ACS Diversity & Inclusion: Do you know what could make your workplace more inclusive?

3 March 2021

Neurodiversity in the ICT workplace – Imagine living your formative years looking at the world around you, trying to navigate your teens and early adulthood, and just not fitting in anywhere no matter what you did or said. 

That was what it was like for our ACS International Women’s Day Diversity & Inclusion Breakfast panelist, Ashlea McKay.

Ashlea is an openly autistic woman who was not diagnosed until her late 20s.

Clearly, Ashlea is an intelligent and capable woman, with a Bachelor of Industrial Design from the University of Canberra and having produced more than 68 high quality technical articles in the past seven years.  She is also accomplished keynote speaker having presented at UX industry events and conferences, both nationally and internationally and created and co-founded UX Agony Aunt with Optimal Workshop.

So how come it took three years to find her first job, post diagnosis?

“Unfortunately, we don’t yet live in a world where autistic people are accepted and valued as they are, let alone have a direct voice in leadership conversations,” said Ashlea.

“Autism equality in the workplace is easy to achieve and starts by shifting your mindset and viewing autism as a natural human difference that just needs different things.”

Stereotyping of autistic people persists as well as the belief that approaches and ideas that provide equality for marginalized groups, until now, have not been considered possible, such as remote and flexible working arrangements.

“It took a global pandemic to come along to show not only it is possible, but also some businesses are embracing it,” said Ashlea.

The ACS 2020 Digital Pulse Report suggests while the growth in technology workforce will be disrupted still until the end of 2021, it is expected to rebound sharply during 2022 before returning to the historically high rate of growth experienced in recent years.1

Deloitte Access Economics forecasts that employers will demand over 170,000 more ICT qualified professionals by 2025.1

Already suffering from a shortage of talent, and with skilled migration expected to take several years to get back to numbers experienced before the pandemic, perhaps now is the time for learning from others that have successfully tapped into underrepresented groups in the community.

In 2017, Austin and Pisano2 reported that the neurodiverse population remains a largely untapped talent pool and that unemployment runs as high as 80%.  When they are working, even highly capable neurodiverse people are often underemployed.

Companies are now looking at their HR process in an attempt to attract and retain neurodiverse candidates, including contractors to several large Australian Government departments. 

Moving from the traditional scalable approaches to hiring, offering flexibility in workplace practices and providing an environment that meets diverse needs, including an inclusive support culture, has led to increased productivity and profitability, better customer outcomes and increased reputational benefit in the community.

Ashlea now works at Synergy Australia Group Pty Ltd, a partner of ACS Canberra, who provides a working environment in which she can thrive.  This has led to a promotion and a voice to drive a mindset shift in regard to autism in the workplace.

Do you know what could make your workplace more inclusive?

1.       ACS & Deloitte Access Economics, ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse – Unlocking the potential of Australia’s technology workforce, 2020.

R. D. Austin & G. P Pisano, Neurodiversity as a Competitive AdvantageWhy you should embrace it in your workplace, Harvard Business Review, 2017, May-June, 96-103.