Nationwide shines a light on value autistic candidates can bring to organisations

16 February 2018


  • Society hosts industry roundtable on benefits neurodiverse talent can provide
  • BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham highlights only 14% of autistic adults in the UK are in full time employment

Nationwide Building Society this week invited leading business and HR figures to discuss how organisations can better tap into talented professionals with Asperger Syndrome. The aim is to bring talent and diversity into companies while helping people who don’t identify as neurotypical to achieve fulfilling work lives.

On hand to provide a personal account was BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham, who wasn’t diagnosed with Aspergers, a severe form of autism, until his forties.

Describing common traits and characteristics in the workplace, Packham spoke of a task-orientated nature and drive for precision and perfection for those at the higher end of the autistic spectrum.

But far from these traits being inhibitors for organisations, these differences should be celebrated and embraced, according to Packham, who told the audience of his ability to visually retain information coupled with a desire for knowledge. This, which he recognised is different from most people, doesn’t make him disabled, he said, but rather enabled.

More worryingly for Packham was his belief that companies are wasting an enormous resource, citing that in the UK only 14% of autistic adults are in full time employment, the lowest proportion of any notifiable disability.

Katrina Hutchinson-O’Neill, Director of Resourcing at Nationwide Building Society, said: “Nationwide wants to help change the perception of Asperger Syndrome from being considered a disability to a welcomed and valuable difference. This event was about starting the conversation about the recruitment of neurodiverse workforces and the processes involved.”

Participants highlighted the application process for many organisations as still constituting a series of tick boxes and form filling, including asking candidates to declare if they wish to receive special considerations. However, as Hutchinson O-Neill adds: “This is at odds with many neurodiverse candidates, who do not consider their autism as a disability but rather a condition.”

ASPIeRATIONS, a community interest company, was also present as an expert voice on how organisations can attract, recruit and retain those with Asperger Syndrome.

Laurel Herman, CEO at ASPIeRATIONS, commented: "This discussion shows that businesses in the UK are starting to take steps to support people with Asperger Syndrome, but there is much more that needs to be done. Even some of the most talented and highly qualified people with Asperger Syndrome can struggle to find employment and when people with the condition do find a job, appropriate support is rarely available and awareness of the condition is often very low.

“The result is that businesses are missing out on talented people in an employment market suited to analytical thinkers and problem-solvers – skills where people with Asperger Syndrome demonstrate above average ability.

“If we are to see a real change it must come from the top. We need business leaders to follow Nationwide’s lead in recognising their responsibility to make their organisations and hiring practices more inclusive."

Notes to Editor:

In the UK around one in 100 people are on the autistic spectrum, equating to around 700,000 people and affecting some 3 million family members. And with more than 15 million members and 18,000 colleagues, Nationwide recognises many of its customers and colleagues will be affected by the condition, either personally or through friends or family.

About Aspierations

Aspierations is a community interest company (a social enterprise) established in 2016 to advocate for people with Asperger Syndrome or high functioning autism who aspire to a career in the corporate world. They provide companies with consultancy services, professional training sessions and are about to launch a specialised recruitment offering.

About Nationwide

Nationwide is the world's largest building society as well as one of the largest savings providers and a top-three provider of mortgages in the UK. It is also a major provider of current accounts, credit cards, ISAs and personal loans. Nationwide has around 15 million customers.

Customers can manage their finances in a branch, via the mobile app, on the telephone, internet and post. The Society has around 18,000 employees. Nationwide's head office is in Swindon with administration centres based in Northampton, Bournemouth and Dunfermline. The Society also has a number of call centres across the UK.

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