Autism & Neurodiversity

At this year’s Annual SAPPHIRE and ASUG Annual Conference, SAP discussed their Diversity Inclusion Program and the “Benefits of Neurodiversity.” More specifically their award-winning Autism at Work Program.

I’ve been following this program since I first heard of its launch in 2013.  I hadn’t heard much about it recently, so attended the session to hear more about how the program has evolved over the last 5 years. Since its inception, SAP has had more than 120 hires with autism in all areas of business.

I can appreciate the need for more programs which look to increase the number of individuals in the workplace that are on the autism spectrum. I think we all can appreciate these efforts.

I was curious…was SAP the only one doing this?  Are there other companies that have programs or hiring practices targeted at individuals on the Autism spectrum? The answer is yes! But before I get to that, let me explore the question of why hire an employee with Autism?  In the world of cybersecurity and tech jobs, these positions are increasingly harder to fill. It really is a war for talent. At the same time, autistic adults have high rates of unemployment. So, a growing number of organizations are addressing both problems at once.

According to a recent article by Northeastern University, many positions in the tech and business world tend to be “repetitive and tedious, but they also required a heightened aptitude for pattern recognition and attention to detail — traits commonly associated with many autistic people.”

To tap into this pool of potential employees, many companies have programs in-house to specifically addressing the unique challenges for people on the autism spectrum.  The idea is spreading as more and more companies create these programs. Some of the names may be familiar- Microsoft, Chase, Ernst & Young, IBM and, of course, SAP all have these programs.

As I sat in the session and listened to the discussion, it struck me how some of the changes being made by these companies are important on many levels. An example given in the session is the removal of sarcasm from the workplace.  Not everyone recognizes sarcasm, as it can be a nuanced part of our language.  It is also challenging for non-native English speakers as well.  For many global multinational companies, removal of sarcasm can be very helpful to improving communication.  The session gave me great food for thought about how changes made for being more inclusive of neuro-diversity could make the environment more inclusive for everyone.

So where are we overall with these programs?

At of the end of 2017, at least 50 companies have a workforce that is primarily made up of autistic workers. And many more have a percentage of positions filled by employees with autism and this looks to be growing. According to an article by Entrepreneur.com, “And for those who are able to excel at high-level work, many still struggle with certain life skills, such as staying organized or interacting with coworkers. That’s why many companies are also building systems to help those employees succeed. Ernst & Young, for example, pays a job coach to work with its autistic employees in Philadelphia.”

I walked away from the session encouraged by what I saw, and I look forward to hearing more about these programs as additional employers add and discuss their programs.

Are you interested in learning more? Here are some excellent resources on Autism and Employment:

Autism Speaks: https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/adult-services/autism-and-employment

Training Industry: https://trainingindustry.com/articles/workforce-development/autism-at-work-hiring-and-training-employees-on-the-spectrum/

BSR: Autism Empowerment Kit: https://gisc.bsr.org/files/BSR-GISC-Autism-Empowerment-Kit.pdf

By | 2018-07-16T12:57:31+00:00 July 16th, 2018|