A little more than a year ago, Microsoft announced the launch of a new a pilot program to hire people with autism and bring more diversity to the company. At the time, Microsoft was one of the biggest companies to introduce this kind of program, which also was a reflection of CEO Satya Nadella’s commitment to change the company's culture in a global way.
Last week, Fast Company published a lengthy story about this pilot program after being invited by the company to spend three days with young autistic candidates. The program is actually very different from traditional job interviews: to better suit the needs of autistic people, Microsoft has decided to invite candidates to the Microsoft Campus for two weeks where they're tasked with different projects. Formal interviews only happen at the end of the evaluation period.
Neil Barnett, Microsoft’s director of inclusive hiring and accessibility, explained to Fast Company that Microsoft is looking to expand the program beyond its yearly four sessions:
It’s great that we’re hiring five or 10 or 15 people, but to really drive that inclusive culture, we’ve got to figure out how to get a lot of these things into the mainstream.
While the program is currently open to everyone in the US, it is actually not easy to find candidates for the program as there is no established pipeline of autistic people with programming abilities. Furthermore, the social stigma around autism often leads autistic people to hide their condition to potential employers. "The unemployment rate is chronic, which is not a reflection of the talent pool, it’s just a reflection of these people not getting through the door" added Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer.
To find more candidates for its pilot program, Microsoft has started reaching out to autism organizations as well as universities’ disability offices, but the company is still struggling to find the more skilled ones. During this year's April hiring session, the Redmond giant had 13 open positions for autistic people but only five candidates met the company's high expectations.
Still, Microsoft remains determined to make its workforce more diverse to better reflect its vast panorama of customers. While the company's execs didn't reveal if the pilot program was costly to the company, Barnett explained that the costs are "far less than we thought." "Most of our investment is actually in the people," he added.
We'll be keeping out eye on this program and on Microsoft's dedication to employing people with autism. Let us know in the comments what you think of Microsoft's efforts.