When it Comes to Work Culture, Inclusion Starts at the Interview

Here’s some food for thought: 86% of autistic children are now in mainstream education, engaging and learning with others. However, when it comes to adults with autism, 85% are unemployed.

This sobering statistic was shared by Adam Harris, CEO and founder of AsIAm.ie, speaking on stage at InspireFest on May 16 at Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, where creating a workplace that’s purpose-built for inclusion was high on the agenda.

AsIAm is an organisation whose purpose is to create a world where every person with autism in Ireland can live and succeed just as they are. Adam, a panellist at an upcoming Atomic DNA event co-hosted with SAP, pointed out that the number of unemployed adults with autism is particularly alarming considering not only the enormous battle for talent in this country but also the wide variety of research and experience that has shown having people who ‘think different’ is at the heart of business innovation and growth.

Autism, defined as being a fundamentally different way of thinking, is actually a difference that can be unlocked to bring real value to businesses. As such, it is an untapped mine of talent in a resource-poor environment.

Echoing Adam that day was Ciara-Beth Griffin, founder of Mi Contact, an app that helps children with autism practice eye contact. Ciara-Beth, who grew up with high-functioning autism, agreed with Adam on the issue surrounding the recruitment process.

Unfortunately, Ciara-Beth says, a large part of the recruitment process relies on the “grey” —  the unsaid, between-the-lines and body language — as much as what is actually said. This can lead to serious challenges for autistic people who may be more than capable of fulfilling a role in your company. For example, those among us with autism are far more likely to take things at face value. Bearing this in mind, consider these extracts from job descriptions that are live in Ireland right now:

You’re willing to take risks and put yourself out there! You are committed beyond reason to making a difference! You care about our products’ success more than you care about anything else!

Can you identify the gaps in the state of the art?-IT Lead Role

“A highly sensitive, critical thinker.” -Plane Refueller

Must function extremely well in situations that require flexibility, good judgment, and sound autonomous decision-making based on limited information or in undesirable situations.-You may be picturing James Bond right now but it is actually a grad role for a tech company

Candidates must have beyond exceptional interpersonal and verbal skills.”-Data Analyst

Must have a personable, kind, and informative communication style in an email.-Grad Tech Role

Instantly, we can see the issues of exclusion arising from what is most likely your company’s first interaction with a potential candidate. And let’s be honest, none of us likes to see ‘copy-paste’ personality attributes or vagueness when it comes to job hunting. At best, it is tedious and cringe-worthy; at worst, it can completely put us off applying for a role. So just imagine how much this is amplified for those on the autism spectrum — and that’s just the job description. The issue ramps up even more when it comes to the live interview process, such as what we interpret and accept as positive body language and eye contact and an often indirect style of questioning that we may use for assessment.

Both educating those directly involved in the process and ensuring your environments are autism-friendly are key to ensuring you don’t miss out on some serious talent that may make all the difference to your business.

Would you like to learn how you can create an autism friendly workplace? Join Atomic DNA and SAP on May 29 to find out how the global software giant tackled this issue head-on by launching Autism at Work in 2013. We’ll be joined by Adam from AsIAm, as well as Nick Rankin, a product support specialist who is employed through SAP’s programme, and Peter Brabazon, General Manager of Specialisterne Ireland, the not-for-profit organisation that helped SAP get it off the ground.