Auticon: the autism-positive consultancy

Matt Nathan DiversityQ Editor Vitesse Media Content London Business

Matt Nathan is the editor in chief of DiversityQ and has worked for New Statesman and The Guardian

Auticon is an autism-positive IT and compliance consultancy business which exclusively hires consultants on the autism spectrum. They are a UK Social Enterprise Award winner and work with clients including Siemens, Infineon and Allianz in the US and Europe.

As a leading global technology employer of autistic professionals, we wanted to find out more about their business model and their insights into making the workplace accessible for professionals on the spectrum. We spoke to their Chief Operating Officer, Viola Sommer about;

  • Regional differences with regard to neurodiversity in society and the workplace
  • Auticons work with clients
  • What employers can do to become autism-positive
Auticon COO Viola Sommer autism-positive
Auticon COO Viola Sommer autism-positive

Auticon is an employer that celebrates individual difference and human diversity. We are extremely proud of our autism-positive work culture, recognising each employee for their individual strengths and talents. I myself have a ‘hidden impairment’, so I wanted to work for an employer that deals with this confidently. We believe that society and workplaces in particular greatly benefit from understanding and embracing neurodiversity-specific strengths. We take great care that our roles are matched to the personal skills and interests of each employee and work together with employees on developing their career.

Viola Sommer, Chief Operating Officer at Auticon

Regional attitudes to neurodiversity in society and the workplace

The UK is more advanced when it comes to neurodiversity awareness and talking about these topics. Germany, on the other hand, is more advanced in providing actual support. E.g. the German government provides significantly more financial support to neurodiverse people and employers who want to be inclusive. From what my colleagues in the other countries tell me, I think that the US is also quite advanced (we operate in California), probably more so than France or Switzerland.

Working with clients

It’s an easy sell actually. Our clients want people who think differently. They often have complex problems that their own staff can’t solve – they need people who have a different cognitive style and a fresh perspective. There are also some specific cognitive skills that tend to be more prevalent in the autism community, e.g. pattern recognition, sustained concentration, exceptional attention to detail and accuracy. These skills are invaluable in most tech roles. The problem isn’t in getting companies to see the benefits, it’s about their day to day operations that are often too rigid or too unstructured to make individual adjustments. Our clients often feedback to us that they are surprised how easy it is to do this in the end, but before that there’s often some ‘fear of the unknown’ that needs to be broken down.

What employers can do to become autism-positive

Most organisations focus a lot on CVs and interviews. This places a big focus on what people have been doing in the past and their social skills or ability to sell their skills in an interview setting. In many cases, however, social skills may not even be crucial for the role – for example, you may risk turning down a brilliant data analyst for the lack of a skill that isn’t even relevant to the role.

At Auticon we don’t interview and don’t focus on CVs. We’re interested in what people can do and we have a whole range of ways to look at candidates’ technical and cognitive skills. We want to find out how our candidates think and have developed a range of assessments to understand our candidates’ cognitive profiles.

We make sure that we understand our Consultants’ intelligence profile and then match it to our clients’ needs – do they need someone who can work through things fast with a high level of accuracy, someone with an analytic mind or a problem solver? When the match between skills and role profile is right, performance can be staggeringly good.

We believe that’s a much better way of hiring than generic job descriptions and excluding people on criteria that often aren’t important to the job. Hiring managers sometimes tend to invite people for an interview on the basis of ‘I’ll know what I want when I see it’, without fully articulating what it is they are looking for. In those situations, interviews can easily turn into mere tests of social interaction.

There’s a saying that goes ‘if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person’. Do not make assumptions – everybody is different. An adjustment that helps one person may be really triggering to another person. There is no way around an individualistic, person-centric approach. Large corporates need more flexibility around this.

See also: What do employers need to know about Neurodiversity?