An estimated 85% of college-educated adults
with autism are unemployed. Though this untapped neurodiverse talent pool possesses unique strengths that can tackle the talent shortage (i.e., memorizing and learning information quickly; thinking and learning visually), many organizations don't have programs in place to offer help or support for these individuals.
JPMorgan Chase launched the Autism at Work pilot program in 2015 with four software testers who were on the spectrum; the pilot was conceived as a way to address a shortage of IT talent. The program has since expanded to encompass more than 40 different job roles in nine countries (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, England, India, Ireland, the Philippines, Scotland, and the U.S.).
, Global Lead of Autism at Work, JPMorgan Chase, explained how the program works to create visibility and advance job opportunities for neurodivergent individuals, how JPMorgan Chase has set up candidate hiring pipelines, and what advice the company would give to anyone else starting a similar program.
[Note: On our sister site No Jitter, Lee talked about the specific collaboration technology considerations the Autism at Work program has identified and addressed.]
Responses have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
When you set out to do the pilot program, what was JPMorgan Chase hoping to learn from it? What was the best possible outcome?
We learned a program like this could be sustainable and help us drive business results. Autism at Work continues to evolve and expand to meet the firm's professional needs while identifying new ways to support employees. [That includes] fostering a company culture that treats people with respect while appreciating their different ways of thinking proved to be the best possible outcome.
My manager puts it this way, and I agree: The colleague you encounter at the coffee bar may process information differently than you, and that’s totally OK. If more of us can position ourselves as patient coaches and engage with our colleagues in a way that supports them, then this will be a better place for everyone.
Describe how you built pipelines for candidates in Autism at Work.
The launch of our Global Neurodiversity strategy in January 2022 proved to be a good impetus for us to review our strategies and make sure our pipeline development was evolving as it should. We continuously strive to establish viable and inclusive diverse sourcing channels that create visibility and advance job opportunities for neurodivergent individuals.
We use a viability, inclusivity, visibility, and advancement (VIVA) approach that continues to help us in our mission to develop candidate pipelines through such sources as nonprofit organizations, social services departments, and educational institutions:
- Viability: How can we leverage partnerships with existing internal branded programs that address intersectionality? For example, we have established an emerging talent intern program with The Ohio State University. This program could also be replicated in other universities and other global regions.
- Inclusivity: How can managers and teams in various lines of businesses better address neurodiversity considerations in their recruiting and hiring initiatives? How can we help them better understand the value these employees bring to our work with their diversity of thought?
- Visibility: Is our footprint visible and deeply engaged in external markets and in the communities where we live? How can we rely on this relationship for pipeline development in recruiting and hiring initiatives?
- Advancement: How can we advance our current recruiting and hiring practices in new and emerging markets while fostering new business relationships?
In which ways have you had to change the program since it began?
We are continuously working to perfect our strategies to not only attract and recruit talent, but also to engage and develop the individuals once they’re here; continue to influence neurodiversity in the workplace as a universal design with best practices.
For example, we want to ensure our work integrates well with other firmwide functions and processes. We want an ecosystem of support geared toward improving the employee experience and—developing career and mobility opportunities for autistic colleagues from hire to retirement. We’ve focused on scaling the program from a neurodiversity approach with a business model that can be implemented and adapted in various global regions.
Lastly, we’re always working to deepen our external relationships with colleges and universities to create a talent pipeline for all lines of business.
What advice can you give companies that want to expand their DEI initiatives to include neurodiversity?
At JPMorgan Chase, we look at it this way: We have a responsibility to make the workplace the best it can be for people who think differently, regardless of whether they choose to self-identify their disability status with the company.
More than 600 different neurodivergent conditions exist in society today—ranging from autism, dyslexia, and ADHD to OCD, dyspraxia, and Tourette syndrome. We know we have many of them represented at our company, and we know we’re not alone. You’ll learn it’s not that difficult to remove barriers and enable talented neurodivergent colleagues to enter the workforce if you make a conscious effort to include neurodiversity as part of your DEI work.
Much of it has to do with leaving biases at the door. Because once they get their foot in that door, you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish. But you have to make a conscious effort to ensure they get the accommodations they need to do their job and the support of their peers and management.
What do you believe are the top components that could fix systemic workplace exclusion among neurodivergent employees?
What we’ve found is our Autism at Work colleagues are driving increased productivity across numerous roles and departments. While the productivity gains can be significant, this program isn’t just about the numbers—and it’s not charity: It’s about hiring talented people who are qualified to work here in jobs that move our business forward.
I would say the top three components I believe could address workplace inclusion among neurodiverse employees are:
- Get buy-in from all levels: Get everyone involved from the very top—and set up practices and processes to support your neurodiverse hires.
- Adjust your hiring practices to accommodate neurodivergence: Train managers and recruiters on the adjustments.
- Engage with different communities so you can find and attract talent everywhere you can: From educational institutions and government agencies to nonprofits, vocational rehab centers, and offices for disabilities.
What must companies include in their checklist for success around neurodiversity inclusion?
Nurture, support and coaching! Once an employee gets hired, managers need to create a welcoming environment amongst the team that nurtures and encourages the person’s skill set to help them thrive and succeed. Regular check-ins with the new employee must take place to be sure you’re meeting their needs. They need to feel supported and have someone they can come to if they need coaching. Remember, working in a structured environment can be a new experience for individuals who are neurodiverse and have not had the opportunity to prove themselves before.
Similarly, if their manager is encountering a situation they’re not familiar with, you must also be there to coach that person. If the employee has the qualifications to do the job (which should be the first priority, whether or not they are neurodiverse) and the right supports are in place, you can set that person up for success. You’ll be surprised at the amount of focus and dedication they bring to the table.