I am a full-time employee in a professional job. I have been for over 12 years. I have been promoted twice and have worked in a number of responsible roles. This should not really be unusual – person gets job and keeps it for many years. Not really a headline but for someone who belongs to the various demographic groups that I do this is an amazing and unlikely thing. Like so many other autistic employees I am dedicated and professional and enjoy my job. Sadly a lot of autistic people do not get to share their skills and knowledge in a work context despite having a great deal to offer employers. This does not really relate to their level of skills but to a range of issues around employment which make it extremely hard for us to succeed at work.
One of the most difficult elements of work for autistic people is actually navigating the labyrinth of recruitment process – applications, CVs, interviews. These things can make it almost impossible for autistic people to find work.
We are so often disadvantaged in recruitment as autistic people but when we belong to additional diversity-type groups we face a compounded level of disadvantage. For example if an applicant is from a cultural background which is discriminated against they will face disadvantage for that which happens on top of the disadvantage they face as an autistic person. Add more ‘differences’ and that disadvantage is further compounded, making it almost impossible for many to secure a job.
The CV might seem like an innocuous enough recruitment process but it can be extremely fraught for autistic applicants. They might have gaps in their work history. While recruiters shouldn’t be influenced in their decision by CV gaps it is often the case that they are. Many autistic people join the workforce at older ages than others meaning their resume may contain very little or no work history. It is so much harder to join the workforce at an older age and to be up against candidates who are more experienced, even if the autistic applicant is highly capable. Some autistic people struggle with that notion of selling themselves. While an allistic person with similar experience would spice up their resume and make their experience sound more impressive than it is, an autistic applicant might play down their strengths in their resume.
Another major challenge for autistic people is the job interview. Job interviews actually don’t tell an employer much about a candidate’s capability. I think interviews are good at two things – demonstrating if someone is good at job interviews and demonstrating if someone is a confident extrovert. In terms of actually demonstrating whether a person can do the job an interview is often not very helpful. Despite this, interviews are pretty much standard in recruitment processes. Autistic people may find the interview processes highly stressful. They may also have sensory issues with a panel of people talking to them at once and lighting and other issues in the room where the interview is held making it almost impossible for the applicant to even get their bearings let alone give a good performance. Autistic people might come across as ‘odd’ or different and may be discriminated against because of this.
It is often the case that recruiters have some degree of unconscious bias in their decisions. They may employ people who look and act like then. This may be a reason that there are companies with a low balance of genders and where almost everyone is white and from an English-speaking background. There probably wasn’t a directive at these firms to hire white men but interview panels may experience bias and hire those who look like them and have similar experiences. This issue can work against autistic job seekers and people from other groups too.
Many autism and employment programs now exist. They often use alternative measures to determine suitability for a position. Interviews are often replaced with activities over a period of time designed to show how proficient the applicants are at doing elements of the job itself.
I actually think that the kinds of recruitment methods which benefit autistic people benefit everyone. They are helpful to employers as they allow for more time and opportunity for candidates to demonstrate their actual suitability for the role. And they are beneficial to neurotypical candidates as well. It is not only those of us on the autism spectrum who get extremely stressed in interviews or have gaps in our CVs. This is one of those areas where autistic people are a bit like the canary in the mine – things that disadvantage us may also disadvantage others, even if others are not consciously aware fo this.
I am very fortunate / lucky / blessed to have my amazing job. I managed to navigate the recruitment processes which enabled me to do this but so many of my autistic peers have not been so fortunate. This is a wasted potential for society and a very unpleasant and frustrating situation for autistic people who are denied the opportunity to work just because selling themselves doesn’t come naturally or they struggle with job interviews. Everyone should have a similar opportunity to the ones I have.