Nationwide Building Society invited leading business and HR figures to discuss how organisations can better tap into talented professionals with Asperger Syndrome at a recent seminar.
The aim is to bring talent and diversity into companies while helping people who don’t identify as neurotypical to achieve fulfilling work lives.
On hand to provide a personal account was BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham, who wasn’t diagnosed with Aspergers, a severe form of autism, until his forties.
Describing common traits and characteristics in the workplace, Packham spoke of a task-orientated nature and drive for precision and perfection for those at the higher end of the autistic spectrum.
But far from these traits being inhibitors for organisations, these differences should be celebrated and embraced, according to Packham, who told the audience of his ability to visually retain information coupled with a desire for knowledge.
This, which he recognised is different from most people, doesn’t make him disabled, he said, but rather enabled.
More worryingly for Packham was his belief that companies are wasting an enormous resource, citing that in the UK only 14 percent of autistic adults are in full time employment, the lowest proportion of any notifiable disability.
Katrina Hutchinson-O’Neill, director of resourcing at the Swindon-based building society, said: “Nationwide wants to help change the perception of Asperger Syndrome from being considered a disability to a welcomed and valuable difference. This event was about starting the conversation about the recruitment of neurodiverse workforces and the processes involved.”
Participants highlighted the application process for many organisations as still constituting a series of tick boxes and form filling, including asking candidates to declare if they wish to receive special considerations. However, as Hutchinson O-Neill added: “This is at odds with many neurodiverse candidates, who do not consider their autism as a disability but rather a condition.”
ASPIeRATIONS, a community interest company, was also present as an expert voice on how organisations can attract, recruit and retain those with Asperger Syndrome.
Laurel Herman, CEO at ASPIeRATIONS, said: "This discussion shows that businesses in the UK are starting to take steps to support people with Asperger Syndrome, but there is much more that needs to be done.
"Even some of the most talented and highly qualified people with Asperger Syndrome can struggle to find employment and when people with the condition do find a job, appropriate support is rarely available and awareness of the condition is often very low.
“The result is that businesses are missing out on talented people in an employment market suited to analytical thinkers and problem-solvers – skills where people with Asperger Syndrome demonstrate above average ability.
“If we are to see a real change it must come from the top. We need business leaders to follow Nationwide’s lead in recognising their responsibility to make their organisations and hiring practices more inclusive."