By James Mahoney, Executive Director and head of Autism at Work for JPMorgan Chase
A couple of years ago, I learned a startling statistic: The unemployment rate for individuals with some form of autism – often called the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – is estimated to be between 80 to 90 percent. While it’s shameful and disheartening that any subset of people would face such a challenge, what’s even more startling about that statistic is that many of these individuals are simply brilliant people–highly educated, highly capable, detail-oriented, yet unemployed.
"Employees on the autism spectrum were as much as 140 percent more productive than their peers."
But my employer JPMorgan Chase, like many successful organizations, looks at situations like this one and sees opportunity. Because of our size and continued growth, we have an almost constant need for talented employees – especially in technology-related fields. We thought that perhaps this could become a new untapped pool of talent. And it has: Since rolling out our initiative, Autism at Work, a program focused on hiring employees with Autism, we have hired more than 30 individuals who have ASD and we anticipate hiring hundreds more across the globe over the coming years.
Autism manifests itself in many different forms; no two autistic individuals face the same exact challenges. To quote Melanie, a Columbus-based Chase employee whose daughter is autistic: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” These challenges may explain why unemployment for this community is so high. Melanie explained that just getting past an interview can be difficult, especially if the interviewer is unaware of the applicant’s ASD. Her high-functioning daughter rocks back and forth and side-to-side, stutters, frequently says ‘um’ and has difficulty making eye contact. “I taught her to say, ‘Hi. I’m Billie and I have autism spectrum disorder. Just so you know I’m not weird or quirky.’”
Through partnerships with organizations that have more experience in working with individuals with ASD, we are learning to look beyond the traditional interview process to find highly qualified employees. We work closely with senior leaders across the firm to identify roles that would benefit from the talents of ASD adults and ensure we provide an inclusive work environment for these employees to thrive. The embracement of this untapped workforce allows our company to benefit from the unique blend of talents provided by these detail-oriented, rule-bound, logical and independent-thinking individuals. And it is paying off: Many studies show that the performance of autistic individuals in certain functions exceeds their peers without autism.
Jon, a quality assurance analyst at Chase, said his strongest attribute is to assess situations and come up with the best possible solutions in order to make them more organized and more efficient. “I would encourage anyone on the spectrum to embrace what makes them different and see it as their greatest strength,” he said. “I firmly believe that companies could always benefit from having employees who see things in an unconventional way, which is something to remember any time an individual on the spectrum is seeking a job.”
"I firmly believe that companies could always benefit from having employees who see things in an unconventional way, which is something to remember any time an individual on the spectrum is seeking a job."
He said the Autism At Work program opens a door for those “who may not be the best at traditional interviews, to show off their unique skills in a workplace environment. Some people on the spectrum simply are not given a chance to shine through conventional means. This program is a great way to facilitate that.” The success of Jon and others confirm that their skill set simply requires an environment in which to contribute and thrive. And that provides a winning solution for all of us.