Personnel departments and personality discrimination

I could have written this post yesterday–and yet it’s 7 years old.

Where is the Neurodiversity Movement when it’s most needed?


  • Does personality diversity count as part of neurodiversity? 
  • What about viewpoint diversity?
  • What about diversity within autism?
  • When it comes to workplace neurodiversity, should we privilege some forms of neurodiversity over others?

After all, all of the above is ultimately a matter of neurology–as opposed to physiology or, say, metaphysics.

Personnel departments and personality discrimination

As questions about J’s future employability nag with growing urgency, I’ve been chatting with various professionals who specialize in the employability of individuals on the autism spectrum. One person I talked to stressed one of Temple Grandin’s longstanding themes: if you’re applying to a job at a large corporation, it’s absolutely essential to bypass the HR department. Ironically, the very entity whose raison d’être is, in part, to ensure compliance with laws against job discrimination tends itself to discriminate against certain classes of individuals–namely, those who don’t interview well. The poorest of these performers, naturally, are smack on the autism spectrum.

In corporate settings (as opposed to academia), HR serves, for some reason, as the initial screener rather than the final arbiter. This means that an autistic individual who, say, is a highly qualified software developer may never have a chance to be considered by the department for which he would actually be working–and which might actually want to hire him.

With more and more firms using informal interviews that seek “cultural fit,” things are harder than ever–even for those who are only marginally socially awkward. While this may make for a more “collegial” workplace with lots of camaraderie and after-hours socializing, it’s ultimately bad news, not just for neurodiversity, but for workplace productivity and creativity. Just like K12 schools, HR departments are systematically bypassing real talent; over-emphasizing non-cognitive “21st century” skills at the expense of timeless skills like reading, writing, and quantitative reasoning; and confusing social savvy with the ability to collaborate professionally.

Should corporations never discriminate against people on the basis of personality? Ironically, the personality type that thrives best in interviews–particularly the informal ones that are so popular today–is the type that is potentially the most toxic of all: the narcissistic, manipulating backstabber who charms his superiors, undermines his equals, and takes credit for the work of his underlings, advancing through the corporation and undermining morale and productivity.

So, actually, social skills do matter very much in this century (and a few others). But not in the ways that most HR departments think they do.

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