Celebrating Opportunity for All During Autism Awareness Month

by Brian Reaves
Apr 3, 2019 2:05 PM ET

Originally published on Direct2Dell

Today is World Autism Awareness Day, a day to increase the global understanding and acceptance of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is described as a “spectrum” because there’s a wide degree of variation in the way ASD affects people. When describing autism, the concept of neurodiversity is becoming more widely used. Neurodiversity is about recognizing and respecting the different ways each of our brains work. It’s also about celebrating the strength those different approaches and viewpoints bring to teams and society at-large.

At Dell Technologies, we’re committed to opening opportunity for all while cultivating a culture of inclusion. These efforts are imperative to the business. Not only do diverse teams drive innovation through differences in perspective, the existing talent gap will only get worse over time if ALL qualified candidates are not considered. By 2024 there will be 1.1 million computing-related job openings in the U.S. Yet only 45% of these jobs could be filled based on current U.S. graduation rates.  This type of skill gap is a challenge throughout the world at a time when every business is becoming a technology business.

Those with ASD are too often being overlooked. Despite ASD candidates often having key skills for success in the tech industry – attention to detail and strong math skills for example – the vast majority of adults with autism are either unemployed or underemployed, with estimates ranging as high as 90%.

Scenarios like this are why we are developing innovative recruiting approaches for under-tapped talent pools. More than one in 59 children in the U.S. now have ASD, and about half a million people on the spectrum will become adults over the next decade. We must adapt and evolve our practices to recruit these individuals and prepare for the future workforce.

Together with Horace Mann Educational Associates (HMEA) and The Arc of Philadelphia, both nonprofits who serve the ASD community, we welcomed our first class of interns into our Autism Hiring Program in our Hopkinton, Massachusetts office last year. The program resulted in full-time hires in our programming and data science departments. Recognizing that many people on the autism spectrum struggle with the social interaction of a traditional job interview, the Program instead invites candidates to showcase their skills in action. Over two weeks of instructor-led classroom sessions, they learn about Dell Technologies’ vision and opportunities, meet with hiring managers, and work on real-world projects in their field. We are excited to be expanding the program to our Round Rock, Texas headquarters this summer in partnership with The Arc of the Capital Area.

As firm believers in the power of collaboration, we recently joined the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable. Through this coalition, we will work with partners including SAP, Microsoft and Ford to continue perfecting autism-focused hiring initiatives together. We also recently teamed up with Intel to invest in the  nonPareil Institute by donating 80 Alienware units to this post-secondary education institute focused on delivering digital technology training to adults with autism. This Dallas-based organization will be opening a new facility in Austin, Texas (near our Round Rock headquarters), this summer.

We hope these efforts are just the beginning of what we believe is a true differentiator when it comes to cultivating inclusion and increasing the talent pool. By finding the right models, experts and partners, we can further scale our impact on neurodiversity hiring practices.

Ahead of Autism Awareness Month and our Texas program expansion, we spent time with some of our Autism Hiring Program recruits and their managers to learn more about their experiences.

Charles “CJ” Surett, a 20-year-old, self-taught Python developer who was hired for a data analytics role in Deployment Services Operations, says, “I don’t really like small talk that’s not about technology. I liked that the interview was casual—I could just talk to the managers about technology and show them how I can help them solve problems.”

CJ has already automated several workflow processes by implementing Airflow and GitLab. These are helping his teammates respond to service requests more quickly and accurately, saving time and money. CJ’s manager, Dan Warfield, says, “CJ comes up with great ideas for helping customers, and his mind doesn’t quit. If we get stuck on a problem, he keeps thinking about it while working on other things, and always finds the answer. He has the perfect mix of smarts, drive and passion.”

Says CJ, “I have a great team and love being able to experiment with new technologies. Being able to work for a place like Dell Technologies before I even graduated from college has been amazing. I am excited about this program and want more people to join it.”

CJ and the other hires receive support from their managers. They’ve also gained newfound independence and purpose: CJ is now able to help support his family in securing a new home, and his fellow hire Seth Hoyt is now able to better support his wife and newborn baby.

In turn, they’ve helped our team learn and grow. Dan says, “Working with CJ has taught me the importance of providing clear, written direction. This has improved my communication skills with my whole team. And it’s brought us closer together.”

Lou Candiello, our military and disability recruiting leader who was instrumental in developing the Autism Hiring Program says, “The cultural shift has been really positive. As awareness of this program spreads, we hope it helps other team members feel more comfortable talking about their cognitive differences and asking for any accommodations they need to be successful at Dell Technologies.”

The Autism Hiring Program is especially meaningful to me personally. As the global lead for the True Ability ERG, I’ve seen how leveraging our team members’ unique abilities can have real business impact, from improving collaboration to developing adaptive technology solutions for customers. Additionally, prior to joining Dell Technologies, I had the opportunity to be SAP’s first hiring manager for a similar program that company runs. I look forward to continuing to collaborate to get these much-needed programs to even more companies.

I encourage you to take time this month to learn more about ASD. Also, if you know of a great candidate near either Round Rock, Texas or Hopkinton, Massachusetts, please have them visit jobs.dell.com/neurodiversity for more information and to apply.

More Information:

United Nations World Autism Awareness Day

True Ability ERG