For many years, the autistic population has been dramatically underemployed across sectors of British Columbia’s workforce. It’s estimated that only 20% of autistic adults are in some form of employment, which leaves almost 40,000 autistic British Columbians out of work. Fortunately, there has been a big drive in neurodiversity hiring initiatives across a wide range of organizations in the last few years. However, one of the biggest challenges facing any company that is hiring autistic employees is kept retention rates high.
Challenges for retention
Part of the reason that many large corporations, including JP Morgan Chase, SAP, and Microsoft to name but a few places with strong neurodiversity hiring initiatives, are turning to autistic people is the unique skill set they bring to the table. While every person with autism is a unique individual (hence the idea of autism as a broad spectrum), there are some traits common to many forms of autism: a high tolerance for concentration and repetitive tasks, excellent pattern recognition and data analysis skills, and ability for true out of the box thinking. However, even these larger firms struggle to get about 90% retention rate in their hiring programs as they face some of these challenges:
- Not all autistic people have the right skills - just like any other worker, autistic people can’t just do any job to meet a diversity checkbox. They will need to be trained in the specific role and will need support ahead of the Autism Spectrum Disorder and employment process to make sure that they have the necessary aptitudes and capacity to learn the essential parts of the job. Too often do autistic employees leave before their contract is up because of performance-related issues.
- The workplace still favors neurotypical workers - creating an autism-friendly workplace is more than sending existing staff on some autism awareness course and asking everyone to be a bit quieter in the office. These token gestures don’t make for a truly inclusive working environment and the underlying message will still be that the autistic employee is someone to be tolerated and worked around rather than someone to be included and enveloped into the company.
- Stigma among colleagues - finally, for a variety of reasons, autism still carries a lot of negative stereotypes in today’s society. While more and more people are becoming aware of the condition, many people don’t take it seriously which will include workers at supposedly neurodiverse workplaces. As with many prejudices, it will take time and exposure to truly break down those barriers across society.
Creating an Effective Neurodiversity Hiring Initiative
With these challenges in place, it can be hard to see how any neurodiversity hiring initiative could ever reach the lofty goals often set out in the planning process. However, there are some steps that will allow your company to create an effective autism recruitment strategy:
- Define roles for autistic workers - rather than expecting an autistic person to conform to the existing neurotypical roles in your organization, you can breed successful autistic employment by creating roles that specifically target the strengths of autistic workers.
- Reach out into the company - to help break down some of the stereotypes and prejudices that surround autism in your workplace, your employees need to see the hiring of autistic employees as more than just a nod towards diversity. Consider setting up a community outreach program for your workers where they go and volunteer with programs that support autistic people. Not only will this send your message to your clients that you are keen to be part of the community, but it also gives your staff positive exposure and allows them to see the positive benefits that autistic people bring to society.
- Work with the experts - it’s unrealistic to expect that a hiring manager can be an expert in both their own organization and in autism. For a neurodiversity hiring initiative to be successful, you need to get in expert help and many organizations get in touch with a local autism talent management agency. These groups find, recruit and train autistic people for a wide variety of fields and will work alongside your company to make the employment a long-term success.
As with all hiring programs, it’s essential to keep it flexible in response to your data. Keep track of records of retention and performance and adjust your hiring practices accordingly to make your workplace truly autism-friendly.