Autism at Work: Encouraging Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Employees all bring something different to the companies they work for. Each person’s unique sets of skills, experiences, and talents combine to create a dynamic workforce that can innovate and create out-of-the-box solutions.

People who identify on the autism spectrum often have some of the most unique abilities and talents, making them appealing additions to any workforce. Yet, the unemployment rate for neurodiverse individuals is staggering. Upwards of 80 percent of individuals who are on the spectrum do not have a job.

This rate is due, in part, to the way companies screen and hire their possible candidates. For people on the spectrum, interviews can be a challenge because their communication styles may not fit what is considered “normal.” While interviewers may look for a candidate who makes strong eye contact or has a bold personality and robust communication skills, neurodiverse candidates may not demonstrate those specific qualities.

That narrow criteria can keep employers from recognizing the notable talents of neurodiverse candidates. Often, those who identify on the spectrum excel in certain positions because of their unique abilities. Many companies are looking to problem-based interviews that ask a candidate to perform a task, which can make it easier for neurodiverse candidates to demonstrate their talents to the company.

Autism at Work Encourages Workplace Neurodiversity

At SAP the Autism at Work program focuses on hiring employees that are on the autism spectrum. Started in 2013, it was one of the first of its kind to place an intentional emphasis on hiring candidates that are differently abled. Through this program, SAP has been able to incorporate employees on the spectrum into the organization, and it has been a huge success.

Making neurodiversity a priority is essential for fostering a more inclusive workplace. It can require employers to take a hard look at their hiring and managing practices and see where neurodiverse candidates and employees could slip through the cracks. Hiring an employee on the autism spectrum is only the first step in the process of creating a welcoming workplace for neurodiverse employees. Managers may need to adjust some of their practices to make an employee on the spectrum feel more comfortable in their work environment. It may also mean that team members need to be more thoughtful in the ways they communicate with one another.

How does a company get started after taking steps to focus on hiring employees that are in the autism spectrum? While I was at SuccessConnect Las Vegas last month,  I came upon a startup Daivergent, which is part of the SAP i.O program. Started by two childhood friends, their artificial intelligence (AI) solution connects enterprise clients with folks on the autism spectrum in order to complete tasks in AI and machine learning data management and technology roles. It is integrated with SuccessFactors Recruiting. Based on a company’s open requisitions, Daivergent can introduce pre-vetted, self-identified candidates.

Daivergent FoundersAt SAP, the Autism at Work program is proud to have a 90 percent retention rate of hires on the autism spectrum because it creates a system of support around those employees. Mentors are there as a resource when needed, and program members can connect and share their experiences with each other. It is a community dedicated to uplifting all SAP employees on the spectrum.

Ultimately, encouraging neurodiversity makes companies more inclusive and more innovative. Individuals who identify on the autism spectrum bring with them new ways of looking at things. This encourages the whole team to start thinking creatively. Combining all of those different perspectives and ideas within a team naturally fosters an environment that is innovative and forward-thinking.

The Autism at Work program is a significant step in creating a workplace that is inclusive for all employees. Learn more about the program here.

Autism at Work: Bowling social event