Every year, we mark World Autism Awareness Day on 2nd April. For many organisations and supporting institutions, it’s more than just a day, it’s a month to drive awareness and inclusion. For EX and HR practitioners, it’s also a time for us to reflect on how inclusive our employee experiences are and what more we could be doing to ensure employees and candidates with an ASD are supported, empowered and enabled.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
ASD is a lifelong developmental disability that can create significant communication, behavioral and social challenges for those affected.
The UK’s national autistic society describes ASD as follows:
“Autism is a spectrum condition and affects people in different ways. Like all people, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses. Below is a list of difficulties autistic people may share, including the two key difficulties required for a diagnosis.
Social communication and interaction challenges
Repetitive and restrictive behavior
Over-or-under-sensitivity to light, sound, taste or touch
Highly focused interests or hobbies
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) it is estimated that every 1 in 270 people has an ASD.
Whilst there are some difficulties shared, there are also so many positives and benefits to this type of neurodiversity. According to the Autism Awareness Centre, Autism can also mean increased attention to detail, deeper levels of focus, heightened observation skills and increased creativity to name a few strengths.
So what does this mean for organisations?
Firstly, it’s necessary that organisations understand the importance and significance of neurodiversity. If everyone in your organisation thought the same way and had the same experiences, you’d be less innovative and less aligned to the diversity of the customers you serve.
In addition, creating an inclusive working environment should be a given for any socially conscious organisation. Ensuring employees with an ASD can thrive is firstly about doing the right thing and secondly about supporting meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion strategies.
In addition, there are some tangible benefits to taking this inclusive approach. Not only are organisations attracting a much more diverse talent pool, but there are also productivity and innovation benefits for organisations too. The benefits highlighted above will have a direct impact on your organization's level of productivity, the quality of output, your ability to engage with your customers and product or service innovation.
ASD and Employment.
Despite all of these incredible benefits, did you know that people with ASD have one of the highest unemployment rates amongst other disability groups?
Whilst research continues in this space, we’re keen to support organisations to solve this challenge. We believe that designing inclusive and intentional candidate and employee experiences is one of many steps organisations can take to support reducing unemployment within the ASD community.
We’ll focus on two of the most critical employee journeys - candidate experience and onboarding. It goes without saying that designing an inclusive experience goes beyond those two journeys but we’ll start here (for now!).
The traditional hiring process of 2-3 interviews with competency-based questions often creates barriers for those on the autism spectrum. It is essential that the interview process is carefully designed e to ensure it’s an experience that can work for all candidates, not just neuro-typical employees.
Here are five tips to support your candidate experience redesign:
Focus on interview questions that evaluate practical skills rather than social skills and don’t be afraid to adapt your interview criteria accordingly
Ensure the interview environment is inclusive and accessible - even when remote!
Get creative with the technology used to interview candidates to provide candidates with space to show off their best work, not just what they can say in less than 60 minutes
Gather feedback from employees with an ASD within your organisation and/or candidates if you can, ensuring this is a regular feedback loop to support the redesign
Conduct training for hiring managers and recruiters to ensure they’re able to manage the candidate experience appropriately
Once the contracts are signed, you want to ensure the onboarding experience (the first 90 days) is as inclusive as possible too. Whilst we’d stress the importance of getting feedback from your organisation, here are a few tips to get you started with your inclusive experience design:
Be conscious of your office environment and be open to adapting/removing bright lights, loud music or other stimulants that negatively impact employees with an ASD
Ask your employees what they need - be open to personalised onboarding experiences to meet individual support requirements
Ensure employees receive ongoing training to understand how to support employees with ASD, in particular their direct team members and management.
Create a plan for onboarding and share it. Try to avoid making last-minute changes to the onboarding plan, this will ensure employees with ASD are not overwhelmed or made feel uncomfortable
Check in regularly and ask for feedback. It’s important that you’re learning as an organisation and responding in real-time to support your employees with Autism
As always, keep in mind that you need to involve all employee personas in this design process. That includes your employees with ASD and without to ensure you’re designing the most effective support and enablement programmes too.
Feeling inspired? Here are some large and small companies leading the way to support employees with autism:
“auticon works hand-in-hand with their clients and the local autism community to provide a neurodiverse and agile workforce to improve their IT projects.”
“Capital One has its CapAbilities Business Resource Group (BRG), a network of associates whose focus is to support and encourage understanding for those who thrive within a broad range of disabilities and caregivers.”
“EY is one of more than 200 companies participating in Disability:IN, which offers an Inclusion Works program that provides an excellent platform for members to share their experiences. EY teams have also collaborated on the Autism @ Work Playbook created by the University of Washington Information School.”
“Microsoft has a Neurodiversity Hiring Program where applicants engage in an extended interview process that focuses on workability, team projects, and skill assessment. Their approach allows candidates to showcase their unique talents while learning about Microsoft as an employer of choice.”
“Ultranauts builds software and data quality engineering firm that delivers superior value for their customers and designs a universal workplace that embraces neurodiversity.”
“Autism at work, a program focused on hiring employees with Autism, has hired more than 30 individuals who have ASD and anticipate hiring hundreds more globally over the coming years.”
“Freddie Mac partnered with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) in 2012 to create an Autism Internship Program designed to match their business needs with the unique capabilities of individuals with ASD behaviours and social interaction.”
Our founder Sasha Wight recently spoke to Anthony Pacilio, VP and Global Head of Autism at Work for JPMorgan Chase, about how leaders or practitioners can create more inclusive working environments for their employees with ASD. Here are some of Anthony’s tips:
Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Learning from those mistakes will make your program better!
Make sure the managers are the right fit for your employees. Find out what their communication style is and provide coaching where needed.
Promote your internal programs to employee families who could benefit from access to this information and support.
Feel free to contact us if you would like to learn more about designing inclusive employee experiences and journeys that support employees and candidates with an ASD! We’d love to support you.