Neurodiversity as the Final Piece
to a Successful Workplace
By Michael A. Giongo
“I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
– The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
As someone diagnosed with autism at a young age, I have frequently taken the road “less traveled by” when it comes to grasping the nuances of social interactions, planning for long-term objectives, and processing concepts with multiple or multi-step components.
It was an admittedly arduous journey at times, especially in my pre-college days – I can still recall the waves of confusion from not understanding how to behave or respond in certain social situations, the instruction in classrooms and professional environments commanding such attention to detail on my part to the near-extent of seeming like a cacophony threatening to overwhelm my senses.
However, my path has ultimately been one of great reward, most recently exemplified by my experience at SAP, first as an intern of the Center of Expertise (CoE) at SAP through the Autism at Work program and now in a full-time role as a Process Management Specialist. Here, I have been introduced to many inspiring individuals on the autism spectrum who have grown into some of the most distinguished paragons of excellence in their respective positions, as well as a compassionate and enthusiastic community of Autism at Work mentors and colleagues.
I credit SAP, Autism at Work, and my colleagues for providing me with multiple forums to hone my ability as a communicator and overall soft skills, for embracing my interests and attention to detail and allowing me to grow into a role of both personal passion and professional relevance during my internship, and above all, for investing in me beyond the qualifications on my resume and finding professional value in traits of people on the autism spectrum that are unfortunately too often overlooked by other employers. Collectively, they are the golden standard of neurodiversity and professionalism, and I deeply hope that I will have a professional opportunity in the near-future that enables me to continue to establish myself as a member of such a remarkable community and company. As a tribute to them, I am here to share insight from my SAP experience into why neurodiversity should be embraced by all workplaces.
1) Words as Clear as Day – More Streamlined Workplace Communication
“Help me… help you.” – Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire
When delivering a message, regardless of the means of communication – spoken word, email, text – you must present your words decisively and with intention. Coherence and comprehension is just as essential to social and professional interactions as it is to a well-crafted novel, and I would consider this ability to deliver a concise message the single greatest strength of individuals on the autism spectrum.
Because of our attention to detail and aptitude for logical reasoning, we are able to interpret the delivery of any message as a process that requires input and generates a specific output. Like a culinary recipe, a solidly-crafted message has specific components that must be added in precise quantities to create a satisfying whole, and our processing of steps in an A-to-Z fashion allows us to firmly determine these necessary inputs and deliver a message free of potential misconceptions.
Indeed, I have witnessed this to be a crucial component of the professional success of many of my colleagues on the autism spectrum at SAP. Direct communication is a chief indicator of honesty, and it has been vital in building trust between employees and their superiors. Additionally, clarity from employees breeds clarity from managers and vice versa, resulting in a genuine process-oriented approach to daily, weekly, and long-term objectives where the timelines for and resources needed to accomplish each task necessary for the satisfaction of an objective are definitively understood.
This establishes a collaborative culture where both superiors and their subordinates know how to ask for what they need to succeed in their respective positions, as well as a business that more efficiently manages its intellectual capital.
2) Investment in Others – Business Processes Strengthened, One Relationship at a Time
“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt
You often feel as if you are fighting the sands of time – such is the world we live in, one often rooted in routines, business obligations, and personal commitments with little time for recreation. We feel so relentlessly driven to satisfy objectives and quell our day-to-day worries that we easily overlook the key to our success and satisfaction: other people.
A fundamental truth of both business and life is that regardless of whatever intentions we may have, people are people and want to be treated as such – they want to be validated, loved, acknowledged, and included. The less you try to “do business” with individuals and the more you convey loyalty to and empathy towards them, the more inclined others will be to work with you.
I find most individuals on the autism spectrum to be deeply beholden to this core tenet of human interaction. Because of the challenges we face, we are infinitely grateful for the successful personal connections we formulate, and this blossoms into a deep intrinsic appreciation for not only the people with whom we develop relationships, but also the qualities with which they enrich the personal bonds that we have with them. This is where the power of SAP’s approach to neurodiversity and the mentoring of the Autism of Work team lies – their emphasis on social trainings, combined with their recognition of the natural empathy and loyalty of many workers on the autism spectrum, develops employees who become expert at formulating bonds with colleagues and customers.
Committing to employees with high personal character and facilitating their social growth with clients and coworkers yields a united and harmonious workplace free of discord and objectives muddled by personal agendas, as well as higher customer and worker retention.
Build a lasting bond with a simple handshake.
3) Understanding the Process of Success – Goal-Setting as the Genesis of Business and Worker Efficiency
“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” – Zig Ziglar
Human nature, in essence, is a paradox: everybody wants to achieve, but very few genuinely comprehend what is needed to harvest success because they fail to clearly define what constitutes it. Attempting to attain what you desire without a firm understanding of the “what” is movement without purpose. It culminates in wasted spiritual and physical energy, time, and in business, precious financial resources and intellectual capital.
Goal setting is the only way to solidify benchmarks and measure success, both professionally and personally. Due to the natural capacity for logical analysis among most neurodiverse individuals, the definition of daily objectives and what constitutes their attainment personally, financially, and materially is often a seamless process for us. With the guidance of superiors who understand how to communicate long-term timelines in simple terms and frame them in a daily sense, as well as organize their employees into explicit roles, the ability to define to precise objectives becomes an indisputable asset. The skill of processing the “big picture” can evolve as an area of increasing comfort for us with each project and meeting, as well.
SAP is a prime example of this dynamic, as they are comprised of managers who are excellent organizers of people and can effectively deliver a message appropriate to both the situation and the individuals with whom they are interacting, and this aids employees in maintaining a high level of organization on a micro level while understanding the vitality of their tasks at a macro level.
Goal setting acts as the fuel not only for a precise, financially efficient company with a seamless process, but also for a workplace bound by unyielding thirst for exhilarating and honest achievement – the standards of the individual become the standards of the team, and
ultimately the standards of the company.
Inspiration is the compass that guides innovation.
4) Diversity of Skill and Perspective – Encouraging Professional and Personal Innovation
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs
Arguably the most critical aspect of software design is “look and feel” – “look” pertains to the visual appearance of a website or application, which is exemplified by features such as font, color palette, and organization of text, whereas “feel” refers to the behavior of the dynamic features of the site or application, including buttons and menus, and the emotions that these provoke in the user. In this technology and social media-dominated day of age, “look and feel” is as invaluable as ever to the establishment of a company’s brand.
This is also applicable to the daily operations of the company, especially when describing the balance between hard and soft skills that is necessary to maintain a functional business. Hard skills serve as the foundation for the services the company offers to its clients and comprise the identity, or “look”, of the company.
However, the means for providing these services is as valuable to the operations of the company as the services themselves. This is where soft skills are of significance – employing individuals with vibrant interpersonal skills formulates a powerful “feel” for the company and enables the company to better connect to customers, understand their needs, and consequently provide more thorough and expedient satisfaction of clients.
By integrating individuals on the autism spectrum in the workplace with individuals for whom soft skills may come more naturally, a mutualistic workplace environment where evolving business processes benefit from the specializations of employees and colleagues directly contribute to the enhancement of each other’s soft and hard skills through both mentoring and collaboration on professional objectives is born.
“The biggest emotion in creation is the bridge to optimism.” – Brian May
Human beings are not meant to stay in stasis, but rather “blaze trails” – we are all driven by the quest to find meaning in the self and our experiences, as well as a universal thirst for creative rebirth, and this comes to fruition through the consistent generation and recalibration of benchmarks among both individuals and groups. This dynamic is readily obvious professionally, with companies propelled by the need to regularly update their services and products to satisfy ever-fluctuating customer trends, and employees consistently seeking to lend talents to endeavors where they can kindle their powers of creation and enhance their professional and personal self-worth.
And it is why neurodiversity is essential to the evolution of any business – it is both a financially responsible and morally righteous business practice if the process for training workers is solidly organized and spearheaded by individuals of impeccable character. Neurodiversity enables a company to become “state-of-the-art” both spiritually and economically through the amplification of productivity and community outreach, as well as the championing of diversity and unity, and it enables people on the autism spectrum to be a driving force behind daily business and hiring processes.
I am eternally grateful for the experience that SAP has provided me, as it has instilled in me enhanced social confidence in my professional and personal dealings and led me to fully realize how rich of an impact I and other individuals on the autism spectrum can have intellectually and emotionally on not only a global business, but also other people.
It is my hope and dream that others on the autism spectrum can experience these same rewards and that neurodiversity evolves from “market inefficiency” to the “norm” in corporate America.
About the Author
Michael was born in Phoenixville, PA. He is an alumnus of Ursinus College, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in math and physics, and is now employed at SAP as a Sales Operations Process Management Specialist. Here, he applies his analytical skills to produce data analysis to help guide the difficult, but necessary financial and sales decisions made at an executive level by SAP. In my spare time, he works with his father, providing business and technology insights that have helped to shape the vision and direction of his ever-evolving physician-focused financial education business.
Michael is a member of SAP’s Autism at Work program and active in his community. He has had the honor of sharing his story on various panels, from the PA Disability Employment Summit to the Philadelphia Eagles Autism Challenge and SAP Select at SAPPHIRE NOW.
In addition to his civic pursuits, Michael maintains a strong passion for exercise, reading, and his beloved Philadelphia Eagles. He currently resides in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
All rights reserved. This material/or content may not be reproduced or distributed, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of the author, Michael A. Giongo.
New Employment Opportunity in Boston!!
Position title: Greater Boston Area Liaison
Reports to: Director, Neurodiversity in the Workplace
FLSA status: Exempt
Position Summary: The Liaison for the Greater Boston Hub will represent the Neurodiversity in the Workplace (NITW) program in the region. The aim of this position is to advance the goal of making neurodiversity an integral part of the modern workforce. The liaison will move us closer to this goal by fostering more meaningful participation and facilitation of neurodiversity hiring initiatives in the greater Boston area. The liaison will be responsible for continuing the conversation among interested parties (corporate, NGO, and governmental), leveraging existing partnerships, and creating new partnerships in and around the topic.
The position’s responsibilities (after training and onboarding) include but are not limited to:
- Speaking knowledgably about the topic of neurodiversity and autism employment.
- Working with corporate partners in a consulting relationship to help implement methods for hiring neurodiverse individuals.
- Organizing communities to boost the abilities of companies, providers, state offices, and higher education to conduct neurodiversity programming and initiatives.
- Organizing and presenting at conferences and events designed to encourage companies/ partners to become engaged.
- Managing multiple stakeholders including, colleges and universities, governmental organizations, NGOs, etc.
- Facilitating the employment process for neurodiverse individuals at partner locations
- Utilizing best practices to train local service providers to support new employees
- Utilizing best practices to train hiring managers at partner locations
- Collaborating with the NITW team to implement national efforts and projects.
- Designing and developing corporate neurodiversity inclusion curriculum with the guidance of NITW staff.
- Attending regional, national, and local events as appropriate.
- Performing additional duties as required by program leadership and partners.
- This position requires a Bachelor’s Degree, plus more than 3 years of experience in any of the following: workforce development, talent acquisition, community organizing, business development or any other closely related field.
- Clear criminal and child abuse history, medical and drug screen will be required.
- Demonstration of effective verbal and written communication skills are essential.
- The ability to work independently
- This position requires a flexible work schedule and occasional availability on weekends and/or evenings.
- Must be able to travel independently to partner sites
- Accommodations will be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform essential functions.
- Flexible work hours and location are available for liaison position with at least 50% of time spent in a Cambridge/ Boston office environment
- Up to 25% national travel.
Position is contingent upon funding.
We are an equal opportunity employer (EEO).
Apply today by submitting your cover letter and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org
Neurodiversity Employment in the Upcoming Decade
by Bridget McElroy and Amanda Zorzi
As humans have evolved, variations in the human genome have led to differing neurotypes across our species. Neurodiversity refers to these natural variances in the brain which result in different ways of thinking, learning, and socializing. This diversity in brain functioning has and will continue to have advantages for society as a whole.
The neurodiversity movement challenges the medical model’s idea that a neurodivergence like autism or ADHD is dysfunctional and inherently requires treatment. Instead, it supports the notion that neurological differences among people should be recognized and respected, and calls society to further adapt to meet the needs associated with neurodivergence.
I view ‘autistic’ as a word for a part of how my brain works, not for a narrow set of behaviors and certainly not for a set of boundaries of a stereotype that I have to stay inside. — Amanda Baggs, American blogger
Over the past decade, employers have begun to embrace the benefits associated with a neurodiverse workforce. These initiatives, along with the continued efforts of self-advocates and allies, have sparked increased energy around the topic throughout society. Our organization supports this movement by helping companies diversify their workforce and adapting the socially nuanced interview process to focus on job-related skills. We do this by replacing a traditional interview with a project that requires the same technical skills needed for the identified role and providing candidates with an opportunity to directly showcase those skills to hiring managers. This process has been successfully utilized by SAP, Lincoln Financial Group, Thermo Fisher, Bank of America, VMWare and more.
While considerable progress has been made during the past decade, the stigma around human differences is still undoubtedly present and more work lies ahead in terms of acceptance and appreciation of our varied existences within the workplace. It is our hope that this movement continues to evolve and expand in the next ten years. Here are some of our aspirations for the neurodiversity movement in the workplace:
Increased accessibility of meaningful employment leads to increased innovation across technical fields
Some of the most significant early innovators such as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Emily Dickinson are thought to be on the autism spectrum based on reported characteristics. In today’s workforce, common interview processes rely heavily on nuanced social interaction which excludes many highly-skilled candidates from the workforce. By relying solely on these hiring methods, we could be missing out on this generation’s most innovative thinkers. As more companies adapt their hiring processes and establish inclusive work environments so that this untapped talent pool has increased access to employment, we anticipate a significant increase in progress and innovation.
Types of opportunities expand for neurodivergent individuals with varying interests and career goals
STEM fields are leading the way in this initiative, but this is not the sole area of interest and skill for neurodivergent individuals. Over the next ten years, we want to see an increase in available job opportunities for candidates interested in journalism, history, library science, education, and beyond. We envision a future where the skills and passions of those with ASD are what determines their futures.
Autistic people are individuals. We are not all math geniuses, we don’t all like trains. I am hopeless with technology and much prefer painting. There is no ‘typical Autistic.’ But I think we probably all like being respected and validated. — Jeanette Purkis
Neurodiversity is a key part of every organization’s talent acquisition strategy
Currently, most neurodiversity hiring initiatives are niche projects led by motivated employees within large corporations. We anticipate this initiative expanding into businesses of all sizes and disciplines, and envision a future where neurodiversity is an integral component of every company’s hiring practices and supported in all workplace cultures. A truly inclusive workplace would utilize accessible interview practices that focus on job-related skills, include access to more varied support services such as job coaching as a standard part of a benefits package, and promote open communication regarding individual needs.
What does the neurodiversity movement mean to you? Reach out to us at email@example.com.
Are you or is someone you know experiencing unemployment due to barriers related to the traditional interview process? We will be facilitating numerous hiring programs nationally in 2020. Fill out our intake form to become a part of our candidate database, and we’ll reach out to you if any of our upcoming hiring programs fit your qualifications and interests.