Employers can’t find qualified candidates. Workers are leaving for better pay, balance, or to start their own ventures. Maybe they’re reskilling for other careers. Sometimes we see employers exclaim they’re demanding too much.
Ask any hiring manager, and the story is the same: finding and retaining talent, particularly in the technology sector, has never been more complex than it is today.
With changes this rapid and gaps this large, technology companies should consider a talented group often overlooked and sidelined by recruiting and hiring processes: individuals with autism. With Autism Awareness Month (April) now in the rearview mirror, the opportunity to extend the conversation around neurodiversity is strong.
My journey of discovery with neurodiversity began when my eldest son, Kyle, was diagnosed with autism when he was two-and-a-half years old. To have adequate time to focus on helping him, our family made a series of major life changes, including moving provinces and changing careers. We also sought out communities and organizations that we could turn to for support and guidance.
My personal connection to autism has made me passionate about advocating for the neurodiverse in the workforce and beyond. I believe all Canadians should be able to engage in personally suitable and meaningful work that capitalizes on their unique talents and strengths.
However, despite offering unique talents and perspectives to employers, autistic individuals are both underrepresented and underemployed. Surveys conducted in Canada and the United Kingdom have demonstrated how autistic individuals are employed significantly lower than adults without disabilities.
Autistic Canadian adults experience a much lower employment rate than those without a disability. Canada’s most recent data on the topic shows that only one in three adults with autism between the ages of 20 and 64 reported being employed, a significant gap from the 79 per cent of neurotypical Canadians in the same age bracket.
That number also does not scratch the surface of the conversation around underemployment. Although nearly all the autistic Canadians Deloitte surveyed were employed, nearly half worked part-time, contract, or temporary. Again, that’s in stark contrast to the 82 per cent of working Canadians who work full time.
This current underrepresentation of autistic people in the Canadian workforce does not reflect their talent, skills, and employability. The vast majority are willing and able to work, and they are as capable of succeeding in meaningful employment as any other group. Nearly 9 out of 10 respondents to the Deloitte survey pursued a STEM field in post-secondary education, and 48 per cent said the idea of working in tech was appealing.
But businesses are often unwilling to hire autistic workers because they worry that these employees won’t be as productive as neurotypical staff or that they’ll require more job support and supervision. These concerns are rooted in misconceptions about autism. In fact, many of the employers we interviewed said when engaged in meaningful work, autistic employees were far more productive and higher achieving than their neurotypical counterparts.
In a world that changes at the speed of light, it can be daunting to consider making another change, but closing the gap is possible.
Ensuring there is a champion in your organization is an easy first step. The right champion is passionate about inclusion and diversity in all its forms, including neurodiversity. They should be senior enough to impact an organization and have championing neurodiversity built into their job description.
Bias training for all people managers (to help them understand the profile of neurodiversity) can also build an inclusive workplace. This starts with removing the ambiguity in job interviews. This stage of the hiring process is a huge barrier for many autistic people, who tend to think in literal terms and may not read social cues or express themselves in neurotypical ways.
In Deloitte’s survey, 40 per cent said the interview process was a “great challenge.” From an employer’s perspective, there is a real risk that current job interview processes are working to eliminate highly qualified candidates, including those with autism.
Employers can also use buddy systems to onboard neurodiverse employees. Auticon Canada, for example, provides coaches that can help implement effective buddy systems for companies embracing neurodiversity. This resource can be invaluable for a better understanding of autism in the workplace and help to provide strategies for creating a more inclusive workplace. Coaches can also advocate for autistic employees, especially when communications with their employers may be more challenging or intimidating.
These small changes to accommodate autistic workers can have a compounding effect on attracting more diverse, talented, and successful employees.
All people in Canada deserve meaningful and engaging work that capitalizes on their unique talents. To continue overlooking autistic people is to overlook individuals with the drive and talent to address the most challenging issue facing the Canadian technology sector.
Canadian companies are already facing skills gap shortages, compounded by the great resignation. There has truly never been a better time for Canadian employers, large and small, and across all industries, to learn more about autism and launch sincere, thoughtful efforts to tap into this wellspring of talent.
Roland Labuhn is a Partner, Digital & Analytics with Deloitte Canada.