Diversity as a business strategy

Suitable job roles for autistic persons include programming, testing, graphic design, data analysts, auditors and cybersecurity Catherine Trezona, Altogether Autism.

“You know the truism that the benefits that are good for autism are good for everybody? That is a great message for employers,” says Catherine Trezona, national manager at Altogether Autism.

“Everybody benefits because everybody wants the small changes that employers make to ensure their workplace is autism friendly,” says Trezona, whose organisation provides a free nationwide autism spectrum information and advisory service.

“Everybody wants clear instructions, systems that make sense, and support for the work they are trying to do.”

She explains that Altogether Autism is an evidence-based organisation, and draws information from published research and surveys they conduct, as well as clinical best practice and experience.

She says autistic talent can work in any industry, including information technology.

“The research show us attention to detail is often very strong in people with autism.”

More specifically, in IT, suitable job roles may include programming, testing, graphic design, data analysts, auditors and cybersecurity, she says.

These could also be jobs that are detail oriented, use pattern recognition and are dependent on accurate code.

“There is very strong evidence of the autistic brain being very good at spotting errors,” she says.

She adds: “We know we need a different way of looking at the world, we need different solutions and that comes with that neurodiverse mindset.”

She says these jobs could include those that are “not just strictly in pure IT” such as sales, marketing and graphic design.

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Disability is viewed as the ‘hardest’ of the diversity spectrum to solve or even interact with...most businesses just pick lower hanging fruit, and disability just gets ignored Adrian Coysh, JobCafe

When autistic employees are appropriately supported, their managers report high levels of productivity and accuracy in their work, says Trezona.

As to how local organisations view these job candidates, she says, “We see a lifecycle or a culture progression from apprehension and then to awareness and eventually we want to go into appreciation.”

“At the moment in New Zealand, we are still in the apprehension and awareness stage.”

But with literature, evidence and stories around employing differently-abled people, she says, “the awareness is increasing.”

“We work with Specialisterne in Australia, we have a tried and true way of working that will be successful for the organisation and for the autistic employee,” says Trezona.

Specialisterne, Danish for ‘The Specialists’, is a social business that provides assessment, training, education and IT consultancy services. It was founded by Thorkil Sonne, whose son is on the autism spectrum.

She says there is a high demand coming from businesses that have experienced the success of a programme that Specialisterne uses.

Specialisterne is now a global foundation and has worked with clients in Australia such as Westpac, where eight autistic employees have been placed last year across three Sydney sites in roles including risk, finance and IT.

Specialisterne has also placed persons on the autism spectrum to work at SAP, the Department of Health and Human Services (Victoria), and the Australian Government Department of Human Services in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra.

‘We just need organisations to be brave enough to take a step in the New Zealand space and say, ‘work with us’ and we will work with them every step of the way.”

She says they are also talking to the state sector, as the government is a big employer of IT talent. “We hope they will lead from the front.”

Employers that do not proactively offer technologies, environments and practices to promote full participation of people with disabilities will not only miss out on a rich and untapped labour pool, they will also risk losing ‘employer-of-choice’ status: Gartner

She says another area that is a really good fit for autistic talent is in agriculture.

“Many autistic people are noted for their attention to detail and good record keeping, as well as having an affinity with animals,” she says. These skills are important in the livestock industry.

She points to the case of Dr Temple Grandin, a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. It is estimated half the cattle in the United States are handled in facilities designed by Grandin.

We have a huge agriculture industry in New Zealand, notes Trezona. “If you are able to track your product from farm to supermarket, you need really good records to say that animal was in this sort of health on the day it was slaughtered.”

“If there is any query, you can say my team has kept such good records and there was no problem with it when it was on my farm.”

She cites SunPork Farms in Australia which has started the Autism and Agriculture initiative with Autism CRC and Specialisterne Australia. The project aims to improve animal welfare by creating opportunities in animal care for adults on the autism spectrum.

Working with Specialisterne Australia, nine autistic adults in South Australia and seven in Queensland were employed within SunPork Farms during the pilot programme. The candidates received mentoring and workplace support to work in the agricultural industry.

Trezona says at the moment, Altogether Autism has a pool of over 125 autistic people with a wide range of skills and many of them have a strong interest in working in IT.

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6 digital transformation success stories