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The Spectrum of Untapped Tech Talent and the Myth of Diversity Hiring

Close up of businessman holding digital image of brain in palmWith 700,000 unfilled IT jobs in the US,  the need to innovate and bring new perspectives and ideas to keep a competitive edge in tech recruiting is becoming more and more critical . At the top of the priorities: diversity hiring. Diversity hiring is crucial for staying ahead of the curve, and for filling the tech gap. So what gives? Where’s the real gap?

Some of your best tech candidates might just be unemployed. Many qualified  developers with a unique set of skills remain available and excited for an opportunity to contribute.  They just happen to have autism. Companies like Microsoft have embraced this eager workforce with their Autism Hiring Program. They are taking advantage of the contributions that the more than 3.5 million Americans diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder can provide in the workplace.  Sadly, it is estimated that as much as 85% of them are unemployed. 

Companies say they are committed to diversity and inclusion and deliver training on bias busting and promote progressive talent acquisition philosophies and techniques. But often, it’s just the same “culture” of homogeneous individuals talking to one another about the inclusion of diverse co-workers they don’t currently have but not actually doing much to hire these diverse candidates now. 


Moving Past the Culture Club 

When I meet with a new hiring manager to discuss their talent needs, I hear the word “culture fit” thrown about. Each time, I cringe. The term in itself often causes more harm than good as it relates to diversity hiring. If your “culture” is only to hire people that fit into a certain box, not only are you limiting your candidate pool, you are also limiting your company’s potential for seeing new ideas that can lead to innovation.

These ideas and practices of “company culture” can inadvertently discriminate against an entire talent pool such as autistic candidates.

When we think of diversity, we often think of minority groups of religion, race, gender, etc.  Neurodiversity, however, is a topic less explored and may hold the key to both solving our tech candidate shortage and bringing new skillsets and ideas to companies. What’s notable in diversity hiring, is that in order to hire engineers who are women or people of color, there are established resources and organizations for individuals from those backgrounds. This is not true for engineers with autism.


Diversity Hiring Practices

So what are the barriers companies are creating in their talent acquisition and workplace diversity and inclusion strategies? Here are some questions hiring teams can ask themselves as it pertains to inclusion.

Ask yourself what you really need before you write the description

Does your job description ask for skills and abilities that are relevant to the position? Often, a hiring manager asks their talent acquisition team to find a developer who will be happy to push out code 100% of the time, but also be a superb communicator, work 100% onsite in an open environment, and be in their seat at 8:00 AM for a daily scrum. The "perfect candidate" must also love ambiguity and be okay managing multiple tasks simultaneously.

This hiring manager might be a developer who grew through the ranks and due to their unique blend of technical aptitude, people skills, and all of the aforementioned skills, is hoping to create a culture of like-minded individuals. That, in their mind, that’s the only recipe for success.  But how much of it is truly essential to a developer who is coding 100% of the time? What accommodations or skill adjustments could be made to make these requirements more friendly to a group of talent that may have difficulty with expressing themselves, reading others and embracing ambiguity? 


Be sure your interview process measures what it needs to and doesn’t use a “one size fits all” approach

We’ve all heard of the infamous interview questions about how to move mountains, or tally the number of cars on I-5 on a given Tuesday morning, or the marathon interview loops and panel discussions where decisions are held to a vote. These techniques may have a time and a place, but they also may be discriminatory by nature. Panel interviews with multiple team members and multiple rounds that involve all members voting, can often create popularity contests or hiring based on personality, same-as-me biases, and the ability to build instant rapport– all things that could be difficult for someone with autism.


So if you are a hiring manager struggling to fill developer and other tech positions, it may be time to embrace a true diversity program and step out of your comfort zone.  Embrace talent that is ready and waiting to make valuable contributions to your team. They are there, but are you willing to take the leap? 



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