Six lessons in neurodiversity

dandelion-program

As competition for talented employees intensifies, some enterprises are now seeking to create increasingly neurodiverse workplaces with room for many different ways of thinking and processing information. From financial services firm JPMorgan Chase and automaker Ford to technology companies including Yahoo and Microsoft, corporate recruitment initiatives and learning programs are enabling people with neurological differences to apply special calculation, memory and other capabilities as they build rewarding careers.

Founded in 2014 by DXC in partnership with the Australian Government, the DXC Dandelion Program provides pathways for people on the autism spectrum to work in the IT industry as software testing specialists, data scientists and more. Based on our experience with the program — which was recognized with a 2018 ISG ANZ Paragon Award for positive community impact — here are six lessons learned about establishing and improving a neurodiversity recruitment initiative:

Implement a structured, progressive approach to mentoring participants.

In the first year of the 3-year Dandelion Program, trainees focus on onboarding, skill development and engagement with a consistent work pipeline. In the second year, they construct a strong IT résumé before focusing on taking the next career step in the program’s final year. The Dandelion Program’s structured approach has led to a consistently high retention rate.

Be creative in designing projects for neurodiverse apprentices.

Learning experiences can be fun, comprehensive and community-based. At our Adelaide Delivery Center, to give one example, university students on the autism spectrum used Agile software development methods to create “Dandy,” a robot that catalyzes classroom learning and engagement at a primary school serving children with autism.

Emphasize “life skills” and overall wellness along with job-specific skills.

DXC and a client recently entered into a partnership with a university to research mental health issues that may affect employees with autism, including anxiety and sleep disorders. The Dandelion Progam also looks at quality of life, coworker perceptions and workplace challenges when designing strategies to support participants.

Multiply the benefits for participants and clients.

The Dandelion Program continues to grow, with new clients in government and the private sector benefiting from the unique expertise and contributions of neurodiverse IT workers. Today, approximately 80 people with autism work with our clients. Recently, the Australian Department of Human Services engaged the Dandelion Program to bolster its workforce with 10 professionals who will contribute to technology projects out of our Brisbane Delivery Center over the next three years. As people with autism, these trained DXC specialists will discover new opportunities for career growth and participation through their role as providers of advanced digital solutions to the Australian Government.

Partner with others to further accelerate progress.

Together with Ernst & Young, Microsoft and other partners, DXC helped create the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable that allows corporate leaders to share proven practices for recruiting and hiring people with autism. DXC and Ernst & Young also hosted the Neurodiversity @Work and @Home workshop where speakers contributed ideas for expanding the range of workplace roles and possibilities.

Give researchers access to program insights.

The more open your program, the more good it can do. Harvard Business School studied the Dandelion Program and published a case study to help organizations identify how neurodiversity can be a competitive advantage, and Cornell University has publicized our best practices through its Institute on Employment and Disability.

 

With neurodiversity recruitment programs evolving and maturing at a rapid rate, DXC remains committed to taking practical steps that help us build a diverse and vibrant organizational culture. By welcoming people with autism into our workforce through the Dandelion Program, we seek to expand opportunities for individual workers while strengthening our business with better quality, improved productivity and greater innovation. As we sharpen our focus on how to maximize benefits for all, these and other lessons of program design and community collaboration will continue to guide us toward the inclusive future the Dandelion Program represents.

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