Despite increased awareness surrounding neurodiversity in the workplace, success stories of thriving neurodistinct professionals are rarely highlighted. These individuals are not only valuable assets to their operational teams, but are often driving forces towards the establishment of an inclusive culture that embraces different ways of thinking and processing information.
However, it is reported that only 7% of companies around the world have a proper neurodiversity plan in place.
The International Labour Organization estimates that about 1 and 6 people are neurodistinct in some way. For employers, this represents a vast pool of talent that remains largely untapped, in spite of reports that show they make fewer mistakes and can be over 100% more productive than their neurotypical peers. One of Uptimize’s clients, Microsoft, hired Blake Adickman, an autistic man with a highly technical background. As a result of his continued success with the firm, Microsoft has decided to expand programs for recruiting neurodistinct talent.
Below are three more success stories from neurodivergent talent who overcame the stigma and are currently flourishing in their corporate roles.
Before gaining full-time employment, Sam could never secure any proper employment in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. His experience is just one of many examples of neurodivergent talent being overlooked in the job market. The neurodistinct population faces a far higher unemployment rate than that of their neurotypical colleagues.
“I handed out over 150 resumes across Ballarat and Melbourne, looking for any work”, he says. “Of the few interviews I got, none were successful.”
Castleman is an autistic person. Looking back on his time in the job market, he believes that much of his difficulties seeking employment can be directly attributed to the stigma associated with neurodistinctiveness. Sam’s nerves often got ahold of him during interviews, making it difficult to speak with confidence and demonstrate his competency for the position.
Sam’s Turning Point
Castleman later came across a new neurodiversity program that IBM was piloting in Australia. The program aimed to place 10 neurodivergent professionals in IT positions throughout the firm, including roles in data analytics and application development.
There were originally 50 applicants that were then dwindled down to only 15, including Sam. IBM put him and the other final round candidates through a 4-week assessment course that examined their technical skills, professional interests, and eagerness to learn.
Sam was eventually hired to work as a developer. His responsibilities included projects focusing on automation and the blockchain. Castleman had been interested in tech and coding since high school, where he would regularly write computer scripts as a personal hobby. Right before starting at IBM, he had also formed a deep intrigue for the blockchain network.
“As I was coming into IBM, I had a fascination with blockchain. I had done a lot of research and then a lot of training in those areas, and that’s been my goal since I joined.”
How Employment Changed Sam’s Life
To date, Castleman has been employed by IBM for over two years. His loved ones notice an increase in his confidence as well as an improvement in his overall mood. Sam has also noticed a significant boost to his general mental health. Additionally, the financial stability his job provides allowed him to marry his fiancee of 18 months and has helped deliver a better quality of life for his two daughters.
Sam has also proven to be a valuable asset for his firm as well. In an interview with ABC Australia, Belinda Sheehan, Program Manager and Senior Managing Consultant at IBM, had some nice words to say about Castleman.
“In terms of Sam, it’s a very bright future.” says Sheehan “To see those things quite quickly change over that period of time – that’s what employment does. It gives [neurodivergent talent] confidence to come out of themselves, push their limits, and [integrate themselves] as part of society.”
Throughout her life, Natalia and her family had always been active in the autism community. Three of her siblings were on the autistic spectrum and her mother had participated in local events and organizations to spread awareness since she was a young child. Based in Argentina, her family even launched a non-profit organization providing hubs and treatments for neurodistinct people across the country.
Despite her firsthand experience with the neuroidentity, Natalia didn’t discover she was autistic until the age of 24. This is not particularly uncommon for women. Studies suggest that young autistic girls often ‘hide in plain sight’ and are difficult to identify in a normal school environment. Boys are more likely to withdraw from social situations and isolate themselves from others. Alternatively, young girls often develop a way to camouflage amongst their neurotypical peers in many social situations, trying their best to ‘fit in’ with whatever they consider ‘the norm’. This is a valid explanation for why autistic boys outnumber autistic girls five to one and why many women aren’t made aware of their neurodistinctiveness until adulthood.
Post-Graduation and Starting a New Career
Although Natalia discovered she was an autistic person later in life, her family’s advocacy for neurodivergent children and adults made her transition in the corporate world quite seamless.
After graduating from university, she attended an information session provided by a vendor that specialized in developing and securing employment for autistic professionals. From there, she advanced her way through a series of training modules, technical evaluations, and interviews. Natalia was eventually matched with JP Morgan Chase at the end of the program and placed into the firm’s Corporate & Investment Bank division.
Embracing Neurodiversity at Work
Natalia now works as a transaction processing specialist at JPMorgan’s Buenos Aires corporate office. There, she is focused on reviewing and processing requests received from both advisors and clients. Gironzi attributes much of her workplace success to her autism, citing excellent memory, fast processing, and a keen eye for detail – all traits that are extremely helpful in her current role. She has been praised by colleagues for her eagerness to learn and lend a helping hand to other team members at all times.
Gironzi has made it her mission to continue advocating for autistic people in the workplace and maintaining an open dialogue about neurodistinctiveness with her peers. She recognizes that strides have been made to improve autism awareness across the globe. However, in her native country of Argentina, the journey is far from over.
“I like to talk about it”, says Natalia, “People tell me all the time, ‘You don’t look like you have autism’ because I love to socialize with my colleagues. [They] expect us to all be the same, but we’re actually very different.”
Like Natalia, Angela didn’t discover she was autistic until she was well in her 20’s. As a child, school was very difficult for her. She didn’t pick up on social rules and many would often refer to her actions as ‘inappropriate’.Life at home wasn’t much better for Andrews. Her sensory issues caused her to destroy many of the clothes that she felt were too tight or made of uncomfortable fabric. This angered her parents, who were unaware they were raising a neurodistinct child.
“[I] spent most of my life feeling like I’m standing in front of a bubble, and inside this bubble, everyone is beautiful and there’s a big fancy party going on.” Angela says, “They’re laughing and having a great time, but I’m standing outside in the dark in the rain, with my face pressed against the bubble because I can’t learn the rules that would let me come inside.”
After having children, Angela noticed her sensory issues heighten. At the age of 27, testing revealed that she was autistic. Andrews saw this as a blessing – she was now able to confront her neurodivergence head-on and learn how to manage the behaviors associated with it. After nearly a decade out of college, Angela gained the confidence to continue her studies at 31. She eventually graduated with a master’s degree in data analytics.
Overcoming Obstacles After University
Angela excelled in university. Her fast reading and great memory were an advantage to her as she worked on papers, projects, and examinations. As she started succeeding, her confidence continued to grow and much of her past trauma fell behind her.
Upon graduating and starting her first job, however, she experienced a few instances of bullying in the workplace. Luckily, several of her colleagues noticed this and reported it to management, while praising Angela for the amazing work she was doing. In fact, one of these peers would later introduce her to her current company, Johnson & Johnson.
Andrews has risen through the ranks quickly. After originally being hired on as a supply chain analyst, she was promoted twice in her first three years at the firm. Today, Angela now works as a Data Integrity Manager at Janssen Research & Development, part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. She has since started an autism employee resource group aimed at encouraging neurodivergent talent within the firm to feel comfortable expressing themselves naturally. Angela has also given talks at the company detailing her experiences with autism and highlighting the benefits of workplace neurodiversity.
“I believe if you allow people to be who they are [and] allow their brains to go where they can go, there’s no limit to what can be accomplished.” – Angela Andrews
Learning from Successes
Neurodiversity training is often seen as a burden on time and capital resources. In reality, it should be considered an investment that enhances the experience of neurodivergent talent while producing a number of positive externalities for the firm overall.
All organizations can benefit from neuroinclusive workforce. Proper training provides businesses and their leaders with the structure, processes, and specificities necessary for neurodivergent professionals to thrive and remain focused in the workplace. Contrary to popular belief, neurotypical employees also stand to gain from the introduction of protocols used to support neurodiversity companywide. The more a company embraces a diversity of thought, the better it will be able to drive innovation and generate a sense of community and belonging throughout the entire firm organization.
Contact us today to discover how neurodiversity training can benefit your organization and how Uptimize can help.