Incorporating Autistic Individuals Into Your Workforce
April is Autism Awareness Month.
In terms of employment, most autistic people are unemployed. Some analysts estimate that the unemployment rate of those with autism is as high as 85% in the U.S., as compared to the general population of under 4%.
In recent years, with companies’ efforts to be more diverse and inclusive, many have opened their doors to people with autism. This emerging phenomenon of integrating people with autism and other disabilities into the workforce is called neurodiversity. Microsoft, SAP, Ernst and Young, Ford, and JPMorgan Chase are just some of the many corporations that are hiring qualified candidates who are on the spectrum.
People with autism can hold regular, full-time jobs just like neurotypical people. In fact, when they are properly matched to jobs, autistic employees might perform better than their peers.
Chargeback, a Utah-based company that investigates credit card disputes, hired Carrie Tierney, an analyst with autism, to handle technical data and repetitive tasks. Tierney completes the work with laser-like accuracy and in half the time as new analysts. Its president, Khalid El-Awady, says he’s been very impressed and plans to hire more candidates like Tierney.
Benefits of Employing People with Autism
Based on feedback from companies that employ people with autism, the benefits can include:
- Better quality of work
- Excellent work ethic
- Fast turnaround times
- Passion and enthusiasm
- Unique perspective
- Less distracted by social interactions
Matching the Right Job to an Autistic Candidate
Many companies have tasks and jobs that are well-suited to candidates with autism. Are there jobs in your organization that require the following attributes?
- Ability to stay focused and engaged in repetitive tasks for long periods.
- Strong observational skills and attention to detail.
There are many degrees of autism, so it is important to match the right job to the right individual based on each person’s unique skill set, strengths, and limitations. Different corporate jobs and tasks that can be successful matches for certain autistic individuals can include:
- Computer programming
- Clerical work – filing, data entry
- Database scrubbing/upkeep
- Warehouse management
- Assembly work
Tailor Your Interview Process
A company’s typical interview process may be intimidating or overwhelming to an individual with autism. When scheduling an interview with a candidate you know is autistic, ask what accommodations – if any – the candidate prefers for the interview.
Some considerations companies can make are:
- Shorter interviews (30 minutes), with more time in-between interviews during the same day.
- Provide pictures of the person or people they’ll meet with so they’re familiar before walking in.
- Providing interview questions ahead of time, in writing.
- Limit open-ended questions such as “Where do you see yourself in five years”, which may be more likely to be misinterpreted.
- Make accommodations such as a smaller or larger room for the interview, a dimly lit room, provide noise-cancelling headsets if it’s too loud, etc.
- Allow candidates to bring an advocate – a spouse, parent, or job coach.
Retention and Support – and Results
Once someone is hired, it’s important employees feel connected to their workplace. Both JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft offer these hires support circles consisting of a job coach, a buddy, or community mentor to help employees navigate company culture. Companies can also offer training to managers and colleagues about how to best work with and support autistic employees.
Putting in place a successful program to hire and incorporate autistic individuals – it all takes time and resources. So, how do companies know it’s worth it?
Anthony Pacilio, vice president and global head of Autism at Work for JPMorgan Chase, can provide some impressive metrics from their programs:
- Employees hired through their neurodiversity programs into certain tech roles are 90% to 140% more productive than employees who had been there 5 or 10 years.
- Their new hires clear all the work in their queue with zero errors.
- On the business side, they’re doing the work of 2 people.
Susanne Marie Bruyere, a professor of disability studies at Cornell University, cautions that it’s important to be careful about what we glean from these numbers. Autistic and other neurodiverse employees don’t have superpowers. Rather, she said, success is the result of careful job matching, employees’ natural strengths, managers who help them use them, and organizations to support them.
Pacilio adds that “It’s all about finding that untapped talent in those different pockets that will make your organization culturally better. The productivity is a given depending on the job function. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.”
- SHRM HR Daily Newsletter, April 10, 2023. “Autistic Workers Often Avoid Disclosing Their Condition to HR. Here’s Why”, by Matt Gonzales, April 7, 2023.
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