The Inclusive Code Podcast - Episode 2: Inclusive Hiring, Neurodiversity & Empathy with Amy Weidner

In our first full-length episode of the Inclusive Code Podcast, we're joined by Career Advisor Amy Weidner

We discuss a variety of crucial DEI topics, such as the importance of inclusive hiring processes, how social media should be approached for social justice, why meeting people halfway can make all the difference within difficult conversations and how spaces should be able to accommodate neurodivergent people.

Amy is a leading voice in the DEI recruitment and career space, especially when it comes to salary negotiations and inclusive hiring. Constantly offering advice and support for those looking to change or start their career, there are a plethora of companies and candidates who look to Amy for her expertise and authenticity.

To find out more about Amy and to follow her social media profiles, click here

To listen to the full episode with Amy, click the preview below or head here.

You can also find a full transcript of the episode and everything that Darleen and Amy had to say below.

What was the pivotal moment that made you want to work in the DEI space?

A: I moved to London in 2013. In my first job with an agency, I actually didn't fall into recruitment like a lot of people tend to do; I really wanted to work as a recruiter. I really just loved connecting with people, speaking to people, and helping people with their job search. But coming from Ireland, where there isn't really much of a class system, I saw this massive class divide in London.

Especially as I started off in the financial services sector, I was so blown away by the clear hierarchy and how things like racism and classism went hand in hand. It was often disguised behind comments like "Oh, that candidate wasn't very polished" or "They wouldn't be a good cultural fit here", but it was disproportionately levied against people of colour and people from underserved backgrounds, and I thought it was so incredibly unfair. 

So I continued working as a recruiter, but I always had a real drive for social justice and helping people, especially people from underserved backgrounds, and I always tried to get higher salaries for women and women of colour and anyone who could use that support. I became someone who really, really tried to make a bit of a dent in that space. And I just thought at least if I can just help one person every month, even then I'm happy.

How hiring processes fall into unconscious bias

A: With hiring processes, there is so much unconscious bias and nepotism, and so often, it'll be those who went to the same school or who golf together that end up hiring one another. In those instances, what hope does someone who has parents who are first-generation immigrants have? They're not going to have the same network as someone who went to an Eton or a private boarding school.

Everyone deserves a right to those kinds of opportunities, but at the moment, it's just not equal, and some people fail to acknowledge that people face different barriers and different things that will block them. 

That's why, throughout my entire career, I've tried to help people overcome these barriers and have also helped to educate companies on how they can create more inclusive hiring practices and even assist job seekers with particularly difficult job searches.

What approaches do you find work best for making the recruitment world more inclusive?

A: I take a two-pronged approach, so I do training for teams mainly in SMEs, whether with hiring managers, HR or recruiting teams. I show them how to build some practical processes which allow them to eliminate bias when hiring and to measure and examine these steps themselves. This helps them to spot where things may not be inclusive in the future.

Then, on the job seeker side, I help them build up their LinkedIn brand, doing a metric or achievement-based CV and conducting mock interviews for salary negotiations, which are particularly important when it comes to equity. 

OH: That's really inspiring, and I agree when you feel strongly about those things, you always want to get involved and help anyone you can.

What common hurdles do people in the DEI space face?

A: Anyone who works in the DEI space will be met with people who almost try and gaslight them or brush them off for what they're doing. So when someone says something problematic, others may say, "Oh, they didn't mean it like that", or "We're doing our best; we can't do anymore" because they have a fixed mindset that what we're doing is a waste of time.

This is the exact reason why things move so slowly in this space, why there's still inequity in hiring practices, the hiring space and the recruiting space because people don't want to be uncomfortable. They don't want to have those conversations, they're scared to speak truth to power, to challenge leadership, or put their money where their mouth is. 

A lot of people are scared about saying the wrong thing, too, but the only way to find that out is to do your own homework and learn. We have to, at the very least, have those conversations. It is difficult to overcome. I've been that person, but it's crucial to understand that being corrected isn't always a bad thing.

Does social media help or hinder DEI conversations?

A: I think it's important to have your crew around you, other people who care about the same things and who are willing to create a community of people who are singing from the same song sheets as you. It's also great for looking at stats and numbers so that when you're having those crucial conversations, you're able to show others the evidence there. With equity in particular, people feel like something is being taken away from them, so you want to give them something tangible to see.

It can also be really exhausting if you're in a space where everyone disagrees with you, especially when those disagreeing aren't directly impacted by the discrimination you're talking about. That's when you need that trusting community around to support you.

At the moment, there are a lot of difficult conversations on social media, too, so it's important to step back and rejuvenate. Obviously, this is a massive privilege to have, but it can get to you if you don't step away. To make a change, you need to be refreshed and ready.

OH: 100%. I think a lot of the conversations going on at the moment can be really triggering, too, and I've had a lot of people unfollow my personal social media because of the things I post. But that shows that everyone isn't always open to having the same conversations and they want to turn away from some of the things that are happening across the world. 

It's also really easy to become contained in your own bubble or echo chamber and not want to challenge yourself. 

Tips for engaging with difficult topics on social media

A: That's a really good question. And that's all so topical at the moment. So there's a few things to that. In the world of social media at the moment, I'm someone who shares a lot on my Instagram, and I try and see a situation as objectively as I can. I really, really try and look objectively at something and listen to people from all sides of a situation so that I'm not just getting one view. That's the problem with social media: as great as it can be for creating awareness and seeing things for how they are really unfolding, it can also put you in an echo chamber. 

Then we're so deep in our echo chamber that we are just, in a way, radicalised. And I mean this across loads of topics. I'm someone who's a little bit radical about certain topics.

OH: I guess it's determined a lot by the algorithm and the communities that we're in. But also, I think that algorithm plays such a huge part in us seeing what we want to see.

A: It does, and the algorithms are so brilliant these days. I've literally recreated my entire Instagram. I'm still keeping tabs on what's happening, but I've unfollowed a few accounts and re-followed accounts that are like dogs and donkeys and animals because I just need a little bit of rejuvenation. I'm absolutely aware of what's going on across the world, though.

You have to be to some extent, but you should avoid getting sucked into it. The point I'm trying to make is that we have to really look at social media, sometimes a little bit more objectively, and look at it more holistically. You have to go, okay, I'm getting sucked into this conversation; I'm now getting into a fight online with someone that I don't even know, who's probably a troll.

There's no point in getting into a fight with someone online. The more authentic you are with your content and with your voice, the more you will attract people who are in your corner. That's something I kind of learned in the last few years.

At the beginning of all this, I was quite nervous to speak out about certain topics. I thought everyone would think I'm really radical. They're gonna think I'm really annoying. Now, I actually don't care if people think I'm annoying and radical; I care about my friends and loved ones who are going to be discriminated against. I care about my family that is going to experience it.

Having difficult conversations with people you care about

A: There've been real Jerry Springer moments at home with my own family about difficult topics where we really get into it. I think about my friends and my loved ones that I care about that it does impact, and I take it so personally, and I'm really trying to practice separating myself from the topic and looking at it in a more curiosity-centred way.

One thing that is really effective, which I've started trying, is going into it with a sense of curiosity and asking questions. So if we have different viewpoints, saying, "Yeah, okay, that's really interesting", and making people feel seen and heard. Asking, "What makes you think that? Tell me how you came to that conclusion. Have you thought about it like this and had an actual conversation about these things?"

When you're quite far along on your journey, and you've been really investing a lot of time and learning about doing the work and learning about equality and all these kinds of topics, you end up speaking in a way about certain topics that often alienates other people. Then, the other things you say, don't fall with them. They think you're in another realm talking about this. It's really about trying to meet people where they are and creating a safe space for people to share with you.

I have conversations with my auntie, who I love very much. She really tries, and there's a lot of people in my life who I'm going to meet where they are; we're gonna have this conversation, and they listen, and then I listen to them. You have to try not to get defensive, even though it's very easy to do that because it's a topic that you care about. But we all need to have more conversations; we all need to be okay, disagreeing with each other, and sitting and talking about it and not getting into a fight. It's creating space for those conversations that we really are not doing.

OH: Yeah, and doing so keeps the door open for learning.

Never shut yourself away from learning opportunities

OH: With my job, in the beginning, I was like, oh, I've got this; I know everything now, as you do when you want to look like you've got everything together. I remember a colleague just pulling me aside and saying, "Hey, don't forget to learn, just don't forget to ask for help, don't forget to talk, don't forget to just keep your eyes and ears open. Don't just assume that you know everything." That was a big wake-up call. I think it's like what you said: keep the curiosity going and keep the door open to learn more. Even after reading 50 books, you're not going to know everything.

A: Totally, and I still say stuff that's wrong, trust me. You just say sorry. A lot of people say, "Oh, you know, my intention was not to hurt you." It's not really always about the intention. It's about the impact that it had on that other person. And a word that means nothing to me might really upset someone else. Always be open to learning, always approach things with curiosity, knowing that we're never going to be the finished product.

How businesses can support neurodivergent people

A: It's an interesting one. So, 20% of the population is said to be neurodivergent, but it's probably a lot more than that. And it's a spectrum. And you might have some symptoms of one but it shows up differently in everyone. There are a lot of parallels and crossovers between autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, and dyslexia. 

I would personally recommend any manager or business leader, or anyone that has any type of impact on recruitment, to assume that everyone may have some type of neurodivergent condition and treat your hiring process and your people all alike. Just assume that there's going to be people around you that have it.

Put processes in place that will really help those people. It could be that after a team meeting on a Monday, you send out the to-dos. I need that after a meeting, I need it written in black and white, what is my action? What is my deadline for that action? Then I will just go away and do it. People who are neurodivergent are often highly, highly skilled, but we just need a little bit of a different kind of approach sometimes. 

People have varying ways of working, and you need to accommodate for that

A: Noise-cancelling headphones have been huge for me. Music has been a huge thing for me in terms of being productive and being able to sit down and do a task and concentrate. My attention span is like that of a fish. I have to remove distractions. I don't have any notifications on my Slack, and I often just turn down the volume on my laptop, so I can't hear any messages coming in, whether it's my WhatsApp open on my tabs or LinkedIn.

What I think is really effective is asking people, "How do you like to work? How do you want to be managed? How do you want to be communicated with?" If I have feedback, I need to know how you want to receive that feedback. 

There are different how-to-work-with-me documents that you can put together. For example, I like verbal communication, I like written communication, and I prefer you to contact me on WhatsApp. Not everyone's gonna want to disclose their condition or talk about it. So if someone says that they are better with noise cancelling headphones, and they work better that way, maybe they have ADHD; it doesn't matter if they do or they don't. Either way, you should accommodate it.

It's important to just listen to people and allow them to work the way they want to work. If you have clear expectations set for people and a clear outline, this is what I expect you to do. Just because we're really missing a trick with that because it's like, then let them do it. There may need to be certain hours in the day that everyone's contactable and online so that we can collaborate, but there's often this real, controlling behaviour and micromanagement, and it's a nightmare for people who are neurodivergent; you're just so stressed all the time.

Create a safe space and a psychologically safe space for people to challenge themselves and each other. Don't laugh at people's mistakes. I've often not asked questions before because I'm like, Oh, God, that was probably mentioned, and I wasn't listening.

Instances of support structures that do and don't work

OH: Yeah, it's interesting because, as you were speaking, I thought this sounds a lot like the system in school. That's what we were put into for 12-plus years, some 13 years, where you're literally given tasks, and you're expected to complete them. If you don't complete them, you get graded down, and if you don't complete them in a certain timeframe, even worse, and you're classed as a good student and a bad student based on your results and your overall performance, but the system never adjusts to you.

You're never asked, how do you like to work? It's, "This is how we work here, and if you don't work exactly like we expect it to, you will fail." That's still how a lot of big corporations work. That's why I also feel very lucky because I have worked in a big corporation, but in a smaller business, you're asked what works best for you.

It's been such a shift in having a manager who was asking, "Hey, what do you want to do this week? And how are you going to do it?" It is so different to, "These are your tasks, and you must complete them." It is like you say, that question of how you want to work is so important.

A: You're right. I mean, I was a nightmare in school; I was an absolute nightmare. From then, I had this internalised belief that I would be a nightmare for my entire life and that I would never be able to follow instructions or have a good job and earn good money, and I had to really, really fight to remove those mental barriers that I had, and which is now why I'm passionate about helping other people to do that. You're right; the school system, the big businesses, and the working world are really not set up for a lot of people.

How these systems can affect people

OH: I spent my whole life thinking that I was stupid just because the system didn't fit me. It took me up until this year to realise that, no, I'm just a hands-on person; I just can't memorise things, and I just don't work in the typical academic way. But I thrive in an environment where I'm hands-on, and I wonder how many millions of people feel the same way that I probably sat next to and thought, we're both just not good at school, but we just didn't thrive in the environment we were given.

A: Exactly, and everyone has a different way of processing information. So I love audiobooks, but if I'm reading a book, which I do now and again, I have to sit and read the page about five times before it goes in because my mind wanders. Everyone has a different way of processing things. It doesn't mean that one person is less intelligent than the other we're just all wired in a different way.

The world was set up for neurotypical people and for workplaces and schools that operate in one dimension. I know I have great qualities, and being neurodivergent and having ADHD has served me really well in a lot of ways. I don't like calling it a superpower because I think it's really patronising. But it serves me in some amazing ways in my life, and you know, I have a lot of empathy, and sometimes that's a problem, but often it really helps me connect with people.

I did a workshop last night, and I asked everyone, it was mostly women, to give me their favourite thing about themselves so that we could all get in the in the right headspace to move through the session. Mine was connecting with people, and that's kind of my favourite thing about myself. But it's really hard to say that out loud. It's really hard to talk about what we like about ourselves, especially women and especially people who are neurodivergent and are from an underserved background. It is something that has really served me but has also really challenged me and made me really struggle with focus.

What are some small steps people can take to create more inclusive spaces?

A: You might think that you're one person and that you won't make a difference. But every single voice has a massive ripple effect. Even just having conversations and learning. Being an advocate for people who are underrepresented will start to get other people thinking differently, even if you're just kind of sharing and challenging or asking questions. It will also make people who are from underserved backgrounds who are around you see what you're doing and feel like there's someone in their corner. The more you do it, the more you will see the impact that it has on other people.

It might be invisible at the beginning, and it might only be just that you start talking about it and making even very tiny changes.

For instance, I was working at a company where there was a big drinking culture. I think it was just before Ramadan, and I thought I was going to make a calendar this year of all the kinds of different celebrations and events that represent the people on our team that I was recruiting for. As part of that, I wanted us to all educate each other; obviously, I can't talk directly to maybe someone who is Muslim during Ramadam, but I can certainly encourage other people to support our colleagues who are taking part in it.

These events felt quite small, but they had a really big impact on the people on the team who were affected. It wasn't just Ramadan it was Divali and other events too that I knew that people on our team celebrated or followed. I wanted to think about what was important to my teammates. I wanted to do events that weren't all to do with alcohol as that's totally not inclusive. 

There's a lot you can do, but just really believing in yourself and believing that, look, I have actually a lot of power to create a lot of change positive change for people.

How drinking cultures can dominate social events

A: Ireland's drinking culture is insane, but the only proper job I had in Ireland was Twitter, and Twitter was very good at being inclusive. When we held events, I always thought, okay, we might have drinks, but I would also try and think about what else we can do that's not centred around alcohol, but there is definitely a big drinking culture in Ireland.

It's a big problem, but it's not any different here in the UK or London. I also drink alcohol, but it's just trying to kind of reframe the way we view socialising and unlearning that. You can have a lovely coffee and have a lovely walk without alcohol. I love going for breakfast with people. I love going to a class with someone, like a spin class. That's a really nice way to create friends. It's not always about alcohol. I just love sitting and watching a movie and having maybe a glass of red wine or maybe just a cup of peppermint tea.

How empathy should underpin everything within the DEI space

A: For me, I might be on the tube, and someone is really annoying me, or they're just being rude, or they bashed into me and didn't say anything. I always think to myself they might have something really serious going on in their life. They might just be having a really horrible day, and then that makes me feel a bit better.

That is also related to teams, teammates, managers, and people that you are managing. Everyone is coming into work with their own lives that are important to them. Maybe they have kids, maybe they have a spouse, maybe they have someone in their life who's not well or just something that's driving them wild.

It's really important to understand, that everyone is experiencing life in a different way to how we are experiencing it. It could be that they have relatives living in the countries that are currently going through horrible things and they're coming to work, and they're putting on a brave face. It's just really important to just try and show empathy to other people and understand them. There are a lot of people going through a lot of really hard stuff at the moment.

We just have to try and be a bit more open and kind. Sometimes, I really cringe when I see people saying, just be kind. I'm like, it's really not that easy. But it actually is just showing each other respect and kindness. If you start being that person, it's a leadership trait. If you start being that person who leads with kindness and openness and with empathy, people will really feel like they can go to you.

We can't underestimate the power that we have. If there's a junior on the team, look out for them. Let them know, "I'm here if you need anything; I'm here if you need to have a chat."

How a buddy system can make all the difference

A: A lot of people who are neurodivergent can't always read social situations, too. Having a buddy programme in the business or someone to look to if you don't know the vibe can be so beneficial. If you're a bit stuck on anything, just let them know. Don't be afraid to ask stupid questions.

OH: 100%. I had a buddy when I first started, and they helped me so much.

A: Such an amazing thing, and actually, a lot of companies don't do it. I don't know why, but I had one at ThoughtWorks when I was there in Berlin. She was amazing, and we're still friends now. It was so helpful to get me through my first few tasks, to help me learn about the processes and what's right or wrong, as well as the political stuff going on.

How can companies make their job ads and specs more inclusive, particularly when it comes to required languages?

OH: This is a question that, obviously, comes up quite a bit because I work in the German market, and German or English will oftentimes be a full requirement. I have just been wondering about the inclusivity and the boundaries there in terms of what is classed as good English. There's a lot of diversity in Berlin itself, and I speak to people there and a lot of them are amazing at their jobs, but maybe they don't speak fluent English or speak English with a little bit of an unconventional accent.

I was that person a few years ago. I know how it can feel because we have this subconscious bias that they must not be that smart if they don't speak my native language that well. I know that they are very talented people that I'm speaking to, but when it comes to some processes, they mark that up as not being sufficient. I understand that can obviously be something that is important for some companies, but it's also something that just takes time. 

So, I guess I just wanted your take on that, and if you've experienced that, as you also have a recruitment background.

A: It's a really interesting one because a lot of companies will say native English or native German. And what does that actually mean? Languages are measured, as you probably know, in A1, A2, A3, C1, and C2, etch. I think that that is what we should be asking for in job ads.

We should also be really assessing how much of the language we actually need in a role. It could even be a voting system that you get people who are on the hiring team or who are working in that specific product team to carry out. Vote on what is the realistic level of language that someone needs, and it would be really brilliant if someone could come and do a job in another language.

I think challenging the hiring manager on if they really need that language skill to be native level is crucial for job specs and adverts. From a metric point of view, rather than saying something like native English, because that's like very discriminatory language. They should just say C1, B1 or whatever level you actually need for the role. We need to encourage companies to do that as well. When I applied for the job at ThoughtWorks, the job ad said they needed a fluent German speaker.

I thought I was gonna apply for this anyway. I'm gonna apply like a man, and I got it. I was up against other German speakers in the process. We also have to understand that people will write job ads, and really, they're looking for a unicorn. It's a big, long checklist, but that person doesn't exist. But we should all be applying more like men and just going for jobs.

That's probably a controversial thing to say. But if you feel like you meet even half the criteria, well, just go for it; we should just back ourselves. The market is pretty wild at the moment, but companies aren't always going to get what they want when it comes to this kind of checkbox thing.

To find out more about Amy, click here.

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14th March