“How can we make our workplace more autism-friendly?” is not a question I expect you to have already asked yourselves. Just 16% of autistic adults in the UK are currently in full-time employment. A scary stat on its own but scarier knowing that 1 in every 100 of us have an autism spectrum condition.
Our understanding of autism has come a long way in what is a relatively short space of time. Unfortunately, it’s still led to a scarcity of understanding the challenges that autistic adults face and with it, any conversation about autism in the workplace.
But, if you’re reading this, now is a great time to be engaging in the conversation.
Organisations big and small across industries are beginning to recognise the business case for employing autistic people in their workforce. Business, not charity.
From Deutsche Bank or Microsoft to Auticon or Harry Specters, there is a fast-growing number of businesses benefiting from the untapped talent pool of autistic people in our country.
Yet many barriers exist that prevent employers and the autistic community from realising these opportunities, both in the workplace and leading up to it. Here are a few ways in which you could contribute to making your workplace more autism-friendly.
There are simple resources that any employer can bring in that could help an autistic colleague to be able to handle the sensory environment of your workplace.
Whether your office is large or small, open-plan or otherwise, the environment of the office can be overwhelming.
Investing in something as simple as a pair of ear defenders for your colleague can
significantly help to dilute the noise they are experiencing and allow them to keep calm and concentrate.
In our workplaces, autistic people can often feel overwhelmed with information yet employers and managers struggle with a lack of it. Bridges need to be built and it doesn’t have to cost much time or money to be able to do it.
Creating a culture where any autistic employees feel understood and accepted in the workplace is where we should be aiming.
If you already know colleagues at work who are autistic, why not ask them to talk openly with the team about how their autism affects them? It is a spectrum and a variety of perspectives are needed to understand it but being able to listen as a team will go a long way. There is no shortage of autistic advocates out there ready to share their experience with autism, they just need you to be ready to listen.
Actually recruiting more autistic people in the workforce
It is worth saying here that making your workplace more autism-friendly is all well and good but you can only benefit from your improvements if you have autistic talent joining your company.
Are your job descriptions ‘autism-friendly’? Many autistic people in the UK rule themselves out of jobs without even applying because of how a job description is written. How essential are those excellent communication skills? How much of the description has been copied from a previous role, honestly?
Explore how you can alter your recruitment process to get the best talent. Do interviews give you the best view on the candidates fit for the role? Is there a more effective way for them to demonstrate their aptitude for the job and your company? If interviews are necessary then how could you make that process more autism-friendly? This video is a great view into how an autistic candidate may perceive the process.
One of the many benefits that could come from recruiting a more neurodiverse workforce is the impact on your company culture, you are literally bringing in people who think differently.
Being able to provide a mentor to help navigate the company culture and responsibilities of the job has proven to be a very effective approach to take in helping your autistic employee to settle and thrive. This can be in-house as Goldman Sachs have done with their renowned programme or provided by autism-specific consultants such as AS Mentoring.
To conclude, it’s worth saying that many clients that our team have worked with have realised the benefits aren’t just limited to autistic employees. Making your workplace more autism-friendly will have much wider benefits for your company.
That starts by focussing on the individual and giving them the best opportunity to thrive with you.