11 June 2024

Cybill Watkins MCIPP, product legislation manager, Zellis, reminds organisations how to ensure they’re being neuroinclusive at all stages of an employee’s life cycle. This issue, we’re looking specifically at job adverts

Welcome to the first article in a series on the topic of neurodiversity, which expands on my feature in the September 2023 issue of Professional. Before we dive in, just a recap on me. I was diagnosed as having combined type attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and as being on the autistic spectrum, with Aspergers, at the tender age of 46. I have spent much of my working life in payroll and human resources, and I’m one of the many who ‘fell’ into payroll after starting accountant qualifications (which I quit, along with every other exam in my younger years).

I found that many of my strengths could help me to succeed in the payroll industry, but my struggles meant I didn’t ever fit in or settle (and I was generally seen as a disruption, incapable, with insufficient experience or just not the right fit for the company). As soon as I felt I was failing, I would run. I live in fear and fear controls your actions, no matter what anyone says. But these days the fear doesn’t hurt so much, and I’m able to have some sense of control when I have the right support. The fear was also a major strength which meant I became a bit of a legislation geek, absorbed in reading up on and understanding legislative changes. (Yes, I loved it when furlough came in; I loaded everything onto my Kindle and spent nights awake learning and breaking it down into more understandable wording.) I have found my perfect little niche in not only the amazing world of payroll off the main career track, but also in being able to share my story and every aspect of neurodiversity I have learnt through my own working experiences and alongside so many external groups and businesses.


Let’s go back to the very start: the job advert stage

In this article, I want to consider the very beginning of an employee’s life cycle – the job advert stage. You see so many recruiters increasingly relying on technology to help with the preliminary shortlist for job vacancies, which will scan the applications for trigger words and exact-fit criteria. But this can be discriminatory as the technology doesn’t recognise that the individual has dyslexia or communication challenges, meaning their application is riddled with spelling and grammar errors, for example. Or that they have a CV which spans multiple pages because previous employers haven’t supported them to become a valued member of the team, as they’ve struggled to form relationships due to their autism. The technology also can’t appreciate that the applicant with ADHD gets bored easily and won’t thrive in a role which is exactly the same each day. These are all things for an organisation to consider when advertising a job vacancy.

How many of you have seen or written a job description, and noticed the layout is the same across multiple employers? There’s usually a list of requirements noted as being essential, followed up by a set of ‘desirable’ skills. Let’s look at that from a neurodivergent angle. So, you have essential, which can often include the number of years of experience required. Here’s our first hurdle. How can you state that with three years’ experience (for example), that a person would be proficient at processing your company’s payroll, as all payrolls are different? You may be missing out on the most amazing person who has one month less (or even a year) than the stipulated three years, but who has technical knowledge surpassing someone who has been in one role for a period of ten years. Someone like me wouldn’t apply for that role if they had one day less experience as they wouldn’t be able to tick that box completely honestly. I also suggest getting rid of ‘desirable’ skills if you wish to try and be more inclusive. Many neurodivergent people won’t apply for a job if they don’t feel they possess every single one of these desirable skills listed on the job advertisement.

Let’s consider the number of jobs an applicant has had. I remember only ten years or so ago, I was told that most employers wouldn’t even read a CV which had more than a certain number of jobs listed, as this indicated the applicant wasn’t dedicated and couldn’t hold a job down. Thank goodness I had missed most of my work history off my CV back at that time! There you have an example of automatic discrimination against the job applicant. Can I help it that my ADHD meant I got bored, and I didn’t find the right amount of stimulation? Or even just the right environment? Or that my autistic traits got me into trouble and my flight mode was triggered, so I ran away from roles to avoid confrontation or criticism? Or, more importantly, that these employers weren’t supportive of neurodivergent people and made no attempt to give any help and support (never mind reasonable adjustments) to help me survive? When I hit burnout, I would leave rather than deal with the issues causing it. Looking back now with the knowledge I have gained on my traits, I wasn’t the cause of the burnout; it was the environment I was in. A simple way of summarising what I’ve just written is to just say, ‘don’t judge what you cannot see’.

These old-style job descriptions should be binned, in my opinion. How about listing the essential criteria, but also providing a paragraph on what the role really entails? The applicant can then match their skills to ‘a day in the life of’ type description, rather than battling to match all essential and desirable criteria.

When I was recently on LinkedIn, I wondered how many neurodiverse people employers are losing out on if they can see how many applications have been submitted on job adverts hosted on the platform. If I saw a job had 50 applications, I wouldn’t apply as I would ask myself why they would want me.

Personally, I’d want to speak to the hiring manager of a role before even considering applying, to actually get an understanding of the real job. And because I wouldn’t put myself through the stress of applying and interviewing if I didn’t think my potential manager would be the right fit for me and my quirks. I know my CV doesn’t read the best, so I think if the manager could see my dedication, loyalty, drive and enthusiasm by speaking to me prior to the interview stage, they might just take a chance on me.


A final thought

Did you know an employer can be taken to tribunal for not making reasonable adjustments at the application stage? So, due care and attention needs to be given to this process to avoid scenarios like this arising.

A final parting thought; why would you need an applicant to fill in complex online pages for roles which are more manual in nature? I once went to apply for a store assistant role and they wanted me to complete multiple scenario-based questions which had no relevance to the job being described. I didn’t complete the application and they lost out on a loyal, hard-working person who possessed both the essential and desirable skills requested. Just something to think about next time you’re advertising your latest job vacancy. 


This article featured in the July - August 2024 issue of Professional.