Microsoft Launches Pilot Program to Recruit Autistic Employees

Puzzle: autism awareness
Microsoft announced earlier this month that it will be instituting a pilot program to recruit people with autism spectrum disorders for full time-positions on its Redmond campus in Washington state.

“People with autism bring strengths that we need at Microsoft,” Mary Ellen Smith, corporate vice president of worldwide operations, wrote in a blog post. “Each individual is different, some have amazing ability to retain information, think at a level of detail and depth or excel in math or code. It’s a talent pool that we want to continue to bring to Microsoft!”

Smith is also the mother of an autistic teen son, Shawn. The timing of the announcement was apt, as April is National Autism Awareness Month. There are more than 3.5 million people with autism spectrum disorders living in the United States.

Microsoft has contracted a specialty recruiting firm, Specialisterne, to help with the hiring process. The firm operates out of Denmark and the United Kingdom and has worked with several IT companies (as well as in other sectors) to promote the hiring of people with autism for specific jobs.

Initially, 10 positions will be made available.

Smith’s post asserted this decision is consistent with Microsoft’s longstanding commitment to diversity. “At Microsoft, we believe that diversity enriches our performance, our products and services, the communities where we live and work, and the lives of our employees. We provide an inclusive environment where everyone can do their best work and have been investing in these programs for many years,” she wrote, going on to say that the company’s goal is to have a workforce that more closely represents its customers.

But, as many commentators have pointed out, the move also makes good business sense. Anna Remington, of the University College London Institute of Education, wrote for Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service April 15 that many companies worldwide are starting to recognize the contributions people with autism can make in the workplace. Specialisterne has said that people with autism find 10% more bugs when checking coding for errors, on average, than their non-autistic counterparts.

Remington also said that it’s clear advocacy efforts are working, with moves such as Microsoft’s being a “testament to the excellent work that many autistic people and their supporters have done to raise awareness of the strengths and abilities associated with autism.” The key to more fully involving people with autism in all areas of employment, she writes, is looking at those strengths instead of at difficulties.

Individuals interested in the Microsoft program can email resumes to msautism@microsoft.com.

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