Google has partnered with Stanford University on a new Autism Career Program for neurodiverse job … [+]
Google on Monday announced in a blog post the launch of what it calls the Google Cloud Autism Career Program. The Bay Area-based tech titan said it’s designed to “hire and support more autistic talent in the rapidly growing cloud industry.”
This effort by Google is the latest in an ever-growing trend, spearheaded by organizations big and small, to amplify the worthiness of disabled people in the workforce and their potential impact on myriad industries. Companies like Ablr and The Ability People have made it their mission to get employers to be more mindful and inclusive of disabled people when it comes to hiring. In a society where disabled people are widely viewed as incapable of making meaningful contributions to the economy—there’s the ableism monster rearing its ugly head yet again—the technology industry can serve as a prime example of the opposing perspective. To wit, it is the unique, lived experiences of disabled people that make products from Apple, Google, and others as good as they are—they are literally built for everyone by everyone.
Even the mainstream media is taking notice of the neurodiverse community in the job market. The venerable 60 Minutes news show recently aired a story in which co-host Anderson Cooper interviewed six autistic people from across the autism spectrum about what it’s like not only to work but to find it and maintain it successfully.
The Autism Career Program is the result of a collaborative effort between Google and the Stanford Neurodiversity Project, itself a part of the university’s School of Medicine, to develop the initiative. The school’s goal with the Project is to consult with and advise employers across the cloud computing industry on hiring potential workers from the neurodiverse community, and show how to make these employees’ careers a success. For its part, Google sees tremendous opportunity in funneling autistic people into the burgeoning cloud computing landscape. There are many ways they can excel.
“One key pillar of our pilot program is to train up to 500 Google Cloud managers and others who are involved in hiring processes. Our goal is to empower these Googlers to work effectively and empathetically with autistic candidates and ensure Google’s onboarding processes are accessible and equitable,” wrote Rob Enslin, President of Global Customer Operations for Google Cloud, in the company’s announcement. “Stanford will also provide coaching to applicants, as well as ongoing support for them, their teammates and managers once they join the Google Cloud team.”
Enslin added Google is using the new program to “break down the barriers that autistic candidates most often face.” In addition to bias, Enslin explained the typical job interview process often puts an autistic applicant at a disadvantage because there are no accommodations—such as extending the interview time or answering questions in a Google Doc rather than verbally over the phone—with which the candidate can use to showcase their strengths. More often than not, they end up succumbing to their weaknesses exploited by how conventional job interviews are set up and managed.
In an exclusive interview with me conducted over email, Enslin said Google’s impetus for working on the Autism Career Program was influenced by two factors. First, as Enslin alluded to in the blog post, Google sees the neurodiverse community as a veritable treasure trove of talent largely untapped. The second factor is inextricably tied to the first: the cloud computing industry is an area of the tech sector that’s growing rapidly, and the demand for talent is commiserate with said fast growth.
“There is an incredible opportunity within the technology industry for individuals from all backgrounds, and we’re eager to open more doors through our program,” Enslin said.
Enslin explained how the cloud computing industry is an ideal environment for attracting top talent—particularly autistic talent. From sales to customer support to data science to engineering and more, there is an abundance of opportunity for hungry tech workers wanting work. Google believes autistic people can be successful doing anything in the organization; Enslin was confident in saying that because, as he told me, “they’re already here making critical contributions.” There are numerous Googlers, as employees are colloquially known, who identify as disabled and work on making Google’s products more accessible. It’s similar elsewhere in tech as well.
The bullishness with which Enslin and Google regard the contributions from those in the neurodiverse community stems from an institutional belief they can train hiring managers and other leaders to embrace disabled workers’ skills. In reality, however, the Autism Career Program is a microcosm of Google’s philosophy on diversity and inclusion vis-a-vis disability. As Enslin put it: “Google is incredibly proud to create a workplace for all individuals. While this program [the Autism Career Program] is just one example of Google Cloud’s commitment to inclusion, it is an important one,” he said. “With a team that is more representative of the diverse customers we serve, we will also create better products, services and experiences for our customers.”
When asked what feedback on the Autism Career Program has been like, Enslin demurred and offered a testimonial from one Career Program participant, Shar Bacchus, who’s now working as a Technical Program Manager at Google.
“Responses to neurodiversity programs at work are as varied as the number of neurodiverse candidates and employees participating in them; there’s no single answer that covers everyone’s perspective. But I personally am excited that I work for a large company that’s constantly learning to recognize and appreciate neurodiversity in its workforce; solicits my opinions and is building processes to address my needs,” Bacchus said in a statement. “I’m also excited about the work still ahead of us in appreciating and integrating neurodiversity, at Google, and across the globe.”
As for what the future may hold for the Autism Career Program, Enslin said it’s early days yet so the primary focus currently is to ensure the launch is going well. He added he is pleased with how things are going thus far. He said Google will monitor its progression and continue to check in with Stanford to “identify the most effective and sustainable way to scale the program while preserving the qualities that we hope make it successful in the first place.” Moreover, Enslin reiterated the company’s stance on uplifting the disability community, saying “we remain committed to supporting the hiring of people with disabilities more broadly through our accommodations process in interviews and partnership with organizations like Disability:IN and Ability Jobs.”
Any interested applicants to the Autism Career Program can contact the Stanford Neurodiversity Project for more information and how to apply.