The Autism Advantage

Professor Robert Austin from Ivey Business School kindly recorded a video for the Autism Advantage Luncheon Jakarta in 2019 Specialisterne Foundation organized, explaining findings from his research on the autism advantage and the benefits of neurodiversity employment programs. Below is the video with Indonesian subtitles and an excerpt from his speech:

“My name is Rob Austin, and I’m a business school professor at Ivey Business School in Canada. I’m also the co-author of “Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage,” a Harvard Business Review article published in 2017. It’s been my great honor to document and study this important social movement since about 2006, when I co-authored the first Harvard Business School case study on Specialisterne.

My research over the past decade suggests that companies that seek the autism advantage really do achieve competitive advantages. This is not just about doing good for the community – that matters, of course – but if you are company considering starting a neurodiversity employment program, you should do it not just for that reason, but also because it’s very good business.

We’re still researching, trying to understand best practices in this area. But at this stage, there are three major areas of benefit that we can report.

  1. First, neurodiversity employment programs help companies access maximum talent to help them prevail in innovation-based competition. Many companies struggle to find enough talent in many crucial areas, such as analytics, cybersecurity, and quality assurance. These areas tend to overlap with the abilities of neurodiverse job candidates. In this day and age, we cannot afford to leave important talent un-accessed. The companies that realize this, and develop programs to broaden how they think about what constitutes talent, will likely win in the future. In innovation-based competition, companies need new, original ideas, and they need to be able to recognize new and different kinds of value. To do this they need people who think differently. They need people who are “outliers.” Neurodiversity employment programs are a very good way to accomplish this.

2. Second, one consistent finding in our research is that when we design organizational solutions for people on the autism spectrum, or for others who are neurodiverse, a large percentage of what we design usually turns out to benefit all employees. In other words, though you may start out thinking you are accommodating a special need of a particular category of employee, what become apparent after a while is that you are building capabilities for the whole firm, by making everyone better at what they are doing.

3. Third, we see very consistently that when companies implement neurodiversity employment programs, it makes all employees feel good about their work and the company. Everyone wants their work to be meaningful, and neurodiversity employment programs make people think their work is meaningful. In many cases, we see this factor supercharging the efforts of all employees, inspiring many to go the extra mile on behalf of the company.”

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