I was speaking to a talented peer the other day who'd recently had a job interview. Ever on the search for examples of neuro-affirming practices, I asked them about their experience.
They mentioned that their anxiety was high going to an unfamiliar place, and as a result, they found it tricky to answer the questions as well as they knew they could. I asked if they'd disclosed to the interviewers that they are Autistic, to which the answer was "yes". I then asked if they'd requested the questions ahead of time, and the answer was "no" they hadn't felt comfortable doing so.
I then reflected on my own most recent job interview with an incredibly values-aligned and psychologically safe organisation. They were aware that I'm neurodivergent and they provided a welcoming, kind, and friendly environment.
Prior to the interview, I considered asking for the interview questions and additional details about the process to help alleviate my anxiety, however, I decided I wouldn't. As a confident, self-aware neurodivergent professional who has the privilege of being able to safely disclose my neurotype, I still held back from asking for accommodations.
It's led to some soul-searching and this is what I've come up with:
1. There's part of me that still doesn't feel safe from an employee's perspective. While change is happening, it's still commonplace to hear throwaway, hurtful words, actions, and attitudes that are clearly sourced from harmful stereotypes.
The general conversation still has a way to go.
2. "I don't want to rock the boat" - this doesn't come up often for me anymore, but apparently it can still make an appearance! With a keen sense of justice, I've questioned things that seem wrong or unfair my whole life. In my younger years in school and employment, this was rebuffed and quietened.
Words from my manager over 20 years ago are still fresh for me:
"I don't pay you to think, I pay you to do your job and shut up."
When speaking to a potential employer, that mask of "shut up and do your job" seemed to slip back on.
3. Another surprising realisation was that, perhaps, this was my own internalised ableism. The personal narrative that resulted from years of masking before I learned of my neurotype and began stripping away that mask.
The message to myself was "I can't show difference" - not appreciating my energy ebbs and flows, my sensory profile, or environmental barriers.
How neuro-affirming employers can help
Many job postings these days include an invitation to candidates to request accommodations when needed, which is great to see.
But for some people, this can be daunting and anxiety-inducing.
May I suggest one step further?
Embed accommodations, where you can, into your standard interview process. These then become "how we do things here" rather than an out-of-the-norm or "othering" activity.
Depending on your business needs, actions could include:
provide the option of an online or face-to-face interview
a section on your Careers page that clearly outlines the interview process (video and transcript versions)
visuals of the location, entrance, and office space
the invitation to interview includes a link to the interview questions
consider the inherent requirements of the role and how a person can demonstrate competence, e.g. would a competency assessment, portfolio, or work trial be suitable?
These are just a few examples - throwing away the old way of doing things and involving employees or advocates with lived experience is a great first step!
Sydney-based Neurodiversity Media has some new articles on recent research in this space:
Autistics Outperform Neurotypicals on Written Interview Transcripts https://www.neurodiversitymedia.com/resource-library/autistic-neurotypical-written-transcript
How Employers Can Adapt Interview Questions for Autistic Jobseekers https://www.neurodiversitymedia.com/resource-library/employers-adapt-interview-questions
How Employers Should Respond to Accommodation Needs from Neurodivergent employees https://www.neurodiversitymedia.com/resource-library/employers-accommodations-respond