Celebrating World Autism Awareness Day – and Autism Acceptance Month

Today the world recognizes and celebrates the rights of individuals with autism. World Autism Awareness Day, established in 2008 by the United Nations, is an international observance to make us mindful of this complex, lifelong developmental disability, which typically appears in early childhood. We also join organizations like the Autism Society of America and Autism Speaks to celebrate our differences throughout April’s Autism Acceptance Month, a formal shift from Autism Awareness Month, announced in early March.

With autism identified as our country’s fastest-growing developmental disorder, affecting one in 54 children according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s increasing urgency for intervention and therapy to improve the lives of the over 5 million people diagnosed and living with this condition.

Neurodiversity Hiring Program

It’s gratifying that Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more translates into our corporate diversity and inclusion value which helps us engage many different perspectives to drive innovation. As Neil Barnett, Microsoft’s director of Inclusive Hiring and Accessibility, said on World Autism Day 2020: “The value proposition for diversity and inclusion within Microsoft is increasingly clear – a diverse and inclusive workforce will yield better products and solutions for our customers, and better experiences for our employees.”

In April 2015, Microsoft introduced a pilot program to hire people with autism and open doors for long-term career opportunities. That pilot evolved into the Microsoft Neurodiversity Hiring Program, reflecting how we are expanding inclusive hiring practices and increasing the diversity of our workforce. “Neurodiverse” may encompass different conditions, such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities. At the program’s website, you’ll learn about four Microsoft employees who are using their unique talents, strengths and qualifications to help further the company’s success.

Solving the ‘front door’ experience

The Neurodiversity Hiring Program is focused on recruiting and building a scalable foundation, working toward the goal of increasing the percentage of Microsoft employees with disabilities. This program helps solve the “front door” experience for candidates on the spectrum by offering a different interview, hiring and onboarding process, built on four dimensions:

  • Plan and recruit: Working with organizations across the company, our global talent acquisition team identifies open roles and finds candidates with the required skills and experience.
  • Prescreen: The team conducts a phone or email chat to assess each applicant’s technical skills, producing a consistent approach and recommendation on continuing to the next interview or not.
  • Skills evaluation: This four-day virtual program is hosted on Microsoft Teams and conducted by an eight-member cohort of senior software engineers who evaluate a candidate’s skills and readiness for the job.
  • Hire and onboard: Once a hiring decision is made, this final step engages the hiring manager, mentors, a job coach and HR manager in neurodiversity workforce training. The new hire then receives onboarding support from this group over the next 90 days.

The program also offers built-in accommodations – for example, extra time for interviews, longer breaks between interviews and more – providing each candidate options supporting their individual needs.

Ongoing efforts

Since 2015, Microsoft has recruited and hired more than 100 employees with neurodiverse disabilities who are supporting 95 organizations – Azure, Customer Support, HoloLens, Windows, Xbox and others. These teammates bring added value to their respective departments and our overall Microsoft workforce and culture. You can learn about our ongoing efforts by reviewing the inspiring stories and resources below.

I hope you’ll join me today, throughout April and beyond, to create awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with autism and other neurodiverse disorders. Our support is especially critical as we continue battling COVID-19 and strive to ensure those with autism have what U.N. Secretary General António Guterres calls, “the right to self-determination, independence and autonomy as well as the right to education and employment on an equal basis with others.”

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