While those with disabilities have an extremely high unemployment rate, many companies are finally beginning to hire those with autism, as their value is starting to be recognized.
While many with autism have formerly been rejected time and again in their job searches, companies like Microsoft, EY, and Chargeback are attempting to form neurodiversity programs to hire those with autism.
These programs were sparked by increased understanding of the fact that many with autism can succeed in jobs they are usually not considered for. While not everyone with autism is capable of filling these roles, some are and should be given an equal opportunity.
As large companies begin to hire employees with autism on a larger scale, they are beginning to recognize the immense value they can offer to the establishments. Michael Bernick, the former director of the California Labor Department with an expertise in neurodiversity points out that today, across the country there are around fifty companies actively involved in the hiring of those with autism.
Benefiting the companies
When many hear about these initiatives, they assume the objective is to increase corporate social responsibility. However, representatives make it clear that this is not a charity mission - employees with autism are of immense value to the company itself.
Microsoft has referenced that hiring these people is "like possessing an untapped pool of talent." JP Morgan agreed, stating that the characteristics of many who have autism make them invaluable assets to corporations, often most intensely when it comes to technology and engineering.
EY went further to explain their decision to recruit applicants with autism is not part of diversify or inclusion, but because their business needs people with autism. In the beginning of their program, seven people were hired in different capacities. Despite their initial optimism, they could not have imagined how successful the program became, and how crucial those employees became to their institution. Now, they have fourteen employees with autism, and are looking to potentially increase the number. They work in automation, data analytics, and cybersecurity; regardless of which area they have been placed in, they are filling preexisting jobs, not ones specifically tailored for them - and are proving their abilities.
EY references specifics of why their autistic members have been so great, with heightened attention to detail, ability to focus for longer, ease of spotting abnormalities, mastery of mathematical concepts, and excellence in data analytics.
Many also point out that those with autism are also more honest, and have lower absence rates. On top of their creativity and innovation, those with autism often contribute to a more positive corporate culture.
A National Survey of Consumer attitudes found that 92 percent of Americans view companies who hire those with disabilities more favorably than those who do not, and 87 percent would prefer to offer their business to companies that hire people with disabilities. While the employees themselves are a massive asset, the knowledge of these companies engaging in neurodiverse hiring practices may also boost sales and customer loyalty.
The need for inclusion
Drexel University recently released a study that stated almost sixty percent of young adults with autism spectrum disorder are unemployed, despite their possession of crucial skills. How many people does this affect? Around 26 million Americans with disabilities are of a working age.
However, many point out that more is required than simply hiring those with autism spectrum disorder. Employers need to foster an environment of inclusivity, as if the new employees are not sufficiently welcomed and made comfortable, the new job will not be beneficial to either party.
Coaching and training
While many with autism are able to be employed, and likely succeed, some experts warn that overpublicizing the situations in these large companies will lead others to generalize the "employability" of those with autism. They fear that companies might begin to have unrealistic goals for their prospective employees with autism, and potentially not be as patient as necessary when it comes to the more complex struggles also associated with autism.
To mitigate these potential boundaries, coaching and training can help. One of the largest problems those with autism face in the workplace is the struggle to interact with colleagues and clients. Therefore, training can help them to overcome these hurdles.
EY hired a job coach and saw tremendous support given to their new employees, helping them into their respective roles. Having this resource is especially important in the time of transition into the new job.
How did this movement start?
While the movement to hire more employees with autism has had a slow start, some wonder where it originated. Rob Austin of the University of Western Ontario business school answers this question. He says that originally, a Danish telecom worker by the name of Thorkil Sonne recruited many employees with autism. Why did Sonne decide to make this move? She has a son with autism.
Not only did Sonne foster the movement by hiring these employees, but her son continued it by beginning his own company called Specialisterne. When it opened in 2004, individuals with autism were welcome to, and given the opportunity to have hands-on preparation for the workplace.
How can smaller companies get involved?
Many argue that this movement is excellent, but is only feasible for large companies like Microsoft or EY. However, this couldn't be farther from the truth. Many employees do not require any additional accommodations, but for those who do, 50% cost less than $50, and 88% cost less than $1,000.
Small companies and entrepreneurs can access these types of programs without any losses because of certain resources that are already in place. For example, the United States offers tax credits to those who hire workers with disabilities, and many states offer vocational rehabilitation agencies for support.
When interviewing candidates with autism spectrum disorder, be aware that the interview will not necessarily be as effective if treated exactly the same as most interviews. Normally, questions revolve around previous job experience, but it is important to be cognizant of the likelihood that these individuals have not held one previously. For best results, interviews should be experiential. Offering the candidate the ability to explore the office will offer insight into their understanding and potential comfort level.
Having resources available is essential
Once you have hired a candidate with autism, having a consultant or community resource is important. Ensure that you are placing the new employee in a position where they are best suited. However, once they begin to become comfortable in their new role, resources like a consultant should not become a crutch, so they should "fade" out of the picture, only to return in the event of a promotion or transfer.
Also ensure that preexisting employees are aware of how to best welcome the new member of the team, and instruct them to assist when possible. It may be beneficial to conduct a meeting or send out an email to guide them in some of the best practices for incorporating someone with disabilities into the office environment.
Remember, an employee with autism should be subject to the same performance expectations as anyone else within the workplace, but certain steps can be taken to ease the process.