J.P. Morgan is stepping up its efforts to hire people with autism into the bank, and plans to employ “several hundred” within the next three years as it targets what it views as an untapped pool of talent.
“Around 80% to 90% of autistic people are unemployed,” says James Mahoney, executive director and head of autism at work at J.P. Morgan. “For us, that’s a talent pool. If you look at areas like technology – there’s a huge shortage of good people with high-level skills. It’s a sector that we know many autistic people excel in.”
J.P. Morgan’s efforts to hire people with autism have so far been focused on the U.S. There, it has 58 employees 'on the spectrum,' primarily within technology functions. In the UK it has just teamed up with Bath University to offer a Spring School for 30 students and recent graduates at its Bournemouth office in January.
In the UK, only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time employment, and 32% are in some kind of paid work, according to the National Autistic Society. Mahoney says that J.P. Morgan is not trying to offer “charity” to autistic people, but to tackle a missed opportunity.
“People often think of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, but there’s a much wider variety of characteristics on the autism spectrum,” he says. “Some are hyper-focused on an individual activity, can go for long periods without getting bored, have great attention to detail and are often very successful in jobs which are rule-bound and have clear, crisp boundaries.”
There are some high-profile examples of people on the spectrum who work in the financial sector. Tom Hayes, the UBS Libor trader sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for his attempts to manipulate the benchmark, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and was nicknamed ‘Rain Man’ by his colleagues. Michael Burry, the trader credited with spotting the CDO crash by author Michael Lewis in the Big Short, also has Asperger's.
But Asperger’s is a form of High Functioning Autism. Banks have only recently started trying to add ‘neuro-diversity’ to their ranks. This term encompasses a variety of conditions including dyspraxia, dyslexia or ADHD, but recruitment efforts are currently focused on people with autism.
Deutsche Bank launched an internship last year for graduates with autism, UBS started a pilot scheme this year to create jobs for people with autism within its Nashville compliance team and Goldman Sachs has an autism at work programme.
Ray Coyle, CEO of Auticon, an IT consultancy that places people with autism into employment, says that these internships are a “welcome development”, but fail to address the bigger picture. For a start, they’re small scale – often four or five people – he says and are unlikely to create proportional representation in the workforce any time soon.
In the UK, 1 in 100 people are on the spectrum, while in the U.S. this figure is one in every 68 births. At J.P. Morgan, those 58 people represent a tiny proportion of its 251,503 employees, although the bank says there may be more people within its ranks who have not disclosed their condition.
“A lot of autistic people are long-term unemployed, and dropped out of the workforce despite having valuable skills and qualifications,” says Coyle. “Internships are not the right thing for them. They range from aged 20 to 60, often have PhDs and have been excluded from the workforce for up to 20 years.”
People with autism often excel in areas like compliance, software testing, cyber security and data analytics, says Coyle. All of these roles are currently facing a talent shortage within the financial sector and banks need to do more to attract people on the spectrum
The advantage of programmes specifically targeted at autistic people is that it raises awareness within the organisation, says Coyle, and encourages more people to disclose their condition and banks to change the way they recruit.
“A job interview is essentially a test of social interaction, and people on the spectrum really struggle with these,” he says. “We assess people purely on their skills and cognitive abilities.”
J.P. Morgan is also training its supervisors on how to manage autistic employees.
“Understanding interaction is a huge part of learning for the non-autistic community,” says Mahoney. “Often people give feedback using metaphors, humour or sarcasm and, often, autistic people don’t take these social cues. It has to be crisp and literal and we need to train our managers to empower our autistic employees.”
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