Past Tuesday – Autism in Tech by Swiss Re

“People will only flourish in environments that allow
people to feel comfortable and have full trust & patience.”
Mgr. Nadežda Okenicová 

With the launch of our exciting new event format, FutureTuesdays and to celebrate today’s World Autism Awareness Day we thought we’d take a small step back and return to our kick off event of the year – Autism in Tech by Swiss Re & FutureNow.

To say that the discussion about the role & inclusion of people with autism in the workforce was thought provoking and moving would be an understatement. The FutureNow mission has always been to raise awareness about important topics amongst wider audiences, which is why were thrilled to have partnered with Swiss Re Slovakia in this effort.

More than 50 of you joined us Tuesday Feb 12. to thoughtfully listen, ask questions and engage in a stimulating debate. News of newly established connections amongst our audience members and inspiration to tackle projects in this area has already reached us which makes us very excited and grateful. Thank you all once again for coming! 

For us, the main takeaway from the discussion was that the key ingredient to successful inclusion of anyone is empathy and patience. Many audience members were touched to come to an understanding that the fears and obstacles people with autism face in the process of workplace integration are identical to those we all face. What were your key takeaways? Let us know! For those of you who did not have an opportunity to attend, below a couple of the most intriguing discussion highlights from our panelists.

Introduction to discussion made my Michal Kovács, Head of Communications for Swiss Re Slovakia

The panel featured a great line up of speakers and moderator, including:

Each coming from a different background, the moderator & speakers had interesting perspectives on 3 key topics:

  1. How to frame the expectations of people with autism about joining the workforce from an early age
  2. What workplaces can do to facilitate the process of hiring for people with autism
  3. How to ensure people with autism have good working conditions once they are hired

A sentiment presented my Mgr. Okenicová applicable to any young person seeking employment was how important it is to understand the expectations we have when looking for a job, both from a hiring and employee perspective. “Every person with autism desires employability but they often don’t have positive experiences from school. The expectations they have from finding a job are finding friends of romantic relationships, having the freedom to do what they want and not what they’re told and being treated like adults.”

Mgr. Nadežda Okenicová from Autistické centrum Andreas n.o.

What was stressed by all participants in the discussion was that institutions and companies must actively want to hire people with autism in order for it to happen. Mr. Weber spoke about how thanks to their particular cognitive strengths, people with autism can often possess great analytical skills and a knack for spotting patterns, excelling at software testing, financial analytics, designing financial systems etc. Mr. Weber runs Auticon, an IT consulting company that provides companies with IT & data consultants who all lie on the autism spectrum,

It is ‘however’ thanks to these skills that the standard hiring process design is not beneficial to people with autism. Take job adverts – more often than not, they include clauses about how people need to be great communicators and friendly with others. However according to Mr. Weber, research shows that this is where you lose people with autism in the application process as what most people would consider a friendly style of communication is not natural for them.

Mr. Weber went on to assert that this is an unnecessary requirement as the jobs such as software testing are often solitary tasks that do not require people to be great social communicators. It is for this reason that Auticon does not carry out any interviews with candidates, but rather tests their skills directly in the field.

Such simple tweaks to the hiring process  can be extremely beneficial for both parties as they cater to people’s strengths, not their weaknesses. Swiss Re Slovakia themselves have already begun rewriting all job adverts to better cater to all types of candidates based on these findings!

Markus Weber from Auticon gmbH

Both Mr. Mészáros and Mr. Grutka went on to address what institutions and companies can actually do to create working conditions that ensure long term employability & performance of people with autism. Mr. Mészáros spoke about how important it is to create adjustments that cater to people with autism such as allowing them to come to work later, giving them more breaks or adjusting lighting conditions as they can often be sensitive to light. In the past, these types of ‘perks’ were often viewed negatively by other colleagues leading to long term disagreements, but thanks to the overall changing work culture that praises more flexibility, this is changing too!

Mr. Grutka gave an example of how the experience of having Marvin, a consultant hired for an IT project through Auticon, was immensely enriching for their project team. As people with autism usually need clear instructions and precise detail to be able to deliver upon tasks, their team quickly realized that they all had a tendency to be vague and overpromise leading to imprecision. Marvin did not respond to this positively and often reminded the team members of it. The experience led to overall increased efficiency and more straightforward communication on the project, something Mr. Grutka said wouldn’t be possible without Marvin’s contribution.

All panelists and the moderator agreed that the the key element to the entire discussion was being open minded and being determined to give people a chance. Fruitful results can emerge for everyone involved when people are given a chance as practical, real life examples from the discussion showed. To close off, Mr. Mészáros made a beautiful statement that speaks to everyone today and motivates us to keep showcasing and promoting difficult, less spoken about topics.

“Recognition and encouragement make everyone happy at work and employers have the responsibility to actively encourage and recognize a job well done.” 

Mikuláš Štubňa from SPOSA

Miroslav Grutka from Swiss Re Slovakia