Professor Amanda Kirby, CEO of Do-IT Solutions., Campaigner for Neurodiversity, Medic, Knowledge Translator, researcher

Originally published as part of The Neurodiversity 101 LinkedIn Newsletter.

Neurodiversity and recruitment…

Computer maybe saying no!

Diverse teams represent a sign of a healthy company.

Mckinsey published a report in 2020 considering why diversity wins and inclusion matters. Their 2019 analysis founds that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile—up from 21 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2014

How can we ensure diversity in hiring and inclusive processes?

Do you remember the ‘Little Britain’ clips – Computer says no!

They made me laugh but they also made me think about how we recruit people and who may be excluded by this process.

What biases do we have when recruiting?

Sometimes we have biases that we don’t even know are there until we start considering them.

There are a number of potential biases that relate to hiring including gender,culture, age, affinity, similar attraction and…

Confirmation bias is the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs. This biased approach to decision making is largely unintentional and often results in ignoring some information.

Existing beliefs can include one’s expectations in a given situation and predictions about a particular outcome. People are especially likely to process information to support their own beliefs when the issue is highly important or self-relevant. You may be used to certain groups of people applying for your jobs and think that is what happens. However we don’t know who hasn’t applied and the reasons they don’t get the interview table.

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“Diverse teams represent a sign of a healthy company”

Biases we know about

Bias can creep in during all phases of recruitment.The challenge of using machines is that some algorithms run the risk of replicating and even amplifying human biases, particularly those affecting protected groups.Bias word in a mangnifying glass

Gender bias has been recognised in some of the algorithms such as one Amazon used. Because they recognised this they then scrapped one AI recruitment algorithm in 2018. The algorithm was taught to recognise word patterns in the resumes, rather than relevant skill sets. The data had been benchmarked against the company’s predominantly male engineering department to determine an applicant’s fit.

If your sample is biased to start with this will mean you continue to bake cookies that look like the ones in your organisation biscuit jar!

Turner Lee and colleagues wrote in 2019 about the challenge of some algorithms and described in one study about gender and cultural biases.

 “Princeton University researchers used off-the-shelf machine learning AI software to analyse and link 2.2 million words. They found that European names were perceived as more pleasant than those of African-Americans, and that the words “woman” and “girl” were more likely to be associated with the arts instead of science and math, which were most likely connected to males.”

Other organisations like IBM have been developing an algorithmic bias detection tool, using publicly available data. Facebook is launching an independent team that audits its algorithms to ensure they don’t discriminate against minority ethnic groups.  Gender bias checkers such as the free one or Textio have helped to check the words you are using and if they bias applicants. Examples of gender biases are words like “analyze” and “determine” which are typically more associated with male traits, while “collaborate” and “support” are considered to be more female. It also means avoiding more aggressive language like we want you to “crush it”!

Shortages of workers

There is a huge shortage in hospitality and tourism sectors where IT skills may not be essential to do the job but applying for the job requires IT Skills.

Applying for jobs has rules

It was interesting talking to a few colleagues and friends about what we thought you needed to do if you were applying for a new job. We thought essentially you needed to read the job description carefully, and then ensure you have an updated resume which shows you have the skills relevant for that post.

I really didn’t think too much (until I started to think about it!) about the many other skills you need not necessarily related to the job at all but that are part of the application process itself.

If you are moving from one sector to another you need to know how to write about your transferable skills. Someone who has been in one job for a while may have never be shown what this means and how to do it. I was talking to two people leaving police and the forces about this recently.

Applicant tracking system

Are Applicant Tracking System (ATS) always inclusive?

Many mid to large sized organisations will use an online applicant tracking system, or ATS.

What’s an ATS?

The ATS looks for certain keywords, experience and credentials and assigns your resume with a “match score”. Only resumes that rank as “strong matches” get to the next step in the process.

 Good resume building in readiness for this process requires several different skills to jump over this first hurdle (which may not relate to the actual job you are applying for):

  • Good search skills -understanding key words to search with.
  • Organisational and formatting skills – placing information in the right order and understanding a style of presentation for the type of job.Executive functioning skills – you need scanning skills and the ability to focus long enough to select the key words in each job description that , create the resumes with specific examples that are relevant and then organise them to upload them
  • An understanding that the ATS exists! Access and opportunity may vary in terms of your networks of people you know to tell you all about this and how this works. This is where social differences may be a first barrier to access.
  • A support network – Having parents/friends/colleagues /educational providers who understand how ATS work will be at a distinct advantage.
  • Competent IT skills and access to a computer to input your information. This requires you understanding the applicant journey and processes.
  • Literacy skills with a high level of understanding of the nuances in meaning of different words. The ability to enter information in a specific format without spelling errors..

Neurodiversity and different aspects to considerAre there biases against neurodivergent folk?

Inadvertent exclusion can happen for many neurodivergent applicants (and others) in potentially so many ways.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

If you have reading, spelling, understanding, planning, organisation, search or IT skills challenges (for example), which some people with spiky profiles often have ( i.e. very good at some things but have challenges in specific area) then the people you want to attract with these talents may ironically be the ones being excluded.

How many people have never heard of an ATS and don’t realise if you don’t use key words you could be ruled out at step 1.

I am not naïve!

I understand that there is a need to have efficient processes to deal with larger volumes of applicants but what this can do is miss out the applicants that have non standardised CVs . Some people may have  possible gaps in their employment or lost jobs during Covid-19 or not used online systems at all. They may not have a degree because they didn’t have the chance to go to university or could afford it.

They penalise those without families/services/educators who can now ( or in the past) assist them in this process.

How many people are we losing that don’t fit this screening approach and end up with months and years of ‘Computer says no’?

It made me also realise when we go for efficiency we will also often ‘cut and paste’ job descriptions as employers to save time.

It takes longer ( to begin with) to think about the person and job match you really want and what is not essential.

Bad hires cost money too! They can be at least 30% or more of an annual salary.

Jerome Ternynck, CEO of Smart Recruiters in his book “Hiring Success’ said:

I do believe that diversity in hiring must be at the top of every executive’s agenda. Fortunately meaningful progress towards this goal can be made by taking three simple steps: sourcing diverse candidates, reducing bias in the recruitment phase, and building inclusion.”

This requires organisations to recognise there is a need to have neuro-inclusive approaches in place.

 7 ways to help if you are a candidate/applicant

  1. Read through the job description first and highlight key words and use the same words in your resume. Create a glossary of terms so you build an understanding of what they mean and why the employer wants these skills.
  2. Use a ‘word cloud ‘tool such as use TagCrowd and WordItOut as a quick way to see repeated words that appear to be important. Different tools may highlight different words so you may wish to run your job descriptions through more than one tool so that you can compare.
    Word cloud - words used for compliance manager job description
  3. Avoid acronyms and abbreviations as ATS won’t recognise them e.g.  MBA= “Master of Business Administration. Write out the entire year, (e.g., “2019” not “19”).
  4. Focus on your technical skills, credentials, position titles, and software or tools that are relevant in the industry—because those are the keywords they’ll be checking for.
  5. Try to use a resume scanning tool e.g. that can scan and check your resumes.
  6. Describe some of your ‘other’ skills ( some times called ironically ‘soft’ skills) at the interview stage if you get through this first stage.
  7. Ask for feedback from others before submitting your resume ( ask if there is help at your local JobCentre, College, etc) – sometimes you can’t see your own mistakes or you may need to clarify what you mean more clearly. Sometimes talking through transferable skills examples with someone else makes it easier to tease these out.

7 ways as an employer you can make a real difference

  1. Put the time and focus into good candidate experiences from the start.Start also by thinking of who you want in your team and if you have diverse teams. A bad hire is a costly recruitment exercise and can be distracting for everyone in your team.
  2. Take time to consider and then describe the actual job and consider which skills or qualifications you don’t need and remove unnecessary, ambiguous or confusing wording.
  3. A true job description is a list of things people need to do, not a list of things they need to have. If someone doesn’t need IT skills, then consider other ways of engaging the people.
  4. Check the readability of your adverts. I read one JD for a care role recently( £9 per hour) that required a university degree to read it! It was 4 pages long!
  5. Link into local colleges and universities and grow a relationship or get to know specific recruitment groups you can ask for help and reach out to but be careful they are not elitist too (also attending job fairs when they get going again to talk to potential applicants – the human side of recruitment).
  6. Offer as standard the potential for alternative means of applying, such as by phone for example, if someone needs an adjustment made.
  7. Make it clear what the recruitment process is at all stages and say specifically how to ask for help.


Professor Amanda Kirby is an ‘oddball’ in that she doesn’t quite fit into any one category very well. She has a lot of different lived experiences of being a parent of children with an amazing range of different talents and skills. She has only ever applied for one job!

Professor Kirby has worked in the health, educational, employment and justice sectors and in clinical, research and academic settings.

She is the CEO of Do-IT Solutions, a ‘tech for good company. Her opinions are all her own. She has developed Profiling tools to help maximize the neurodiverse talent and used them in a wide range of settings.

Amanda published a book in 2021 on Neurodiversity at Work with Theo Smith and has a further book in 2022 coming out in relation to education. More news about this soon!

Check out the FREE webainr on the 31st of March about how you can develop neuro-inclusive workplaces. You can also find out how you can be in with a chance of winning a copy of Professor Kirby’s latest book – Neurodiversity at Work.

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