When I started at Nordea last year, I wrote about inclusion in the workplace and was challenged to see what more the bank could do to embrace people with disabilities. A colleague mentioned that several organisations had begun hiring people on the autism spectrum more and more to gain a competitive advantage and we realised that Nordea could benefit from doing the same.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired to consider this because of my daughter. When she was two-years-old, she was diagnosed as being on the spectrum. As with any parent with a child on the spectrum, I began a personal journey of growth and learning about the biology of my daughter’s autism and discovering where my own personal strengths and weaknesses come from as much as hers.
Joining forces for a greater good
A couple of years ago, I saw an episode of 60 Minutes on the Specialisterne (or “the Specialists”). The Danish non-profit organisation advises companies all over the world in how to hire and integrate people on the autism spectrum to harness the special characteristics and talents to use them as a competitive advantage. There are two sides to this coin, as it also helps people with autism secure meaningful employment.
As it turns out, there is an ever-growing demand for people on the spectrum because of their unique skills. Everyone is unique and people on the spectrum often have a natural ability to pick things up quickly – especially tasks which are mathematically-based. They can have a mind for detail and quality which makes them exceptional at things like automation, software testing, programming and data pattern matching. Unsurprisingly, these skills are a hot commodity in our evermore digitalised economy and that’s why we partnered with Specialisterne to build the foundations of our technology automation factory.
The selection process was more arduous than we were typically used too. Both the candidate and the recruiting organisation needs passion to take the battery of tests and reviews Specialisterne deploys in marrying the perfect candidate to the right organisation. We had over a hundred applicants, painstakingly narrowed that down to 21 and hired 7 recruits in February 2018. The investment was worth every hurdle surmounted.
Learning is a two-way street
We didn’t just gain talented colleagues who are specialised in exactly what we need them for, we gained insight into how we were failing our current employees.
For example, when those on the spectrum are given a task, they often prefer it described formally. This has motivated us to invest in design quality and it goes without saying that all colleagues benefit from clarity of roles and tasks. Our new colleagues circle each scenario to come at it from all angles. It is illuminating for us who may not dedicate as much energy to the fine-details. This experience has challenged us to reappraise our approach to delivering value in Nordea.
But don’t take my word for it – you can read about Felix Kim Nielsen’s experience in joining Nordea through the Specialisterene programme.
The output and quality of our new hires has been fantastic so far and we plan on expanding the programme across our business. I hope that Nordea’s experience can show other organisations the business advantage of taking steps in becoming a truly inclusive work place. This is human innovation.
/Paul Bari, Group CIO and Head of Group Technology
Watch the short video below to meet IT Developer Felix Kim Nielsen. For him and his six new colleagues with autism it is absolutely crucial to know that they deliver results every day.
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