SAP is embarking on a global program to hire people with autism as software testers, programmers and data quality assurance specialists, the company announced last week. Autistic employees can offer competitive advantages, according to SAP, while helping the individuals secure meaningful employment. Robin Meyerhoff, Director, SAP Sustainability PR, says the plan is a “win-win” for all concerned.
“Some people with autism, which affects about 1 percent of the general population, score very highly on intelligence tests and possess extraordinary powers of observation and concentration,” Financial Times stated Tuesday. But “they can find it difficult to interpret facial expressions, body language and sarcasm [and] as a result, they often struggle to perform well in job interviews.”
One percent of SAP’s global workforce will be autistic by 2020, thanks to a partnership with Specialisterne, a Danish company that helps autistic people around the world find technology-oriented jobs. Most of the employees in Specialisterne have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, typically serving as consultants in fields such as software testing, programming and data entry.
“People with autism bring special skills,” Anka Wittenberg, SAP Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, said in SAP News Thursday. “Autistic people have a particularly strong sense of visual perception, which among other things is very useful when testing software.”
The global program is already underway. In a pilot project in India, six autistic software testers, whom SAP Labs India hired through Specialisterne, helped increase SAP Business Suite’s productivity and team cohesion.
“I started this when my youngest son was diagnosed with autism — that’s 13 years ago,” Specialisterne founder Thorkil Sonne told an SAP webcast at SAPPHIRE NOW in May. “That opened my eyes to what now is going to be a reality at SAP.”
Another pilot in Ireland is wrapping up the screening phase for five positions. SAP will expand the program globally this year, starting in the U.S., Canada and Germany.
“The announcement marks the first time that a renowned German company has opened the mainstream job market to a group of potential employees who have been largely overlooked,” Spiegel noted Wednesday. “The country’s FBA autism association has welcomed the step and encouraged other companies to follow SAP’s example.”