13 Apr 2018, in Autism & Employment
Last week we were pleased to attend a lunch at the UN building in New York, bringing together global experts and practioners in the field of autism at work. The tone and atmosphere was highly positive - unsurprising given the rapid rise in attention on this topic even just over the past 24 months.
After a series of speeches - and one-to-one conversations with others at the event - these were our three key takeaways:
1. Everyone agrees autism at work isn't just a CSR matter
The topic of ROI was frequently cited, as was the need to continue to position autism initiatives to HR as high-impact talent strategy plays - not charity. This syncs with Uptimize's own ethos and view of neurodiverse teams as a clear competitive advantage.
2. Autism-at-work is a global focus
At Uptimize, so far we have worked principally in the US, the UK and Australia - though we are looking to create versions of our products in other languages, following client requests. It was great to see attendees from China, the Americas and Europe coming together to share best practices and future strategies.
3. Autism-at-work will benefit from further data, proving the impact of neurodiverse hiring
This was something that came up in the discussion; our view is that while the initial data has been highly positive (witness JPMorgan Chase finding their neurodiverse teams have been 50% more productive!) there is a need for further, more wide-ranging studies across the space. This is something we are committed to facilitating at Uptimize with our university partners - watch this space!
Want to know more about our work? Please get in touch through our website contact form.
4 Sep 2017, in Autism & Employment
At Uptimize, we work closely with a number of partners whose services, ethos and mission complement and sync with our own.
One such partner is Integrate Autism Advisors (formerly Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership) based in New York, an organization than specializes in helping employers to recruit autistic talent.
Integrate’s founder and President, Marcia Scheiner, is – like Integrate’s other key figures - the parent of an adult son with Asperger Syndrome. Previously, she spent 25 years in financial services, building up an impressive private sector resume before founding Integrate.
Marcia has now written a book - An Employer’s Guide to Managing Professionals on the Autism Spectrum – a definitive guide to managing people with an ASD effectively. The book covers all aspects of managing a direct report on the spectrum, from ensuring the manager truly understands autism itself, to social interaction, emotional regulation, and work performance.
“A very valuable guide to the chagallenges that people with autismface in the workplace… this will help ensure the workplace is inclusive for people with autism”
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University
“… unique and especially useful in today’s competitive landscape, where employers are looking to tap into this unexplored talent pool”
James Mahoney, Executive Director, Head of Autism at Work, JPMorgan Chase & Company
We strongly recommend this book as both an introductory and complimentary resource for managers with autistic staff. You can purchase a copy here:
9 May 2017, in Recruitment
There is still a chronic lack of awareness of neurodiversity in society as a whole - and as a result, in many workplaces. Conditions are often poorly understood, generalized and inaccurately stereotyped – for example, that everyone with autism is male, or that people with ADHD cannot be focused, productive employees in the right role.
Neurodiverse individuals can be extremely talented and add significant value in organizations. But for many employers, it’s still a challenge to be disability-friendly and ‘neurodiversity smart’ – most existing hiring processes, management practices, and workplaces have been shaped almost exclusively for ‘neurotypicals’, without taking the neurodivergent into account.
Where hiring processes are concerned, this means running the risk of unintentionally excluding neurodiverse talent, whatever the organization’s intentions; of missing out on substantial, high potential talent pipelines; and even risking legal issues further down the line.
We’ve flagged 7 areas within a typical recruitment process that could be problematic in terms of successfully hiring neurodiverse talent.
Do any of these apply to your organization?
1. Not making it clear enough that you welcome (neuro)diverse applicants
Job seekers with a neurodiverse condition may have had negative experiences in the past with organizations being unprepared to hire, manage and develop them successfully. Some may even assume that most organizations are unlikely to be suitable for them. You can stand out from the crowd by making your commitment to hiring all diverse applicants – including those with neurodiverse conditions – as visible as possible, from case studies on your recruitment website to including similar text in your job descriptions.
2. Recruiting through the same old channels
Relating to point (1) above, neurodiverse job applicants may not use the major ‘conventional’ job sites and jobs boards. If you are looking to develop a specific neurodiversity hiring program, you’re likely to want to work with specialists in this area such as The Arc. Even if you just ultimately want to organically attract a wider range of applicants, it’s smart to be proactive and ensure your recruitment efforts are reaching out to school disability counsellors, disability charities, and neurodiversity-specific recruitment sites such as ‘thespectrumcareers.com’, by Autism Speaks.
3. Unclear, misleading job descriptions
Job descriptions are the first interface between your employer brand and your prospective job applicants. Many are unclear in terms of structure or jargon – people on the autism spectrum, for example, are very literal thinkers – and may also contain unnecessary skills demands. The next time you’re recruiting for a more technical role, stop and think – is ‘excellent communication skills’ really a ‘must have’ and not just ‘useful, but not essential’?
4. Confusing, timed application forms
Application forms should be made as clear as possible to avoid any misunderstandings, confusion or stress on the part of the applicant – similarly, timed elements can cause unnecessary anxiety for people who may have challenges reading or typing under time pressure.
5. Poor communication
Communication during the application process is critical to ensure not just that (all) candidates can have as stress-free an experience as possible, but also to help orient and prepare neurodiverse candidates for their interviews. For applicants on the autism spectrum, (regular) email communication is likely to be preferred, with clear and thorough information provided in advance to set expectations of interviews, assessment exercises, and onboarding.
6. Interviewers not trained in interviewing neurodiverse candidates
Interviews are stressful and challenging for most people – and especially so for people with neurodiverse conditions, such as autism. Interviews can be made to be fair and effective for these candidates - this is likely to require insight and guidance across the recruitment teams.
Typical issues with interviews could include: using a suboptimal space; a lack of understanding and empathy towards non-typical body language, eye contact, and so on; asking vague, general questions instead of clear, specific questions focused on previous experiences and achievements; and more.
Interviewers should also be aware of the key do’s and don’ts regarding disclosure of a ‘hidden’ condition such as autism – not being aware of these could have legal ramifications.
7. Potential issues with tests
Most organizations use tests and other assessments when considering job applicants – your organization is likely to be no different. Problems can arise, though, when these are applied uniformly without attention to potential discrimination against neurodiverse job candidates who may naturally have difficulties with, for example, reading material under a tight timeline. This point - stressed, for example, in the UK’s 2010 Equality Act, and the essence of this entire post – is a crucial one; don’t just assume that just because something is applied ‘equally’ across an entire group (in this case, job applicants) that it is inevitably fair, or ultimately effective.
Interested in neurodiversity in your organization? – For more info, get in touch with us – we’d love to hear from you.
17 Apr 2017, in Neurodiversity
Neurodivergent people are disproportionately represented amongst entrepreneurs.
What do Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John have in common?
Yes, they are all successful, vastly wealthy businesspeople that appear as hosts on the hit show ‘Shark Tank’.
But – less well known – they also all have dyslexia, a familiar yet still often misunderstood condition affecting 10-20% of the US population. It’s a condition that is classified as a ‘learning disability’ - but one that is better understood as simply an alternative thinking style.
This dyslexic style can lead to challenges in phonological processing and visual perception, but it also has a positive and overlooked ‘flip side’ of powerful visual spatial skills and exceptional creativity.
Corcoran grades suffered at school due to her dyslexia, which she wasn’t fully aware of until her son began to have similar problems of his own at school. John struggled in similar fashion, frustrated that his greater effort in words-based subjects yielded significantly lower grades than his high marks in math and science. O’Leary, meanwhile, found his self-confidence significantly shaken as a result of his condition.
Yet all three went on to build multimillion-dollar businesses, and become figurehead business celebrities.
This Shark Tank trio are far from exceptions, too; successful entrepreneurs with neurodiverse conditions are unusually prevalent when considering the neurodivergent/neurotypical population spread. This fact was highlighted and confirmed in a series of academic studies, such as those in 2001 and 2007 by Professor Julie Logan in the UK and the US, that revealed a significantly higher proportion of entrepreneurs to be dyslexic as against those with the condition in the general population.
Meanwhile neurodiverse entrepreneurs are not all or only dyslexic – many prominent and successful businesspeople like Virgin Founder Richard Branson also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, the subject of a notable Forbes article in 2014, ‘ADHD: The Entrepreneur’s Superpower’. Neurodivergent entrepreneurs have also included those with other conditions such as autism and Down Syndrome.
So – the crucial question: why the over-representation of neurodivergence – and dyslexia in particular - amongst entrepreneurs?
Let’s return to our original three ‘Sharks’, each of which has described their dyslexia as a useful attribute in their entrepreneurial endeavours.
O’Leary and others have cited and embraced the visual creative ability that arises from dyslexics’ unique thinking style. In O’Leary’s words (to Entrepreneur Magazine), ‘dyslexia gives you some really unique perspectives and abilities that I’d call superpowers’. John has described himself as being ‘blessed’ with dyslexia, while Corcoran has echoed such sentiments: dyslexia ‘made me more creative, more social and more competitive’ she told the same publication in 2014.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs with ADHD have leveraged their own unique attributes, including their restless energy, ability to focus intently when sufficiently stimulated by a task, and their own creative lateral thinking abilities. ADHDers are often also both adept multitaskers, and cool under pressure – two vital attributes for an entrepreneur or senior executive.
It’s no surprise, then, to see David Neeleman (founder of Jet Blue Airlines and a proud ADHDer) state that he would never choose to lose his ADHD and become ‘neurotypical’, such are the advantages his unique thinking style has given him in business: “I'm afraid of taking drugs once, blowing a circuit, and then being like the rest of you,” he once joked to Additude magazine.
Similarly, ADHDer Cameron Herold, who has grown three companies to over $100m in revenue, has been vocal in highlighting the advantage his own, natural ‘big picture thinking’ has given him in business. Herold told the Guardian that ““Attention deficit [hyperactivity] disorder can be a problem, or it can be an opportunity”. In his 2010 Ted Talk, he opened with the memorable line “I would be willing to bet that I’m the dumbest guy in the room because I couldn’t get through school”.
Beyond the intrinsic advantages of their different thinking styles, neurodivergent entrepreneurs have also leveraged the toughness, resilience and adaptability developed from a lifetime of living in a world shaped for ‘neurotypicals’. Kevin O’Leary, for example, mentions as critical to his success an ability to focus and problem-solve, due to dealing with dyslexia and its challenges.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book David & Goliath, suggested entrepreneurs with ADHD and dyslexia have the advantage of greater, learned problem-solving skills, as a result of living with their conditions: "Dyslexia”, he wrote, “in the best of cases - forces you to develop skills that might otherwise have lain dormant”.
People with neurodiverse conditions can possess unique skills and attributes that can be a significant benefit in business. As well as entrepreneurs, there are countless examples of neurodiverse individuals rising to the very top of the corporate world (think Gary Cohn of Goldman Sachs, John Chambers of Cisco, and many more) through leveraging the unique strengths of their alternative brain processing style. Given the insight, creativity and drive such individuals can bring to the workplace, it’s worth pausing to ask questions such as:
Would a young Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary or Barbara Corcoran have been attracted to apply to your organization? And – even more pertinently - would they have made it through your hiring process?
11 Apr 2017, in Neurodiversity
People with neurodiverse conditions don’t just make great employees. Some of the most famous and successful entrepreneurs of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have been individuals with one or more neurodiverse conditions.
It’s not only striking to see how many such business icons are ‘neurodivergent’ – but to see how these businesspeople have embraced and leveraged their unique thinking styles for business success.
1. Daymond John, founder of FUBU
Daymond John founded apparel and footwear brand FUBU in the 1990s – he is now thought to be worth over $250 million.
John has been vocal in insisting his dyslexia was much more of a help than a hindrance in his rise to such extraordinary business success, describing himself as being “blessed with dyslexia”.
Although he struggled at school with tasks involving reading and writing, he found his highly visual brain was a formidable asset in visualising strategy and business plans.
He also naturally ‘dreamt big’ – another significant advantage for an entrepreneur. “My mother always said, ‘It takes the same energy to think small as it does to think big" ” John told Yale’s Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, “so dream big and think bigger.”
2. Richard Branson
Virgin billionaire Richard Branson – perhaps the business icon of our times – created a multi-billion dollar empire across industries such as music, media, and travel.
Branson said on his own website of his dyslexia ‘"I see my condition as a gift, not a disability. It has helped me learn the art of delegation, focus my skills, and work with incredible people."
3. Charles Schwab
The founder of the eponymous investment services provider is also dyslexic, although he was not aware of this until he reached the age of forty.
He has been clear both on how dyslexia has been a challenge – “if you gave me a book on some subject that I’m not familiar with, it would take me twice as long to read it as anybody else” – but also a strength, noting like Daymond John that it has given him “better visualization capability and conceptual vision” (interview with Steven Moore, The Wall Street Journal (July 28, 2007).
4. Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA
Ingvar Kamprad is a Swedish business magnate and the founder of IKEA, whose first entrepreneurial endeavour was selling matches to neighbours from his bicycle as a young boy. He founded IKEA as a mostly mail-order retail business in 1943, selling a variety of homeware products – the first IKEA furniture was created and sold 5 years later, in 1948.
Kamprad has both ADHD and dyslexia – it was his difficulties remembering product codes that led to IKEA’s famously creative furniture names (chairs and desks have men’s names, garden furniture is names after Swedish islands, and so on…)
This ended up being one of the defining aspects of the ultra-successful brand.
Kamprad is a great example of the positive ADHDer traits of high energy, drive, and creativity.
5. David Neeleman, Founder of JetBlue
ADHDer Neeleman founded JetBlue airlines, and is now CEO of Azul. A posterboy of ADHD entrepreneurship, Neeleman was the principal subject of an influential Forbes article in May 2014 entitled ‘ADHD: The Entrepreneur’s Superpower’.
Neeleman has clearly articulated the benefits his ADHD has given him in his highly successful business journey, telling ADDitude Magazine “I can distill complicated facts and come up with simple solutions. I can look out on an industry with all kinds of problems and say, 'How can I do this better?' My ADD brain naturally searches for better ways of doing things.”
Given the advantages he has benefitted from, it’s no surprise to see Neeleman reach the following striking conclusion: ‘“If someone told me you could be normal or you could continue to have your ADD (the original name for what is now called ADHD), I would take ADD”.
It’s remarkable not just that so many of the very top business people of our time have neurodiverse conditions, but that many of them actively credit these conditions with their success.
Meanwhile many organizations that would benefit from creative, high impact individuals and greater ‘diversity of thought’ continue to overlook and even unintentionally exclude neurodiverse talent.
30 Mar 2017, in Autism & Employment
Autism spectrum conditions result from differences in brain wiring, and can affect social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.
The ‘spectrum’ relates to the range of conditions within the autism range – varying from so severe that a person may be almost unable to communicate and need round-the-clock care, to milder versions such as the well-known Asperger’s Syndrome.
Busting The Myths
Stereotypes about autism abound – many of which are inaccurate. For example, it’s not just men who have autism spectrum conditions; while the typically accepted ratio is 4:1 male to female, recent research suggests there are likely to be more undiagnosed women than men.
Another myth buster: the fact that the majority of people with autism are of standard or above average intelligence. Only around a third have an intellectual disability along with their condition.
The Positive 'Flip Side'
Autism, like dyslexia and ADHD, is typically characterized in terms of negatives – the challenges people on the autism spectrum face as a result of their condition.
These can include ‘executive function’ challenges - such as a tendency to limited or repetitive interests, and a resistance to change - as well as social communication challenges with body language, eye contact, reading other people, and assessing situations for ‘appropriate’ social behaviour.
Yet as with other such conditions, there is often a more positive ‘flip side’ to autism: one that makes many people on the autism spectrum very effective employees in the right work roles.
The Unique Strengths of Autistic Workers
Auticon, a successful consulting business whose autistic consultants provide IT and compliance business services to corporates, list 9 common attributes of people on the autism spectrum that give them a significant advantage at work.
These include an ability to focus and concentrate over long periods; exceptional attention to detail; logical and analytical skills; and typical personal traits such as honesty, sincerity and loyalty.
Other firms like ULTRA Testing and Aspiritech are successfully operating similar models to Auticon, leveraging many of the unique skills of autistic workers and the particularly good fit between these skills and many of the work demands of the tech industry.
Underemployment Remains High
However, despite the skills that people with autism can bring to employers, they are currently missing out in the job market – and as a result, on having the independence, self-worth and life options of a successful career – in a big way.
A Huffington Post article of 2012 described job prospects for adults with autism in the US as ‘crushingly bleak’ – and sadly, the situation is similar 5 years on. Nationwide, around 85% of working age adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed – according to a report by Drexel University in 2015, 20-somethings with autism are significantly less likely to be employed even than their peers with similar hidden disabilities; just 58% are employed, as compared to 95% of with learning disabilities and 91% with a speech impairment or emotional disturbance.
Employers Continue to Face Skills Shortages
While adults with autism continue to struggle to find work, many employers – and especially those in the tech industry – continue to struggle to fill open roles. The ‘tech talent shortage’ continues apace: a recent survey of by IT outsourcer Harvey Nash and auditing firm KPMG of over 3,000 CIOs found that two thirds said that hiring challenges are hurting the industry. Job site Indeed reported similar findings in its recent poll of more than 1,000 hiring managers and recruiters; 86% of companies polled said they find it challenging to find and hire technical talent.
While the shortage of suitable skills and applicants appears to be most acute in tech, other sectors are experiencing similar issues: according to the UK Recruitment & Employment Confederation JobsOutlook survey, almost half of UK employers expected a shortage of suitable candidates in 2017.
Leveraging Autistic Talent
The fit between talented autistic workers and large – often tech – companies seeking new talent has been clear for some time. Indeed, back in 2012 Peter Bell, Executive Vice President of Programs and Services at Autism Speaks, told HuffPo “The autism population represents a pool of potential employees that corporate America needs to explore”.
Some notable companies have taken up the mantle since then, led by tech giants SAP, Microsoft, and HP, with others such as professional services firm EY now also running specific programs to hire, develop and retain autistic workers. As SAP senior product manager Florian Michaelsen told TechRadar.com, “the global scarcity of talent forces us and all businesses to think in new ways – from an SAP perspective this is an easy fit, a low-hanging fruit if you will; It's estimated that some 85% of adults with autism are unemployed, so this potentially represents a unique untapped opportunity”.
What excites about not just the progress such firms have made in their recruitment efforts – SAP says it is on track to hit its goal of 1% of its global workforce (around 650 employees) by 2020 – but their potential to inspire other organizations to follow suit. As the (tech) talent shortage continues to bite, companies consistently report the need to identify and leverage new sources of talent.
Those in the vanguard, which include investment bank JPMorgan Chase (with its own series of hiring programs) are not just setting an example but also – crucially - proving the business case for hiring autistic workers; JPMC reports productivity gains of over 50% from its programs, now being significantly expanded across its offices in the US. “There’s a growing recognition that high-functioning ASD individuals have qualities that neurotypicals don’t” said Marc Lazar, program director at Aspiritech (also to HuffPo) – more and more firms are now seeking to capitalise on these hitherto overlooked attributes.