A new review designed to boost the employment prospects of autistic people was announced by the government on Sunday (2 March).
The review will ask businesses, employment organisations, specialist support groups and autistic people to help identify the barriers to securing and retaining work and progressing with their careers.
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People with autism have particularly low employment rates. According to ONS figures, only 29% of autistic people of working age were employed in 2021.
Addison Barnett, director of impact and major programmes at Inclusive Employers, an DEI membership organisation, said inclusion of neurodivergent people is increasingly a priority for employers.
Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “For the review to be genuinely valuable for employers it needs to take a holistic view of the barriers to work autistic people face, whether that’s interpersonal, for example eye contact or facial expressions, or larger systemic barriers such as education and work experience.”
He said that employers need to be educated on the accommodations they can make for autistic candidates.
“Employers should be given the tools to widen their perspective and review what they really need from their employees with a neurodivergent lens,” he said.
Steve Hill, commercial director at Auticon, an IT consultancy which exclusively employs people on the autism spectrum, said a key element the review should focus on is the recruitment process.
Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “The typical recruitment process places neurodivergent candidates at a disadvantage; from ambiguous language used in job descriptions or interviews, which are an implicit test of social skills.
“To maximise access to the neurodivergent talent pool, HR leaders need to trust that it is possible to find quality talent by thinking creatively about role-relevant suitability assessments or by sending candidates interview questions in advance to reduce anxiety.”
Hill also hoped the review would make practical suggestions such as adjusting workplaces and making everyday practices more inclusive by breaking down tasks and giving notice when plans are changed.
He argued employers needed a fundamental shift in perspective.
Hill added: “It really starts with awareness and education, plus a desire to create a more inclusive culture that encourages disclosure and can support those who have disclosed with compassion and empathy.”
Maureen Dunne, neurodiversity advocate for The LEGO Foundation, said she hoped the review will spark office-wide changes.
Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “HR departments need to have procedures in place for onboarding people whether or not they fall underneath the neurodiversity umbrella, because workplace culture has a habit of trickling down. You need to shift the conversation office-wide.”
Dunne said a key consideration would be for HR to provide more bespoke policies.
She said: “For example, within the context of work, some neurodivergent employees might find the routine of going to work stabilising, whereas others will work best remotely or at least with a hybrid option.”
The Buckland Review of Autism Employment will start next month, with recommendations issued to report to the secretary of state in September 2023.