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April 2, 2020
Innovation Meets Inclusion with Salesforce's Autism@Work Program
By Catherine Nichols, Office of Accessibility
Members of Abilityforce pose together at Salesforce's Global Leadership Summit
Editor’s note: In honor of World Autism Awareness Day, we wanted to spread kindness, increase the understanding of autism, and further initiatives to create a more inclusive workforce.
Nearly 85% of adults living with Autism Spectrum Disorder experience unemployment, says recent research.
At Salesforce, equality is a core value, and we strive to create a workplace that reflects the diverse communities we serve. We also recognize that the fight to find top talent is fierce, and companies can look beyond traditional talent pools to discover untapped potential.
What if we could develop a creative approach, hiring and retaining those with ASD for long-term employment? This is how Salesforce’s Autism@Work initiative got its start.
The Birth of Autism@Work at Salesforce
Autism@Work began in early 2019 as a collaborative effort across Salesforce and community agency Specialisterne with the goal of developing a program that would identify, recruit, assess, hire, support and retain people from within the ASD population.
Initially sparked by Salesforce’s Equality group, Abilityforce, the program focuses on an iterative approach to improving an onboarding experience specifically tailored to the neurodiverse population. Abilityforce members recognized that traditional hiring programs often failed talented candidates with ASD and felt a bespoke approach could better support this population, in turn contributing to company goals.
“I have the honor of being Mom to an amazing young adult with autism,” explained Judi Sohn, Director, Customer Centric Engineering at Salesforce, and Abilityforce member who helped start Autism@Work. “I knew that people like my daughter would be a tremendous asset to Salesforce. I stepped up to get something started along with others who had a personal connection. I'm thrilled that this is the kind of company where ‘lead the change you want to see’ is encouraged."
To kick off the program, Salesforce hosted a two-day information workshop that invited candidates in for initial interviews, tours, and selection to participate in a longer assessment. Akin to an internship, the assessment would be a four-week long immersive program with potential for a full-time offer of employment.
The four-week assessment program proved a unique opportunity for candidates to get accustomed to a new environment over time and to determine if they felt comfortable with the work environment they might be asked to join. Each week was designed to not only teach each candidate the specific skills to thrive in various work situations, but to assess the long-term success for each candidate. Following the assessment and graduation, Salesforce offered positions to six candidates, all of whom accepted.
The Next Phase
The Autism@Work pilot exceeded expectations and is on the path to becoming an on-going program, with hopes to expand it globally. The program team is busy kicking off job coaching and career mentorship programs to the first cohort to ensure the long-term success of the new employees and their teams.
Salesforce’s newly opened Office of Accessibility, committed to building more accessible workplaces and products, leads this program.
“As a neurodiverse person with a diagnosis of autism and dyscalculia, an inclusive culture is critical to my success,” explained Paulette Penzvalto, Senior Manager, Disabilities@Work program. “I am proud of Salesforce’s commitment to becoming a tech industry leader in hiring, learning from, and supporting employees who are neurodiverse. Our future work will include education and awareness, communication, developing a strong pipeline of talent, building out metrics and engaging in research, and most importantly, developing an inclusive culture through trust, transparency and vulnerability. We are all in this together.”
To learn more about Abilityforce, visit https://www.salesforce.com/company/equality/equality-groups/.