In honor of World Autism Awareness Day, Thursday, I had the privilege to attend and speak at an event held at the United Nations in New York City, where the theme was “Autism, The Employment Advantage.”
This theme resonates with me on two levels.
First, as a parent. I am the proud mom of Shawn, now 19, diagnosed with autism when he was four years old. Secondly, as a proud executive at Microsoft. A company that believes strongly in diversity.
At Microsoft, we believe that diversity enriches our performance, our products and services, the communities where we live and work, and the lives of our employees. We provide an inclusive environment where everyone can do their best work and have been investing in these programs for many years. In fact, this was one of the things that attracted me to Microsoft.
We have been committed to enabling people with disabilities to be successful for a long time. We also work with Supported Employment and vendor partners to hire people for roles in event services, transportation, and food services. In these roles, we see only 1 percent attrition level. Today, people can consider a wide range of opportunities in supported employment with our vendor partners at Microsoft.
This week, we announced another exciting effort, a new pilot program with Specialisterne, focused on hiring people with autism for full-time, Redmond-based Microsoft positions. It’s early days but we’re excited to get going and we know we’ll learn a lot along the way. Why are we so passionate about this space?
It’s simple, Microsoft is stronger when we expand opportunity and we have a diverse workforce that represents our customers. People with autism bring strengths that we need at Microsoft, each individual is different, some have amazing ability to retain information, think at a level of detail and depth or excel in math or code. It’s a talent pool that we want to continue to bring to Microsoft!
This represents only one of the ways we are evolving our approach to increase the diversity of Microsoft’s workforce. We believe there is a lot of untapped potential in the marketplace and we are encouraged by the strong level of readiness from the vendors who cater to this segment.
Our effort goes beyond autism. We are passionate about hiring individuals of all disabilities and we believe with them, we can create, support, and build great products and services. Our customers are diverse and we need to be as well.
At Microsoft, we encourage all employees to realize their full potential. This belief and the inspiration I get from my son is what drives me personally and why I was honored to speak.
The day my son was diagnosed I distinctly remember the final words of two doctors I overheard as my husband and I left the medical center, “I think they understand.”
I also remember how we walked to the car, pulled onto the road, drove 15 miles to our home, and entered the house. All in silence. We did not know what to say.
But we do now. What we learned over the last 15 years was to find our voice. To model what a unique advantage a young man like my son Shawn can offer. To think of where he is now, a college freshman and part-time employee, and where he has the potential to go, makes my husband and I so proud.
I am also proud of how our society and our workplace is moving forward with the commitment to help support people with autism and disabilities in general.