In hiring people with autism, focus on interview process

'They don't care about social norms. They want to do the best jobs they can. They want to go in and ask very direct questions'

In hiring people with autism, focus on interview process

April is World Autism Month, and Canada’s top employers are coming together virtually through “Spectrum Works” to provide employment opportunities for the neurodiverse community.

This year’s event brings together recruiters and hiring managers from major companies including Rogers, Amazon, Lowes, IBM, OMERS, Ernst & Young and Hyundai. It also includes service providers such as Autism Speaks Canada, Autism Ontario, Autism CanTech! and Back in Motion.

The talent pool

By tapping into this community for talent, employers “get access to a talent pool that’s got these STEM skills that are very difficult to find,” says Roland Labuhn, partner for digital and analytics at Deloitte Canada, in talking with Canadian HR Reporter.

He adds that about 90 per cent of prospective employees with autism have these skills, citing a report from Deloitte Canada and auticon Canada.

Neurodiverse individuals tend to be able to focus more and better stick to the task than neurotypical workers, says Labuhn.

“We find precise attention to details, exceptional ability to focus, diligence and thoroughness,” adds Garth Johnson, CEO of auticon Canada.

auticon employs more than 300 people globally, with roughly 200 of those on the autism spectrum. People in this group can be 60 to 70 per cent more productive than a neurotypical in that role, Johnson previously told Canadian HR Reporter.

“Our colleagues are as accurate at 3:00 in the afternoon as they were at 7 in the morning when they really love what they do,” he says.

The interview process

While neurodiverse people can offer what many employers are looking for in talent, the interview process continues to be a problem. Overall, 41 per cent of people with autism had a lot of fear about the interview process, found the Deloitte report Embracing neurodiversity at work How Canadians with autism can help employers close the talent gap.

“They felt that it was a trick on them or something was off. And part of that is [the] interviewers. Companies sometimes have bias, whether conscious or unconscious, in their interviewing. We’re looking for verbal cues, we’re looking for the things that the autistic community may not be strong in, the small social talks and the like,” says Labuhn.

Johnson shares this story:

“When we first began, we were in the interview process and we said ‘Don’t ask our colleagues soft questions because you’re going to get hard answers’. And the interviewer, on the second question, said to our colleague: ‘Tell me why I should hire you over the other consultants we’re considering for this position.’

“And he replied: ‘That is an unfair question. I don’t know who the other consultants are. If you give me a copy of their resume and background and work history, I’ll give you an assessment as to whether or not I’m the ideal candidate for this role’.

“And I was there in the interview and I intervened and said, ‘What they’re asking you is why you’re going to be the best for this job.’ He said, ‘Why didn’t he just ask me that?’”

Roland and Garth

Neurodiverse people don’t care about social norms, says Labuhn. “They want to do the best jobs they can. They want to go in and ask very direct questions.”

So employers must do much better by providing training – for individuals who are doing the interviews – in autism and better understanding the challenges that these individuals face, says Labuhn. They must also focus the interviews “on much more concrete factors rather than things like small talk”.

"It all comes down to the right person for the right job and right outcome."

Changing the culture

Hiring neurodiverse people may mean providing some sort of extra accommodation, given that some people with autism also suffer from anxiety and sensitivity to light and sound, says Labuhn, but this can only be good for the company overall.

“All these supports and extra effort we go through – establishing communication, making it easy for a customer to get a productive person up and running – all of these benefit all of us.”

And neurodiverse workers can be culture changers, says Johnson, sharing an instance when his workers joined one software testing project and totally changed the way the people in the project were doing the job: debugging codes.

“When they finally got their equipment, they turned their monitors to [portrait view instead of landscape view] so that they could see more code all the way down at once. And by the time they had worked there for a week, the entire team [had done the same] and we’re being quicker and more efficient on code.”

Continued stigma

However, neurodiverse workers’ struggles extend far beyond the interview table: 45 per cent say they feel the need to mask their autism while at work; 47 per cent claim they aren't comfortable disclosing their autism to employers, found Deloitte’s survey of 454 adults.

Autism in the workplace is like engaging any other difference in terms of culture or perspective or world view, says Labuhn, “and we often say autism is not a condition; it’s more a perspective or world view in terms of high-functioning people.”

Despite efforts to build awareness and understanding of neurodiversity, more than half of survey respondents indicate they feel there's a stigma associated with autism (55 per cent), and say they're treated differently once people learn of their autism (56 per cent). Over two in five (42 per cent) claim they've been the target of discrimination at work.

"It's alarming that the autistic community continues to feel they can't bring their whole, authentic selves to work, or disclose their neurodiversity to employers," says Johnson. "Until people feel comfortable sharing this information, the door to the workplace will never truly be open to the autistic community."

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