Individuals with Autism can bring untapped talent to every business


By Neil Barnett, Director of Inclusive Hiring and Accessibility, Microsoft

I believe that diversity enriches organizations, from the products you create to the culture of employees rooted in empathy, understanding and a thirst for knowledge.

That is why we announced the Autism Hiring Program three years ago on World Autism Awareness Day. We knew there are immensely talented people with Autism that could thrive at Microsoft if we thought more broadly and inclusively on how to attract that talent and adjust our recruitment and onboarding process. As we celebrate World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and National Autism Awareness Month throughout April, I want to share our journey and discuss how the program has created a positive impact on Microsoft, our culture, our employees and other organizations.

When we started the program in 2015, our approach was simple. We learned that our traditional hiring process, the front door to Microsoft, could be a major barrier of entry for many talented candidates. By adjusting the shape of the door, we could help candidates showcase and demonstrate their talent to hiring managers. Through hosting several hiring cohorts, we’ve also learned about our onboarding process and how we can provide training for hiring managers and teams to make sure we create an inclusive environment. Since inception, 50 full-time employees joined the company through the program and work across dozens of teams at the company, from software engineers and data scientists to content writers. All of these roles have been based in Redmond, Washington and 70% of the hires have relocated to join us here.

The impact on our business and employee culture has been tremendous.

  • Engineers we hired through the Autism Hiring Program are now responsible for writing code for products and services that are being used by millions of customers daily.
  • Based on the training we provide managers, our best practices for managing an individual on the Autism spectrum are helping develop leadership skills and practices that create a more inclusive experience for all of the team members. Often the advice is so simple: Providing feedback more often, sharing recaps of meetings in writing, and giving clear expectations are all examples of approaches that are helping all our employees succeed.
  • With a strong atmosphere of inclusion at Microsoft, employees outside of the hiring program are feeling more comfortable to self-identify, helping their co-workers understand more about Autism.

At the heart of our program is a larger focus on changing the unemployment and underemployment rate for people on the spectrum, which is 80+% (source UN News). It's imperative that we partner with other companies across industry to help change perceptions and bring more people with Autism into the workplace and ultimately, change the number.

Microsoft is working closely with companies like SAP, JP Morgan Chase, EY, Ford Motor Company, and DXC technologies, who have all created more inclusive hiring Autism initiatives. Together we recently launched the Autism Employer Roundtable, a coalition focused on helping other companies advance their hiring approach for people with Autism. There is tremendous talent out there for all types of roles and skill sets, and the goal of this coalition is to help other companies get started. We are working with over a dozen companies in various stages of program development to create their own Autism or neurodiversity hiring initiatives.

This year, Microsoft will host the 3rd annual Autism at Work Summit on our campus in Redmond, Washington, April 24-26, 2018, sponsored along with the members of the Autism Employer Roundtable consortium. This event brings together companies with existing hiring programs and those companies looking to learn more with social agencies, government officials, and academia to share best practices and discuss how we can further collaborate to make an impact on changing the unemployment rate. For those who can’t attend, we will livestream much of this event here: https://www.microsoftevents.com/profile/3892607.

In tandem with the Summit, we will also host the Autism at Work Virtual Career Fair on April 25, 2018, for candidates interested in careers or want to chat with recruiters in an inclusive environment. Participating companies include, Bloomberg, Deloitte, DXC technology, EY, Ford, IBM, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, and SAP. Candidates can register for free at https://aka.ms/autismatwork.

Throughout April, Microsoft Stores across the country will also host special events and activities for students with Autism and their families. From learning to code to creating digital art with Fresh Paint, we will provide classes and workshops in an inclusive and friendly environment. Visit your local Microsoft Store and click on the link to the location in your area to see the list of events.

At Microsoft, we see disability as a strength. We are committed to diversity and inclusion, including attracting, recruiting, and retaining diverse talent in the tech industry. We need talented people from all walks of life to be part of the fabric of the company to help us better serve all of our customers. We have seen tremendous progress in the last few years, yet realize it is still early in our journey.

As we look forward on World Autism Awareness Day, I am more optimistic than ever about what is possible when we work together to create opportunities where people can be who they are and achieve their goals. Any employer who is open to rethinking your interview and onboarding process for people on the Autism spectrum and want to find incredible talent, the Autism Employer Roundtable is here to help. Let's work together to improve the unemployment rate for individuals with Autism.

If you or someone you know is interested in a career at Microsoft, please send resumes to msautism@microsoft.com and learn more about our inclusive hiring efforts at www.microsoft.com/inclusivehiring. We look forward to hearing from you.

An image that says "Autism at Work Virtual Career Fair, Wednesday, April 25th 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. PDT. Virtual Career Fair participants listed include IBM, Deloitte, JP Morgan & Co., Microsoft, Bloomberg, Ford, DXC Technology, and SAP.

Microsoft will host the Autism at Work Virtual Career Fair on Wednesday, April 25 at 1-3 p.m. PDT

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