Autistic workers face significant employment barriers, says Deloitte report

01 April 2022 3 min. read
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Employers need to do more to understand neurodiversity, reduce barriers to employment, and create structural supports for Canada’s autistic community, according to a report from Deloitte and Auticon, an IT consulting firm that employs autistic professionals. The joint report – “Embracing neurodiversity at work: How Canadians with autism can help employers close the talent gap” – surveyed 454 adults in Canada.

Canadians with autism are often overlooked in the labour market, according to the report. Approximately 14% of Canadian adults with autism said they were employed in 2012, while 33% said they were employed in 2017. Employed Canadians with autism are likelier to work part time, at 41.7% compared to the national average of 18.4%. Finally, autistic adults face higher rates of turnover and shorter average job tenure. In Canada the average job tenure is 8.6 years, but only 2% of employed survey respondents said they had been in their current position for more than five years.

Aside from the moral impetus of social and economic inclusion, the current talent crunch is another reason to increase efforts to hire, develop, and retain neurodiverse workers, according to the report. Approximately half of Canadian companies said they were experiencing workforce shortages, according to a 2020 Deloitte Canada survey.

Autistic workers face significant employment barriers, says Deloitte report

“The autistic community has so much to offer, and unfortunately, a lot of the potential of neurodiverse Canadians is either lost on employers, or goes untapped," said Roland Labuhn, partner, digital and analytics, Deloitte Canada. "From the hiring process to a clear lack of support systems for employees, the autistic community still faces significant barriers in finding meaningful work, and it's important for employers to recognize that removing these obstacles will lead to a more inclusive workplace for all employees."

One of the top ranked barriers for autistic adults was the interview process (40%), which often emphasizes social competency and “social fit.” Autistic adults can have trouble picking up social cues, so not laughing after the interviewer makes a joke or otherwise appearing “cold” or “standoffish” may easily sink an interview – especially if the interviewer isn’t aware the candidate is neurodiverse.

Another barrier is a lack of structural supports in the workplace. Research has found that autistic adults can have trouble adapting to new work environments and can find it challenging to recall and follow verbal instructions, as well as communicate and work effectively with teammates in unstructured environments. “These social and cognitive differences…may help explain why autistic adults have shorter average job tenures than the general population,” the Deloitte report notes.

Forty-five percent of autistic adults said they feel they need to mask their autism at work, 47% said they aren’t comfortable disclosing their autism to employers, and 55% said they feel there’s a stigma associated with autism.

“It's alarming that the autistic community continues to feel they can't bring their whole, authentic selves to work, or disclose their neurodiversity to employers," said Garth Johnson, CEO of Auticon Canada. "Until people feel comfortable sharing this information, the door to the workplace will never truly be open to the autistic community.”

The report says employers can foster a more inclusive environment by educating recruiters, leaders, and staff to eliminate preconceived notions about autism and tackle unconscious bias.