Updated: Jan 6, 2020
Last month I blogged for the first time for Autism Awareness month about my own personal experiences of living on the Autistic spectrum and the life challenges that I had experienced.
This month I want to talk extensively about the challenges that many people on the Autistic Spectrum face with access to full time employment. As I alluded to in my last article only 14% of people with Asperger's Syndrome are in full time employment. That leaves 86% of people either in part time employment or, worse still, unemployed. My research suggests that only 32% of adults with Autism are in some form of paid employment. Nationally the figure of employment for people with Autism when you factor in part time work is at a paltry 47% so in effect one in every two people with Autism are unemployed. If as a society that prides itself on tolerance, diversity, difference and a meritocratic system that allows everyone to reach their potential, then why are employers and the government not doing more to help people on the Autistic Spectrum into employment?
I have come up with a series of proposals that I believe employers could implement to change, not only their recruitment practises, but also change the way they carry out interviews.
1. All employers with out fail should be disability confident. This should not just be a tick box exercise, but should be scrutinised through regular audits of employee records by independent auditors. Businesses that fail to comply with disability confident standards on recruitment and retention of disabled employees should face economic sanctions and their senior management retrained around understanding disability in the workplace.
2. All employers without fail should allow for reasonable adjustments during the interview process. Furthermore, from personal experience I have found that, on some employers application forms, insufficient space is allowed to describe your disability and any reasonable adjustments you may require. This is simply not acceptable and if an employer is serious about employing you then they should know what your disability is and what reasonable adjustments you require at all stages of the recruitment process.
3. If during the interview process there are assessments, extra time should be allowed for candidates who have disabilities such as Autism and Dyslexia, to ensure that there is a fair and level playing field.
4. If you work in Human Resources and Recruitment it is essential that you understand disabilities such as Autism and Asperger's Syndrome and recognise that these are complex disabilities. As such it is imperative that as HR professionals that you understand that everyone with Autism and Asperger's are uniquely different with regards to their disability and no two individuals are the same.
5. If a candidate with a disability meets at least 75% of the essential criteria for a job then they should be shortlisted for interview. This means that candidate with a disability has a better chance of a level playing field against other applicants who may have more experience. This will hopefully encourage recruiters to look beyond the CV and focus more on the human qualities of the candidate.
6. Employer's should not be afraid to ask questions about the candidate's Autism. The more questions they ask, the more beneficial it will be for the candidate and the more understanding the employer will gain. This in turn means that the candidate is more likely to be judged on the merit of their ability and not their disability.
7. If an employer understands the candidate's Autism and offers them a job, then it is essential that the employer implements the necessary workplace adjustments to ensure that the candidate with Autism is able to function to the best of their ability throughout their employment.
8. Employers should focus less on jargon as this can be confusing and disorientating for candidates on the Autistic Spectrum. They should also be aware that candidates on the Autistic Spectrum may struggle with sub-text so a greater emphasis on logical questioning that follows a clear line of thought should be used to get the most out of the candidate.
These above points are a broad outline of some of the experiences I've read online but also issues that I have personally experienced myself. A classic example happened to me a few months ago; I applied for a job where I was a suitable applicant and within 45 minutes of applying the employer had emailed me back saying I wouldn't be considered for interview. The reason for rejection wasn't clear, but employers ignoring and not harnessing the potential of people with Autism are missing out on a very talented pool of individuals whose unique qualities could be useful assets to their business.
I hope recruiters and HR professionals reading this blog share with me their thoughts on what needs to change in the recruitment process to enable a more disability confident recruitment process and workplace environment. Hopefully a decade from now we will be talking about a situation whereby at least 75% of people with Autism are in meaningful employment. For this to change the government, employers and society needs to be educated about Autism and the complexities and variances around it. This will hopefully lead to a change in mind-set as publicity around this issue brings greater attention and understanding towards disability in the workplace.