Observations from Below: making the world run better and improving lives

Observations from Below: making the world run better and improving lives
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Every year in October, the United States recognizes National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Part of this national effort is to encourage companies to hire more people with disabilities.

This year, I was able to speak to a leading company in both diversity and inclusion as well as software: SAP. A few years ago, the internationally-known technology company developed an award-winning inclusion program focused on differently-abled people and those on the autism spectrum, the latter is known as Autism at Work.

“Individuals with Autism possess higher logical and analytical thinking, and a huge pattern recognition ability which is good for a software company,” said Stefanie Nennstiel, global lead for the Differently-Abled focus area at SAP.

“We also recognize that the labor market is competitive. We are in a situation where there is a ' war for talent'; especially in the EU, where 900,000 open IT positions were forecasted by the end of 2015.”

Nennstiel continued, “So, we need to think differently. Diverse teams perform better and increase the level of creativity and innovation. Innovation from the edge is one key driver for success in future.”

SAP’s Autism at Work program stemmed from the experience in 2011, when SAP placed five adults with Autism in their testing department in India, and had great outcomes. The program officially launched in 2013, and has expanded to almost 10 countries and 20 locations worldwide. The program has been so successful that the company has an ambitious goal of placing 650 individuals living with Autism in various positions and roles within SAP. by 2020. Currently the individuals are placed in 22 different roles across all Board Areas.

Whereas some companies shy away from adapting their business to the strengths of the employee, SAP has a detailed process for hiring employees with disabilities.

“We have adjusted our HR system completely,” said Nennstiel. “For example, our interviews are adjusted for candidates with a different set of social capabilities.”

SAP hires people based on their strengths, and then ensures every person has the working conditions they need. “Because we don’t underestimate the effort involved,” Nennstiel said, “individualized support circles are in place to support the employees from the spectrum, the manager and teams.

SAP developed this program with a global partner, Specialusterne, a company from Denmark with expertise in Autism. In addition strong networks with local partners (NGO, government) has been developed in every country/location where the program is running

When I asked if there were limits to what level of disability they would accommodate, Nennstiel replied no, as long as the individual meets the requirements and brings something unique and valuable to the business. The company has demonstrated their commitment for the last four and a half years, with outstanding results.

“We have very strong focus on diversity and inclusion in our company,” Nennstiel said, “and we are committed to making the world run better and improve people’s lives.”

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