By Dinah Williams, Head of Social Media and Engagement
The National Autistic Society reports that only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full time employment, of those that weren’t in employment, 77% reported that they would like to be. Autism affects more than 1 in 100 people, which means the UK has over 700,000 people living with autism – a huge underutilised talent pool.
Earlier this summer, we interviewed Akama Davies, Global Solutions and Innovation Director of Xasis(WPP). An incredibly talented and charismatic individual, Akama is not only known for his work in BAME representation (as founder of the We Are Stripes organisation) but also as a spokesperson for those with neurodiversity (being dyslexic himself) in the media teach industry. During our interview, Akama challenged the perception of neurodivergent employees being distinguished by their ‘difficulties’ and encouraged employers rather to view these differences as a strength, or even better as a super-power. If businesses within the UK tech industry could change their point of view, this would result in an increase of neurodivergent representation across the sector and an answer to the ever-increasing talent shortage
Why? Because neurodiversity has tangible business benefits. Inclusion is understanding that every employee has individual characteristics and needs and this also applies when considering the needs of neurodivergent talent. Although individuals may indeed live with the same descriptors, no two individual lived experiences will be the same.
It’s important to embrace the fact that the neurodivergent talent pool often has qualities that are desirable to the tech industry – such as high levels on concentration, mathematical abilities, high level of attention to deal, thinking outside the box and excellent memory and information retention. Hiring in this talent pool is also good for productivity. James Mahoney, Executive Director and head of Autism at work for Chase says “Our autistic employees achieve, on average, 48% to 140% more work than their typical colleagues, depending on the roles, they are highly focused and less distracted by social interactions”
If we understand there’s no ‘one size fits all’ how can businesses successfully recruit and retain neurodivergent talent?
Hiring process – If organisations make minor adjustments to their hiring processes, more applicants will feel able to apply for more job opportunities. It’s become the norm to see job descriptions list ‘excellent communication skills’ and ‘team player’ as essential attributes to roles, when often these are not necessary, particularly in tech companies, and would cause neurodivergent jobseekers not to apply. Also, many applicants may not have achieved the minimum qualifications advertised due to several reasons such as, late discovery as living with dyslexia, dyscalculia or dyspraxia can impact academic performance.
Making small changes to the candidate selection process can also encourage an increased number of applicants. We’ve all either received or given the advice to ‘sell yourself’ in an interview, however this is something which can cause anxiety or stress to an individual who has neurodiverse characteristics. Instead, offering, the opportunity of a trial day or session would be a better option.
Example of positive change
In April of 2015, Microsoft introduced the ‘Microsoft Autism Hiring Program’ with the set objectives of hiring people with Autism into full-time positions. Both PROVAIL and Specialisterne partnered with Microsoft to support with job training and assisting people with an autism spectrum disorder. The response Microsoft received was overwhelmingly positive including 1000’s of emails, 100’s of CV’s and calls as well as simple praise for the programme being created.
According to the data from the BIMA Inclusion and Diversity Report neurodivergent employees are more likely to be impacted by poor mental health than neurotypical employees – 84% v 49%. It’s critical for businesses to ensure that their workplace environments ‘work’ for all their employees. Neurodivergent employees can feel overwhelmed by sensory output – therefore an open-plan, Spotify music playing office just wouldn’t be suitable. Organisations should consider the inclusion for a smaller, quieter workspace option to employees that simply don’t flourish in the open plan set up.
Creating an inclusive workplace culture to support neurodivergent talent does not have to be an expensive exercise, with small adaptions and a little creative thinking, organisations can introduce processes that work for all.
We are always looking for examples of best practise and useful tips, please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on how the tech sector can increase its numbers of neurodiversity talent or ways to make the recruitment process more inclusive.