Thursday, June 13, 2013

Goldman Sachs UK and Freddie Mac Open Finance Doors for Autistic Employees

I support the efforts of organizations such as Specialisterne and SAP which are expanding options for autistic people in the IT field. SAP announced ambitious plans to hire autistic people as 1% of its workforce, primarily in computer programming and quality testing jobs.  SAP's goal is to ensure that autistic people are hired at the same proportion as their percentage in the population and thus fairly represented in the company.  I think the IT field is an ideal place for many autistic people because it is heavily analytical and detail-oriented and not socially driven.  I think every effort should be made to place trained autistic computer scientists into appropriate jobs that allow them to maximize their strengths.

But I also believe the effort to place autistic people into IT jobs by itself is woefully insufficient.  I am a good example of an autistic person who is talented in finance and accounting and not in IT.  When I graduated from college in 1997, these types of jobs were not open to autistic people, and I didn't know I was autistic.  I was blocked from pursuing these types of jobs after college and after finishing a graduate degree in taxation in 2008.

For this reason I strongly applaud the decisions of Goldman Sachs UK and Freddie Mac to begin opening these types of jobs to autistic people.  Between 2003 and 2007 alone, Goldman Sachs UK hired 22 interns in a wide range of departments including legal, corporate services, equities, investment banking, investment research, operations, and technology.  Thus, unlike many other corporations which limited autistic people to IT jobs, Goldman Sachs decided to open a wide range of opportunities to autistic job candidates.  Of the 22 interns, 4 are currently working permanently at the company in investment banking, operations, and settlements.  Goldman Sachs UK hired these interns in cooperation with Prospects, the innovative employment service of the UK's National Autism Society.

Richard Bremer explained the bank's reason for hiring autistic people:
"Employers can hugely benefit from the skills and qualities a person with ASD might bring to a job in their company. People with ASD tend to be reliable, hard working and motivated. Their attention to detail is often well above average, as are their high levels of accuracy and consistently good performance on repetitive tasks. Their approach is straightforward and honest. They may have technical skills of a high order and a good knowledge of facts and figures.
A sound business case can be made for employing more people with ASD. The firm gains reliable and effective employees, progresses towards meeting its commitment to diversity and raises awareness of diversity among its staff."

I can only hope that more companies begin to realize that excluding autistic people from the workforce is a huge mistake.  Employers are knowingly choosing to miss out on a huge talent pool which can make a tremendous contribution to their company. 

Jonathan Young, a business analyst at Goldman Sachs UK, is a great example of a young autistic person who has benefitted from these advances.  "I'm the company's global go-to guy for all the information used in every single one of our internal and external presentations," he says. "I'm moving up the ladder every year in terms of responsibility or promotion. My ambition is to maintain this momentum. In 10 years, I want to be someone fairly big."  He speaks with the confidence of a young man who was embraced for who he was and not blocked from earning a living due to the autism.  

In addition, hedge funds represent an important refuge for autistic quantitative analysts.  The article stated,"Nick Finlay, head of investment management at Hays Financial Technology, said that hedge funds are still willing to recruit candidates based purely on technical know-how: “Hedge funds want gifted technical programmers who are all about problem solving and complex programming. Softer skills are secondary.”  In these positions employers are looking for intellectual ability and not social skills, and so autistic people can flourish in these roles.  

One more encouraging sign is that some investment banks are beginning to adapt the interview process for autistic IT candidates.  Ben Cowan, director of recruiter Astbury Marsden said,"It always pays to flag the condition before interview in order for the bank to manage the process better.”  I hope that one day more employers also work to make the interview process more accomodating and less intimidating for autistic job candidates in a wide range of fields, not only IT.

In addition, I was very excited to see the job descriptions for a summer internship program set up by Freddie Mac, the giant U.S. home mortgage guarantee firm, in cooperation with Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.  The program was started in 2011 and is now in its 3rd year. Two of the positions were in the familiar IT fields.  But one internship was offered in strategy, planning and development under the guidance of the San Francisco CFO.  Another internship was offered in securities. 

I would have flourished in these positions if they had been made available to me earlier.  And so I have mixed feelings upon reading this news.  I am sad that I was denied this opportunity and happy that younger autistic people are finding the chance to flourish professionally.  I hope that Goldman Sachs UK and Freddie Mac are only the beginning of a broader change in the corporate environment in the U.S. and UK.  I hope they start a gradual process of transformation that will eventually lead to the larger scale hiring opportunity for autistic people in finance and business.  I dream that one day autistic college graduates in a wide range of fields do not have to live in fear of being denied a job because of our social differences.   

1 comment:

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