Tech giant’s diversity director urges firms to ‘look beyond the qualifications and interview skills’ that autistic people struggle with

Cloud and software company SAP has employed 100 members of staff who are on the autistic spectrum through a targeted recruitment initiative, delegates at the Richmond HR Forum heard last week.

Introduced in 2013, the scheme is designed to target people with autism as part of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

The tech firm partnered with specialist recruiter Specialisterne to identify candidates for technology-focused roles such as software testing, programming and data management.

The programme was first piloted in India before being rolled out in the US, Germany, Canada and Ireland. However, SAP said the scheme is yet to be introduced in the UK because it does not currently have a large enough presence in the region.

SAP employees also volunteer to become ‘buddies’ – helping new autistic recruits settle into the organisation, and hosting social activities such as lunches, bowling and movie nights. Long-serving employees who have a thorough understanding of the company and its culture are encouraged to mentor the new recruits.

SAP’s global lead for autism at work and senior director of diversity and inclusion, Stefanie Nennstiel, emphasised that the recruitment drive is not a corporate social responsibility initiative. Staff who volunteer to be a buddy and those recruited by the scheme “become better communicators on both sides of the equation”, she said.

She advised companies looking to introduce a similar programme to consider whether the conditions in their organisation are right for someone on the autistic spectrum to work there.

When it comes to recruitment, Nennstiel said companies need to “look beyond qualifications and interview skills, which many autistic people really struggle with. Different people’s styles help businesses and employees become more creative and innovative. Many companies need new skills and behavioural styles, and people with autism form just one possible talent pool.”

Nennstiel said she hoped that by 2020 SAP will have one streamlined recruitment process for all applicants, whether they are on the disabled spectrum or not.

“It positively impacts our brand and company identity, thought leadership and ability to capture the best possible talent. Our employees are really proud of what we do,” she added.

Just 15 per cent of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment and 53 per cent would like to receive employment support, according to research from the National Autistic Society.