and the processing of information - insurmountable. Depending on individual candidate requirements, organisations must open their thoughts to alternative testing, or even exemptions.
It is a not inconsiderable challenge. While the process of identifying adjustments should - and must -be candidate-centric, the complexity and often singularity of conditions may preclude the application of off-the shelf adjustments that might otherwise be readily applied to groups of candidates falling into shared ‘pots’. Every case requires exhaustive and meticulous consideration and organisations are starting gear up admirably in order to do ASC candidates – and their own businesses - justice.
However, these earlier-stage adjustments are not the greatest concern for ASC candidates. While organisations may be widening their horizons in relation to reasonable adjustments for online tests and the embryonic stages of volume recruitment processes, the assessment of competencies that typically arise during the business end of the assessment process may see such positive steps wasted and defeat effectively snatched from the jaws of victory.
How many assessments have you designed that will focus on competencies such as communication or team working? What judgements or assessment would you make of a candidate who demonstrated a lack of eye contact during an interview, or who said little or demonstrated and inability to empathise during a group exercise?
While we have got stronger at identifying adjustments that enable candidates to take our tests, we have only just started to scratch the surface in addressing the means of testing that, by their very nature, exclude and marginalise.
While the candidates risk losing out on opportunities, recruiters are losing out on great talent.
Perhaps the time has come to fundamentally re-address our own dependence on competencies that derive from our social norms and start to look more at strengths and potential.
We may even then stand a better chance of capturing the best talent to help to transform our organisations, rather than opting for the warmth of those who reassure us with their echo of our comfortable, tried-and-tested customs and practices.
After all, that is why we are looking to promote diversity.