Autism Acceptance Month Spotlight:
We cheered from our laptops, along with millions of other social media followers worldwide, as Ryan Lowry, a 20-year-old man with an autism spectrum diagnosis, received his dream job offer last month. In an open letter to his future employer posted on LinkedIn, Lowry encouraged hiring companies to “take a chance on (someone who doesn’t) learn like typical people do,” promising to “show up every day, do what you tell me, and work really hard” – disarming assertions that reminded the Motion PR team of editorial conversations with our Avanade client, one of the world’s largest deployers of digital business technology.
As we commemorate Autism Acceptance Month, we reached out to Avanade’s Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer Hallam Sargeant for his insights on the growing interest among STEM-focused companies in neurodiverse talent. Following are some excerpts from that dialog:
You’ve been quoted as saying that hiring individuals with an autism spectrum diagnosis is not only the right thing to do, it’s smart business. Can you explain that?
Sargeant: Innovation is critical to business success and we cannot be true innovators without diverse skills and perspectives. Eighty percent of people with autism spectrum diagnoses are unemployed or underemployed, representing a pool of untapped talent with high cognitive abilities that can help us provide the best solutions for our clients.
What changes will companies seeking neurodiverse talent need to make to their interview/hiring processes?
Sargeant: We need to revisit our job descriptions and interview processes to ensure they’re aimed at hiring for potential. Let’s think about how most interviews are conducted, especially in an increasingly virtual environment. There is generally some aspect of a video interview, which may not be conducive to the way individuals on the autism spectrum or other diverse candidates communicate most effectively. How can we innovate beyond that so that our entire interviewing process is more inclusive and is not a barrier to attracting the best talent? One step is to utilize learning platforms that help interviewers and hiring managers not only become aware of their unconscious biases, but consciously inclusive enough to mitigate the impact of those biases.
From a talent retention perspective, how may companies need to adapt operationally to be truly inclusive of neurodiverse talent?
Sargeant: The goal is to create an environment where all employees are comfortable bringing their full selves to work. This often entails offering flexible working arrangements, normalizing accommodations, and establishing HR checkpoints to ensure the employee’s needs are being addressed. It’s also important that managers are connecting head with heart with team members, creating an environment where we lead with empathy and are asking about what’s possible, versus pointing out the why not.
Ultimately, it’s in an organization’s best interest to create an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and can do their best work. We’ll retain more talent if people feel like they can thrive, and if they see us as truly inclusive and supportive.
Avanade is widely recognized as a tech industry leader in the area of diversity and inclusion. What are the first steps a company less far along in its D&I journey can take to create a more inclusive workplace?
There’s a difference between doing something to be compliant and doing it because it’s embedded in your mission/brand and the right thing to do. All organizations need to take honest stock of where they are, and start from there. Workplace inclusivity is not, as we once thought, just about equality, or even equity (a.k.a. “affirmative action”). In its most mature form, it’s a matter of justice – removing the systemic barriers to inclusivity so team members of all races, ethnicities, genders, religions, sexual orientations, and abilities can thrive without accommodations.
Written by Motion’s DE&I committee