Graduate job hunting and neurodiversity: questions of disclosure and adjustments

Should you disclose a condition such as being on the autistic spectrum, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia or dyscalculia to employers? And, if you choose to, how best do you go about it?

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Focus on the skills and unique perspectives you can bring.

An increasing number of employers are keen to attract a neurodiverse workforce and to support employees and potential job applicants who have a range of conditions, including autism, Asperger Syndrome, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette Syndrome among others. And this isn’t about tokenism or special treatment – it is because switched-on employers are aware of the strengths that a diverse way of thinking brings to business and organisational performance.

This is something that Paula Humphry, EMEA campus recruiting diversity lead at J.P. Morgan and Lee Corless, Autism at Work programme lead UK & EMEA at JPMorgan Chase are clear on. ‘To continue to deliver value to our customers and innovate, we need to constantly come up with new and different ways of approaching problems. By having a neurodiverse group of employees we are able to think about things in numerous ways and get a number of different perspectives,’ they tell us. ‘But that’s not the whole story – we have conducted research into the skills of non-neurotypical employees and have found that this group generally has excellent analytical and numerical skills, and great attention to detail and focus. These are all qualities that we find very useful.’

Do you have to disclose your condition to an employer?

It is entirely up to you whether you inform an employer about being non-neurotypical – there is no legal obligation to disclose. However, if you choose to do so, changes can be made during the recruitment process and in the workplace in order to ensure you are assessed on a level playing field and that you can work at your best. ‘We would recommend you tell us,’ say Paula and Lee. ‘The only reason we want to know is so that we can offer the best and fairest experience during our recruitment, selection and internship processes. If we understand our candidates and their individual needs, we can make adjustments that allow them to really demonstrate what they can do.’

Does neurodivergence count as a disability under the Equality Act 2010?

Possibly. It is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 for an employee or job applicant to be subject to direct or indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation related to a disability and discrimination/unfavourable treatment arising from the disability itself. The act defines disability as ‘a physical or mental impairment’ that has ‘a substantial and long-term adverse effect’ on a person’s ‘ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. Some neurodivergent conditions meet the requirements of that definition, while others may not, depending on how the individual is affected.

If you do have a disability, an employer is legally required to make reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process and in the workplace to prevent you being at a disadvantage compared to a non-disabled employee (if an employer could be reasonably expected to know about the condition).

However, good employers should make reasonable adjustments for non-neurotypical employees (and any employee with particular needs), regardless of whether there is a legal obligation for them to do so.

Read our information on the Equality Act to find out about your legal rights .

How do you inform employers about your condition if you want to?

Usually there will be a question on an online application form asking whether you require reasonable adjustments. Alternatively, if you are applying via a CV and email, you could add a line to your CV or covering letter. We would always recommend being concise and factual about your condition and any additional needs.

You can inform recruiters later on in the recruitment process – before a face-to-face interview, for instance – if you prefer, but many employers will appreciate as much as time as possible to make any alternative arrangements.

‘Ideally candidates will tell us at the beginning of the application process, so that we can have a chat about what their needs are in advance and tailor the interview process accordingly,’ Paula and Lee say. ‘They can tell us about their condition on our application form and/or by contacting our campus recruiting team.’

If you choose to disclose within the workplace, usually the first point of contact should be your line manager or HR manager. However, at larger employers or at workplaces that have support structures in place to support neurodiversity there may be additional options.

‘At our organisation there are lots of different people to provide support,’ Paula and Lee say. ‘If someone joins as an intern for example, they will likely know their campus recruiting team quite well. They may feel most comfortable talking to them, but they might also consider discussing the matter with their line manager, the HR team or an individual in our Autism at Work programme. Our Autism at Work and diversity teams are very focused on promoting the available resources and on supporting managers so that they can direct their team members to the right place.’

‘Remember, different doesn’t mean difficult,’ they continue. ‘Sometimes it can feel awkward or tedious to have conversations about adjustments you may need or explaining how you do things differently to another person. However, you owe it to yourself to make sure that we know how to fairly assess you for a role and support you to achieve success. We actively want you to join us and thrive – it’s much easier if we can do that together.’

What are some of the reasonable adjustments that can be made?

The adjustments made to the recruitment process, the workplace or your working environment should be tailored to your needs and made in dialogue with you (although there is no legal obligation for you to suggest adjustments).

Your HR department or line manager should consult with you; they may also refer to experts. Some larger employers may have dedicated advisers or support staff to help. ‘We use the expertise of our healthcare advisers who, in consultation with the individual, may make recommendations to managers about adjustments that they can consider; managers can then work with the individual to set in place the most appropriate support,’ Paula and Lee tell us.

In law, what constitutes as ‘reasonable’ in relation to 'reasonable adjustments' will vary according to factors such as the employer’s size or the nature of the job. However, to give you a flavour what can be done…

Here are some of the adjustments that have been made to the recruitment process at organisations including GCHQ:

  • Providing application forms in different formats
  • Allowing the use of aids, equipment or software
  • Making adjustments to online tests, such as removing the timer, providing extra time or removing the need for them to be completed entirely and providing different equivalent assessments
  • In interviews, ensuring candidates aren’t being asked multiple questions in one or at the same time
  • In interviews, using a whiteboard or flipchart to ‘car park’ questions to return to later.

Here are some of the adjustments that have been made in and to workplaces:

  • Providing quiet places to work, away from distracting elements such as flickering lights
  • In a hot desk environment (where employees don’t have a permanent, allocated desk), ensuring you have a regular desk, removing the need to find a different place to work each day
  • Providing mind-mapping software
  • Providing voice to text/text to voice software
  • Providing noise-cancelling headphones
  • Providing on-screen reading rulers
  • Avoiding ambiguous or misleading communications, such as informally saying ‘I’ll be back in a minute’ when it could be 20 minutes
  • Where possible, a manager adjusting a person’s workload to minimise tasks that may be stressful
  • Offering different ways of working: for example, changes in working patterns, briefing in an effective manner (such as written and verbal) and more frequent one-to-one meetings.

Of course, some of these adjustments – such as briefing in the most effective way for the recipient – are good management practice for the entire team, not just for those with specific conditions.

It’s worth noting that large employers, which tend to have more resources for training, often provide specific training, guidance and support to managers, interviewers and (sometimes) other key team members to raise awareness of conditions (this is particularly the case with autism and Asperger Syndrome).

Apply your strengths

We asked Paula and Lee for advice for neurodivergent job seekers – and what strikes us is that it is the same as it would be for any job hunter: ‘Focus on the skills and unique perspectives you can bring, and then do some research into what the company does and how your skills could add value.’

Article created January 2020.

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