How to hire for neurodiversity—and make workplaces better for everyone

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Ultranauts began with a simple yet powerful idea: What if the data engineering firm could design a workplace that embraced strengths instead of penalizing differences?

Ten years later, founders Rajesh Anandan and Art Shectman have created a company where a majority of the team brings neurodiversity to the table, whether through autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, or auditory challenges. Notably, there are more women than men, even within the leadership team.

The company also boasts a higher proportion of Black managers (one-fifth of leadership) compared to the entry level, and a third of the team identifies as LGBTQ+. Furthermore, a quarter of the firm’s top performers don’t have university degrees. Ultranauts employees also over-index on mental health conditions such as severe anxiety and PTSD.

Ultranauts believes that, like biodiversity in ecosystems, diversity at work leads to more resilient teams capable of thriving in dynamic environments. “We’ve seen how some of our friends have struggled to navigate a society and systems that were just not designed for them,” says Anandan.

Quartz sat down with Anandan for an episode of Reworking Work to discuss the aim of creating a workplace that applies universal design principles to fostering inclusion in a systemic way. From that discussion, we observed seven ways companies can change their hiring processes to embrace diversity of the cognitive sort and beyond.

Make job accommodations universal

Anandan considers job accommodations to be a systemic failure in organizational design that unfairly burdens individuals. “In the past, every time you might disclose a diagnosis or ask for an accommodation, suddenly that puts you at a disadvantage,” he said. When an accommodation is made at Ultranauts, it’s given to all candidates to keep things consistent.

Source job applicants from neurodivergent communities

Anandan suggests looking for organizations that can connect you with autistic adults or those with ADHD, as well as professional communities that care about quality engineering.

Prioritize skills over tenure or specific degrees

Anandan challenges the notion that a set number of years determines job performance. Instead, Ultranauts delves deeper to understand the enabling factors in an individual’s success. They embrace self-taught skills and recognize that degrees and certifications are just one of many pathways to expertise.

Ditch the traditional HR screening interview

Instead of having a recruiter conduct a screening interview, Ultranauts relies on an application form with straightforward yes or no questions assessing competencies and knowledge. This efficient approach saves time and ensures objective evaluation.

Conduct job tests

“We’re not testing for how well you can write a resume,” said Anandan. “We’re actually trying to assess what you can do, so we use job tests. It’s the single most predictive thing you can do to assess someone’s ability to do the job.” The key is to use them for all roles, not just engineering openings.

Interviews come later in the process, after gathering objective data

This ensures that personal connections don’t overshadow a candidate’s abilities. Ultranauts uses structured interview questions and scoring rubrics to maintain consistency and fairness.

Create a structured onboarding process for everyone

Ultranauts designed its onboarding process for all brain types, with systems that can scale and be reproduced over time. The onboarding includes the creation of a quick guide, completed by the new hire, that speaks to their communication and feedback preferences.

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