How Neurodiversity Can Drive Innovation in Chicago

With nearly 2.5 million STEM job openings, it’s no wonder that U.S. employers are looking harder than ever to find qualified applicants. One demographic that often gets overlooked is the neurodiverse community — neurodiverse applicants are individuals who may be on the autism spectrum but are often highly qualified. In this guest post, Rocky Subramanian Midwest Managing Director, SAP North America, shares his thoughts on why it’s important to companies should consider hiring neurodiverse applicants and look outside of traditional talent profiles.

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Guest Author: Rocky Subramanian, Midwest Managing Director, SAP North America

Chicago isn’t just an “emerging” innovation center anymore – it’s a full-fledged tech hub. In fact, the city consistently leads most US metro areas in terms of venture capital return on investment. Yet as any market forecaster will tell you, sustainable growth is as much about the future as it is about the present.

As a tech epicenter, growing the talent pipeline in Chicago remains a top priority – especially with the much-discussed intensifying talent gap. The reality is that this year, U.S. employers will be unable to fill nearly 2.5 million job openings in STEM and STEM-related occupations, translating into lost productivity and potentially leaving opportunity for economic growth on the table.  

One key learning I’ve taken from my role as co-chair for the SAP North America Diversity Council is that finding good talent to fill those jobs requires looking beyond the traditional talent profile and considering a broader set of job candidates.

For instance, there is an entire pool of talent that is simply not being considered for tech jobs because they fall into the category of “neurodiverse.” These are individuals who may be on the autism spectrum, and though highly qualified, often struggle with the social interaction required to sail through the interview process. It’s why more than 85% of people with autism are unemployed or underemployed, all while millions of jobs remain unfilled.

Over the past several years, I’ve been proud to see SAP take giant steps to build a more inclusive workforce and become a pioneer in neurodiverse hiring. And I’ve been even more proud to see other companies follow suit, like Microsoft, Ernst & Young, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, all of which have built their own autism employment programs.

Innovation comes from the edges

When SAP launched the Autism at Work program we did so with three key objectives in mind:

First, we identified a business imperative to ensure that we have enough skilled workers to continuously innovate and solve our customers’ business challenges. By hiring people on the autism spectrum we are ensuring that we aren’t overlooking some terrific candidates, we’re showing that we’re serious about inclusivity, and we’re building a workplace where everyone can feel welcome.  

Second, by hiring candidates who think differently we’re able to take unique approaches to problem-solving that delivers value to our customers and keeps us ahead of the competition. And with the incredible pace of disruption facing the tech sector, harnessing diversity of perspectives is crucial to our success.  

Third, we sought to deliver upon our mission to “help the world run better and improve people’s lives” by giving opportunity to a group of people who have been overlooked and underutilized.   

The program has helped our company bring more than 150 talented individuals into pivotal roles within our organization, ranging from software development to HR and customer support. And the impact of this program on individuals with autism has been nothing short of profound. One of my colleagues in the Autism at Work program puts it best: “My work at SAP gives meaning to my life in ways I could have never imagined.” 

And while neurodiverse employment certainly is changing people’s lives, it’s the companies doing the hiring that are benefiting the most. We’re closing the talent gap, enhancing the value we can bring to customers, and boosting our innovation to not only fuel our success today, but to ensure a bright future for years to come.  

I strongly encourage my peers in the Chicago tech sector to consider looking at neurodiverse job candidates. You’ll reap incredible rewards.

The opinions expressed here by 1871 guest writers are their own, not those of 1871. To learn more about SAP North America follow this link.