Every year, April 2 marks World Autism Awareness Day, in recognition of those with autism and the people who love and support them. In the spirit of raising awareness, it’s important that this day also spotlights the role of autism in the workplace.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, autism impacts between 1% and 2% of the American population, or anywhere between 3.3 and 6.6 million people. Categorized as a neurological developmental disability, this also means those with autism are often among the nearly 81% of disabled Americans who are unemployed. This includes some 85% of college graduates affected by autism, unable to find work. These are staggering numbers.
The Call for Neurodiversity
Despite these statistics, recognition of autism is starting to grow, due in large part to diversity and inclusion efforts. While it’s well-known by most business leaders that diversity leads to better results, until recently, this failed to include autism. Employers saw challenges and closed themselves off to autistic and otherwise neurodiverse candidates. Now, as D&I programs expand, that’s changing. What was once seen mostly as initiatives to improve racial and gender parity are starting to include all populations.
As more neurodiverse candidates enter the workforce, employers see the benefits firsthand. Writes one source, “Autistic employees, for example, produce, on average, 48% to 140% more work than their non-autistic colleagues, depending on their roles.” That last part is particularly important for employers looking to close skill gaps, as Harvard Business Review points out. The European Union faces a massive shortage of IT workers, particularly around data analytics and IT services implementation, which require skills that might match the abilities of some autistic candidates. Putting the right strategies in place, it becomes possible to diversify the workforce and ensure business needs get met.
Employers Doing the Work
As noted, a number of companies proactively open the door to neurodiverse talent. One such organization, auticon, exclusively employs autistic adults as IT consultants. The first enterprise to do so, auticon achieves its mission by creating autism-positive work environments that include highly individualized and sustained support mechanisms for these employees.
In the case of auticon, its team takes the time to get to know skills, interests and challenges before carefully matching individuals with the right tasks, enabling autistic talent to not only work but work to their full potential. Gordon, an autistic IT consultant who found a role through AMS-auticon partnership, shared, “I have applied for jobs previously but not been successful. I have found the interview process very stressful, and I have even been turned down for jobs I have been over-qualified for, [however], auticon focused on looking at the skills I had rather than an interview.”
Others, such as SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Microsoft, Ford and EY, have implemented similar approaches to neurodiversity through dedicated programs. And a representative from HPE says that no other initiative in the company delivers benefits at so many levels.
What Others Can Do
For employers interested in both celebrating and championing neurodiversity in their workplace, there are few steps to take. The first would be to adopt a broader definition of what “talent” means and adapt the recruiting strategies to account for autistic and neurodiverse candidates. That includes employer branding, career sites and sourcing techniques as well as interviewing and assessments, putting less emphasis on the traditional formats, and finding new ways to test skills and abilities. Make candidates comfortable, giving them time and space to complete each step before rushing to any decisions. Build a framework that allows for flexibility and personalization. Once hired, it’s equally important to make sure that workplace accommodations account for individual needs, moving away from a one-size-fits-all model. Offer individualized resources and training for employees as well as managers to create a support system that scales the organization.
Autistic and neurodiverse talent has a lot to offer, and if companies want to tap into this talent pool, they need to shift perspective and seek to understand these candidates from the outset.
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