“It wasn’t that long ago that autistic adults were invisible,” said Steve Silberman, one of the four expert panelists involved in a conversation as a part of Gatepath’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Steve goes on to say that being neurodiverse through workplace inclusion is such a hot topic now even though so many people on the autism spectrum helped to make Silicon Valley what it is today.
“The public didn’t think they were capable of learning and having relationships. It wasn’t until the 90s that we started to become more aware and people were getting diagnosed.”
In recent years, more advocates are speaking out for themselves and that’s why discussions about inclusion are becoming front and center in schools, communities and the workplace.
This particular conversation, funded by the Peninsula Health Care District and hosted at GoPro corporate headquarters in San Mateo, CA, was moderated by KCBS In-Depth radio host Jane McMillan. The panel included a range of perspectives by four panelists: Jack Hogan, co-founder of Buzz Hero and Autism Advantage, a training and job placement program for individuals with autism; David Kim, Head of Global Diversity, Inclusion and Corporate Social Responsibility at Electronic Arts (“EA”); Joey Travolta, founder of Inclusion Films — a teaching studio for aspiring filmmakers with developmental disabilities; and my favorite, Steve Silberman, award-winning author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.
“INCLUSION MEANS EVERYBODY”
That statement is at the heart of Electronic Arts corporate culture and hiring philosophy. “Every Fortune 100 company has a great vision statement and words on their walls,” said David Kim to the audience. “My job at EA is to make them real. For us, it’s about relationships and making policies that are authentic and meaningful for our employees and customers.”
David goes on to say that there’s a business case for diversity and inclusion. “A company who accepts those with differences sparks innovation and creativity.”
“HIRE SKILLS NOT LABELS”
Jack Hogan’s Autism Advantage teaches other companies to remove their unconscious bias during the hiring process and recognize the value an autistic individual can offer. They work to develop corporate cultures that remove barriers so everyone has a chance to contribute their talents to the company’s success. This includes “closed curtain interviews” where hiring managers don’t see the individual during the interview and “hire skills not labels.”
“The time is now to start hiring people on the autism spectrum and other developmental disabilities. There are jobs that need to be filled, and candidates to fill them; companies simply need to widen the hiring funnel and consider this untapped pool of talent.”
Steve Silberman agrees that “there should not be any labels in the hiring process. A workplace thrives when there is a variation of human beings, or neurodiversity.”
“GIVE HANDS ON EXPERIENCE”
Joey Travolta approaches workplace inclusion through filmmaking schools and summer camps that teach social skills, life skills, collaboration and project management through hands-on experience.
“We try to prepare our students for the workforce by creating independence and building self-confidence for future success in all aspects of their lives.”
Joey told the audience that he was pitching his film crew for a project and the studio executive asked him why he should hire someone with a disability. Travolta’s response: “Why shouldn’t you?” His message was clear: the industry needs to do better at seeing potential employees for their abilities, and not by labels or a diagnosis.
“BREAK DOWN THE BARRIERS”
Business experts, autistic individuals, corporations, and organizations like Gatepath are breaking down the barriers that exist today to increase employment opportunities for people of all abilities. Bryan Neider, CEO of Gatepath, a 97-year-old nonprofit that provides job training and placement for adults with disabilities, closed the panel and summed it up best:
“We want everyone to have the equal opportunity they deserve and the best chance to succeed.”
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*Images courtesy of Gatepath