A Global Technology Consulting Firm in Utah's Silicon Slopes Demonstrates the Value of a Neurodiverse Team
Silicon Slopes, Utah’s thriving technology community, is a main reason why Auticon, an international IT consulting firm, decided to recently open a Salt Lake City office as one of its global locations.
“Coming to Utah was really a no-brainer for us the way that the business community and potential clients raised their hands wanting to be involved. We’re super pleased...and working with some great clients in Salt Lake City,” David Aspinall, CEO, Auticon United States, said.
Auticon plans to meet the demand for data quality and impeccable software development through a team of neurodiverse experts.
As more companies worldwide strive for a more inclusive workforce, Auticon exceptionally stands out in many ways. More than two-thirds of its 300 employees around the world are on the autism spectrum, including some leadership roles. The Chief Technologist for Auticon U.S., for example, is autistic, as well as the Head of Recruitment and Community Partnerships.
“Diversity at the leadership level is very, very important,” Aspinall said.
In addition, when landing a career at Auticon, it’s the actual skills needed to be a data scientist or software developer that matter. Getting a role is not dependent on the social nuances of a typical interview or bias of an individual interviewer, as it can be at many other companies, where the usual process can often hinder the chances of someone on the spectrum being hired, even if the candidate is more than qualified and has the education and talents desired by employers.
“The traditional interview process tends to filter out those we support,” Aspinall said. “Whether it be old-fashioned opinions about the firm handshake or eye contact, rather than the actual skills you need to be a data scientist or software developer—we find the traditional interview process is irrelevant for the work to be done,” Aspinall explained.
Auticon aims to lead the way toward real positive change. “It’s understanding the needs of the individual through an autism-friendly hiring process, then supporting that individual through career journey, and then thirdly, it’s making sure it’s a career and not just a job, so every single one of our technologists actually has a learning and development pathway,” Aspinall said.
Aspinall also emphasized it’s very important to not stereotype those on the spectrum. Each person is an individual and should be honored as such.
Why a neurodiverse team benefits both employees and clients
When asked why it’s important to include neurodiverse candidates on a team, Louise Stone, Head of Recruitment and Community Partnerships, auticon U.S., noted that, “You will get different perspectives including unique problem solving, unclouded ways of looking at things, details noticed that others would have missed. Having a wide variety of neurodivergence will only enhance performance, and our clients notice this.”
Aspinall said, “The people that are attracted to work at Auticon demonstrate strengths…that when applied into the technology space, actually makes them perform better than neurotypicals—things like attention to detail, ability to spot patterns in large amounts of data, and something that we’re really realizing is— brutal honesty, rather than having confirmation bias. So what do I mean by that? Somebody might look at a set of data wanting that data to say something, wanting that data to prove or disprove a hypothesis. That’s impossible for a lot of our people. The data is the data,” said Aspinall. auticon technologists are honest about what the data is telling them, Aspinall explained, adding, it’s a trait “which is highly valued by organizations that want to avoid that confirmation bias that we see all the time.”
Auticon’s clients benefit from welcoming neurodiversity, and so do Auticon’s employees. The statistics for those on the autism spectrum can be disheartening. The majority of autistic adults are either unemployed or underemployed.
“It was very discouraging. It was hard to know that I have these skills and not being able to use them. I was vastly underemployed,” recalled Scott McKell, a software engineer from Utah, about the challenging time before he was hired at Auticon Salt Lake City.
“Now I’m doing what I’m trained for and what my skill set is for. I love every day that I get to work for Auticon,” McKell said. “It’s the best company in the world in my opinion because they foster an inclusive, diverse company culture and the company mission aims to ensure that adults with autism are appropriately employed.”
The onboarding process at Auticon was not subjective, but rather, more scientific, McKell noted. Instead of the typical interview, there was a conversation about technology. “It was very interesting because I’ve never had that experience before,” he said with appreciation.
Although some other companies nationwide have recently implemented autism employment initiatives, Aspinall said, “The 85% of our [autism spectrum] community being unemployed is too big a problem for an organization to solve by just having their own internal program. In order for us to fully fulfill our mission [to make a real change], those organizations will also need organizations like Auticon to be part of their partner ecosystem.”
An article this year about the state of autism employment by Forbes contributor and lawyer Michael Bernick reports that although the autism at work initiative over the past five years “has grown to 20 of the largest companies in the United States. Still, combined, the Autism at Work hires total fewer than 800 adults by the end of 2020.”
When asked what main message he’d like readers to take away from this story, Aspinall said, “We have autistic technologists looking to be placed. We have done the autism friendly recruitment process; we’ve got a true representation of what their hard skills are in software development and data analytics; we’ve got a true understanding of where they need to be supported in order to be successful in the workplace, so we need people to raise their hands and partner with us from a client perspective. And also, individuals who may be getting disheartened with the process of finding a job, and they’re on the autism spectrum, then they ought to look us up and we can see if we can help them.”
(Design by Allora Rameson)