Classic Rewind: Increasing Opportunities for People on the Autism Spectrum

Hosted by

Steve Boese

Co-Founder of H3 HR Advisors and Program Chair, HR Technology Conference

Trish Steed

CEO and Principal Analyst, H3 HR Advisors

About this episode

Classic Rewind: Increasing Opportunities for People on the Autism Spectrum

Hosts: Steve Boese, Trish McFarlane

Guest: Tim Vogus, Deputy Director, Business Innovations for the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University

This episode of At Work in America is sponsored by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement, and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. As the workplace continues to evolve, businesses are being forced to adapt and innovate to meet the challenge. Our fifth annual workforce trend study will help you understand this year’s top business challenges — and set your strategic priorities. Get the report, 2023 Priorities for Business Leaders: Trends, Insights, and Ideas for an Evolving Workplace to learn the challenges facing businesses like yours and how you don’t have to go it alone. Visit to check it out, today.

On this classic rewind episode from 2020, we discussed how employers and HR leaders can better understand the needs of employees and candidates who are on the autism spectrum, how HR and talent management processes can be made more open to and inclusive for people on the spectrum, and how HR leaders can begin to think more openly and expansively about this deep pool of talented people.


Learn more about the Frist Center at

This was a really interesting show, thanks to Tim for joining us! Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Transcript follows:

Announcer 0:00
Welcome to At Work in America sponsored by Paychex. At Work in America digs in behind the headlines and trends to the stories of real people making a difference in the world of work. And now here are your hosts, Steve Boese, and Trish McFarlane Steed.

Steve 0:24
Hi, everyone, Steve Boese, welcome to the At Work in America podcast on the HR Happy Hour media network. This episode of At Work in America is sponsored by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. As the workplace continues to evolve, businesses are being forced to adapt and innovate to meet the challenge. Our fifth annual workforce trends study will help you understand this year’s top business challenges and set your strategic priorities. Get the report 2023 priorities for business leaders, trends, Insights and Ideas for an evolving workplace to learn the challenges facing businesses like yours, and you don’t have to go it alone. Visit to check it out today.

Steve 1:09
This week on the At Work in America show we recognize World Autism Awareness Month. We are replaying a classic HR Happy Hour show in 2020. We were joined by Tim Vogus, Deputy Director Business Innovations for the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University. On the show, we talked about how employers and HR leaders can better understand the needs of employees and candidates who are on the autism spectrum. How HR and talent management processes can be made more open and inclusive for people on the spectrum, and how HR leaders can begin to think more openly and expansively about this deep pool of talented people. This is a fantastic show and topic that is just as important and relevant today as it was when it was originally recorded. We hope you enjoy the show.

Steve 1:57
Trish, we’ve got a super topic today. Sort of semi related to the TV program show you recommended Atypical. Our guest today is Tim Vogus he is the Professor of Management and Faculty Director of the Leadership Development Program at the Vanderbilt Olin Graduate School of Management. He is also the deputy director of business innovations for the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University. He has published widely in leading autism, health service, industrial relations, management, medical and social work journals. More recently, he has begun studying how to make organizations more inclusive, especially for neurodivergent employees, and the organizational practices and technologies that can help create and sustain meaningful employment for individuals on the autism spectrum. Tim, welcome to the HR happy hour show. How are you today?

Tim Vogus 2:51
I’m doing well. Thanks for having me, Steve. And Trish, I’m excited to talk to you today. Can I answer the question you asked at the top about things one is doing during COVID-19. So one thing that I want to highly recommend is I’m a huge rap music hip hop fan. And the thing that I’ve been really enjoying is D nice at D and ice. He’s a DJ, he’s a founding member of Boogie Down Productions. He had a real big hit rap record when I was like at the end of my high school career. And he’s been doing these DJ parties from his house. And there have been upwards of 100,000 people showing up to listen in and it’s like the Obamas both showed up. Yonsei showed, you know like all these people and kind of commenting on it. So he is a big time DJ that’s just been playing these and they’re really fun. Lots of kind of classic r&b and hip hop kind of thing. So it’s just a real fun vibe. So I would recommend D nice and if you want something that’s a little bit more that would also be responsible to be doing during COVID-19 Sterling K brown the actor right who’s on set was in Black Panther and other things. He has this video on YouTube they did for men’s health, which is His body weight based workout. It’s like this five minute video and he gives you his his pyramid of he’s a very fit guy. It’s pyramid of things you can do just using your own bodyweight since we can’t go to gyms and things like that. That’s a really great workout too. And then it only sounds like a 20 minute workout and it’s pretty intense. But it’s it’s good.

Steve 4:37
We need to remember, Trish, when we write up the show is to put the links to the things where our recommendations.

Trish 4:42
I’m writing them down.

Steve 4:45
Awesome. So Tim, great to have you as we said, we read the bio, but maybe we’ll start with this maybe tell us just a little bit more about what you do. And maybe then we’ll get into about the Frist Center for Autism and innovation because I’m not familiar with it direct but I’m interested in it for sure. And I’d love to know more about that.

Tim Vogus 5:03
Sure. So I’ve been a professor at Vanderbilt since 2004. Prior to that, I got my PhD at University of Michigan. And my research really has been about mostly things that are more related to COVID-19 that they are to autism. For most of my career, they’ve been it’s been about medical errors and how to make healthcare delivery safer. So I really focused on safety cultures, and how those are built and sustained in hospitals, and what role human resource practices plays in enabling those what kinds of things leaders can do to set organizations up for safer performance, and then how team members perform more or less mindfully in delivering kind of error free performance. And then another thing that I’ve looked at related to that is, you know, as being mindful all the time is something that can be really demanding and taxing, you know, how can organizations infuse with more compassion, such that people can is, you know, kind of sustained that energy when they have to cope with difficult circumstances, as we’re seeing now in abundance in healthcare delivery? You know, how do we help people recover from that, and get the support they need when experiencing trauma and things like that. But in all that work, it opened me up to thinking about how do we get the most possible out of organizations? How do we make them maximally inclusive, an organization is mindful if it’s compassionate, it’s really recognizing and capitalizing on the full uniqueness of every individual that’s a part of it. So that is something that led me to having some interest in disability, and also neuro diversity and organizations, and how do you make the most of all the people who are inside your organization and think about pushing the boundaries and the limits of that. But there’s also a real personal reason that I got into autism research as well.

Tim Vogus 6:57
So my son Aiden, who’s turning 18, on April 6, very soon, he was born with a rare genetic condition that’s caused him to have multiple disabilities and kind of disorders, a lot of struggles with movement coordination. But also one of the things that he experiences as part of him is autism. And he’s mostly nonverbal. So that’s something that I’ve always been thinking about, too. So we’ve spent a lot of time in the healthcare system. So that’s part of my interest in why healthcare organizations, and then why disability and inclusion because I want a better world for him, and anybody who’s even remotely like to. So that’s kind of my personal story around around these issues, and why I’ve gotten into researching it, and that what the Frist Center is doing is trying to bring people like me, as well as people from many other disciplines across Vanderbilt’s campus together, to think about what can we do collectively, to create and sustain meaningful employment for people on the autism spectrum, because every year in the United States, 50,000 people kids graduate into with on the autism spectrum graduate into kind of work age. And what we know is there’s a huge cliff, from the school setting where there are all kinds of services and where people have a pretty deep understanding of autism now, to the work world, and the community where there’s much less, much less support there. So a lot of times people fall off a cliff. So what we’re trying to do with the first first center is to bring people together to help navigate that kind of transition, but to open up the workplace for people on the autism spectrum. So it brings together people from Computer Science and Engineering, who are working on technologies like virtual interviewing systems, or ways of assessing people using kind of specific tests and skill building kind of activities be the virtual or in person to assess what are the unique competencies that people on the autism spectrum have?

Tim Vogus 9:06
And then how can we help people secure employment by helping people gain those kinds of interview skills. And then we also do some things around, you know, one of the big barriers to people getting to work is, especially in a city like Nashville, which doesn’t have a robust public transportation infrastructure is driving. So a couple of our engineers have developed a driving simulator that’s specifically designed to help people on the autism spectrum, learn to drive. And then we do other things around kind of training and development where we partner with some other other kind of support organizations, nonprofit organizations, then my research what I what I’m doing is bringing my work on organizational culture and mindfulness and all those types of things and saying, How can we apply that to the to the challenge of making organizations more inclusive, so I’m trying to do interventions in that kind of way and to help understand the experience the lived experience of people on the autism spectrum? In the workplace, because there are a lot of people on the spectrum in the workplace who may or may not be disclosing that they’re there on the autism spectrum. And to try to get a better firsthand understanding of what people are experiencing, and how, you know, what are the conditions that enable success? And what are the things that get in the way. So the first center is really bringing all those folks together, and then bringing together the Nashville community as well. So local employers, you know, kind of support agencies, things like that. We’re bringing it all together. So it’s a it’s researchers, but it’s also community partners, employers all working together to say, how do we, you know, reduce the problem of and underemployment which is pretty astronomical for folks on the autism spectrum, where it’s upwards of 80% people that are on or underemployed on the spectrum, and that’s with a lot of folks, you know, having college degrees, advanced degrees, things like that. And we had the first senator also walked the talk our Executive Director, speaking of somebody who has advanced, he has a PhD in physics, but he’s on the on the spectrum. And we have another person who’s a who’s a Vanderbilt graduate who runs our media and communications, who also on the spectrum, so we’re not just, you know, saying, hey, other employers, you should do this, where we’re trying to be an employer, that that lives, what we’re trying to put out in the world.

Trish 11:30
It’s fascinating. I feel like it’s someone who had worked in human resources. And, you know, really, Steve and I were talking before we, you know, we’ve been doing shows for several years on this topic, but I feel like there’s so much I don’t know, or that maybe our listeners don’t know, you know, you mentioned on the first senator, some of the things you’re doing to help employers be prepared, right, for college graduates who are on the spectrum. So I have sort of two questions for you. The first is, this may be a silly question. But do is it possible to be on the spectrum and not know it? Do people know? Because I’m thinking, you know, I’m thinking of having been in HR there, it feels like maybe you mentioned sometimes people know, when they don’t disclose. So I guess the first question is that, and then secondly, you know, I mentioned I’m watching that that show, and I was actually, I haven’t given it much thought as to what are universities doing, to really make it easier for people who are on the spectrum to attend and get a degree? Because I would imagine those very things are some of the things that employers could be doing as well. So maybe if you could mention a couple things, here at the university that you can do to make it comfortable for students. That might equate to what what some of the employers listening could be doing as well.

Tim Vogus 12:51
Yeah, so your first question about whether people could be undiagnosed and go through most of their lives, I’m diagnosed for sure that happens all the time. And they might not know. I mean, it might, at some point, make sense that, oh, I seem to be like this, this seems to describe me, you know, kind of autistic traits and things like that. But a lot of people, especially people in my age demographic, so I’m 45. And, you know, autism was not as common a diagnosis. And now, the most recent numbers that were just released, it’s like one in 54 people is on the autism spectrum. But the, you know, for a lot of folks, they don’t know. And then there are other folks, like I mentioned, and you reiterate, you know, about who are at work, and have a diagnosis, but might feel the stigma of claim, you know, of revealing that diagnosis might, you know, might make people nervous, like, oh, what accommodations do they need, or they might kind of be at risk if they get fired for poor performance, you know, like, it creates a set of conversations or expectations, or people might interact with them in different ways that they don’t want that they that they’re concerned about, you know, so I think those categories of people, people were in the workplace not disclosing and know whether they have a formal diagnosis or self diagnose, and then people who just don’t have a diagnosis, but meet diagnostic criteria. Right. So yeah, those are big those, I think those are big blocks of people. I think, as we move forward over time, and my son who’s you know, about to turn 18.

Tim Vogus 14:24
For his demographic, it’s much more common to have the diagnosis and one of the reasons why the most recent numbers are one in 54, is there’s finally starting to be some parity in terms of people of color getting diagnosed at the same rate as as white people, you know, so which in that had always been lagging, you know, and, and girls starting to get diagnosed more frequently, you know, typically been, you know, overwhelmingly boys but that’s not an accurate thing, right? Like it’s just, there wasn’t enough diagnosing going on diagnosed criteria weren’t as clear enough, or when it’s widely disseminated enough to kind of incorporate all those people in terms of what colleges and universities are doing. There certainly are programs that are related to autism, but it usually bundles it up with other disabilities. And oftentimes, those programs might be kind of quasi degree programs and things like that. So a lot of universities have these themes. We have one at Vanderbilt called next steps, which is kind of like not you’re not getting an actual Vanderbilt degree, but you’re on campus, you’re engaged, you might be working on campus, things like that. So those are some of the things that those programs are doing. And there hasn’t really been a systematic or rigorous study of all those programs. So they’re emerging. And it’s kind of, you know, they’re, they’re great ideas as a parent of kid with disability, like I like that these opportunities exist. But I think in terms of kind of best practices that have disseminated and diffused it, I’m not seeing much evidence for that. And in terms of what do we do for students on the autism spectrum at Vanderbilt? And in most universities, I think it’s not altogether that much different than what people are getting, when they ask for any accommodations, when they kind of, you know, invoke the ADEA and kind of say, I need accommodations in this kind of way. Is it extra time? Is it notes in advance? Is that something? You know, is it some other kind of supports and helps, you know, in the classroom or outside it, but I don’t think there I mean, there are certainly other kinds of mental health supports and things like that, which are conditions that tend to co occur with autism, like for my son epilepsy co occurs with misdiagnosis. And that’s, and that’s a pretty common one. But in terms of kind of, like best practices, they are in some ways employers are out in front of universities, so So schools are good, right? Like, primary, middle and high school are good, because you’re getting occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, which, you know, varies in its needs for folks on the spectrum. But PT about speech, and OT is more typical that people get. And then there are teachers who have had training in kind of neurodiversity and different kinds of learning styles, because neurodiversity, yes, it’s autism, but it’s also ADHD, it’s also dyslexia, it’s other kinds of things, different types of learning, where people might just have more comfort with different kinds of styles and know maybe, okay, I need to make the instructions a little clearer, the contingencies a little bit more concrete for somebody who’s on the spectrum, who might not be able to process like an ambiguous request, like not knowing the subtext that’s implied, you know, facially or bodily, when somebody’s giving a task, like I need it broken down in a very specific way. And a teacher might have more familiarity doing with it, where I can tell you on on behalf of University Professors, even with those kids on the spectrum, aren’t necessarily as good at that. Right? Like know, the ambiguity. It’s a challenge to you, you’re supposed to Europe, Vanderbilt University, you’re supposed to be a great thinker, you know, figure it out, which is not helpful.

Trish 18:00
It’s interesting. Steve, I’m gonna let you jump in, because I know you probably have questions, too. But so just one comment. You mentioned neurodiversity training that the teachers undergo, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that. from an HR perspective, that’s probably something that would be valuable for me of our audience to seek out right to go and buy something you can find online or on YouTube, or wherever I’m sure there are probably plenty of opportunities for free training. But to go through some sort of neurodiversity training course, as people who are hiring and maybe even one step further, to have your, your managers, your leaders going through this as well, because again, if there are probably more undiagnosed or undisclosed people in your workplace, it would just make good sense to have some sort of training, not just for people on the spectrum, but like you mentioned, other neurological, you know, issues that people might be facing and dealing with.

Tim Vogus 18:52
Right, and one of the things that we’re we’re finding in our work, and one of the things that you see from leading employers, like you’ve talked to SAP a few years back, and they’re certainly finding it that in their workplace EY is another employer that finds this all over the place, is that when you start to design with neuro diversity in mind, so you break down feedback to make it more concrete to make it closer linked to an actual episode that has recently occurred, it creates better conditions for learning, certainly for folks on the spectrum. But guess what creates better conditions for learning for everyone? So that’s the idea of universal design, right? Like so if you design with disability or with diversity in mind, you’re going to make a workplace that’s better, because I’ve had multiple times managers tell me, you know, yeah, you know, one of the things about diversity working with autistic folks, it makes me a better manager, because I don’t want to give unclear directions. But guess what I realized when I’m giving unclear directions when I give it to somebody who’s on the spectrum, because they want to either tell me, and like, that’s not clear, you know, because directness can be sometimes characteristic of folks on the spectrum and And then. But also I see where it breaks down. And it’s more likely to break down more quickly, right, like, so I know I need to adjust and be more concrete.

Trish 20:10
Or we probably have a lot of leaders on the spectrum who may not realize it. And maybe they’re giving feedback. Maybe that’s part of the disconnect there too.

Tim Vogus 20:18
Right, exactly. They might be giving direct feedback. And I’m trying to be helpful and very clear for you. And people feel like, oh, that’s, you’re bullying me, right? Like you’re telling me? Yeah, well, that’s one of the things around stigma. So that’s something I’m just starting to do a little research with, with a couple folks one at University of Tennessee, one at University of Houston, where we’re looking for examples of autistic leaders, because I think a lot of times the autism at work type programs and things like that are focused on specific types of roles and jobs that may be matched to the artistic talents or what’s that’s perceived to be. But I think there’s a lot to be said for some of these kind of like seeing with clarity about systems and seeing how, you know, things work or don’t noticing anomalies and a quicker kind of way that people on the autism spectrum might, that might set them up to be really good leaders. But and I’m sure there are, I mean, there are certainly, you know, rumors that certain leaders are on the spectrum, but in terms of like out and saying, I’m on the spectrum, and I’m a leader of this organization, those are fewer, and I’m finding those harder to find that’s not because they aren’t there. It’s because people aren’t disclosing, you don’t want to make a you know, I’m I am not a clinical psychologist or a medical professionals. armchair armchair diagnosis, oh, that person’s definitely on the spectrum. Right.

Steve 21:36
Yeah. Tim, I’ve got sort of a dumb question. You mentioned the ADA a couple of minutes ago? And are these kinds of situations are people on the spectrum? Are there protections under ADA? For them or not? And if not, is that something that is a?

Tim Vogus 21:54
Recognized disability? So there are common, you know, so the kind of standard accommodations that would apply to other disabilities would apply in this context as well, as far as I understand it, so I’m not a legal expert. So don’t go. Don’t follow me. I have a disclosure here do not use my anything I say as legal advice. medical professional, I’m not a lawyer.

Steve 22:18
I just I just wondered about that. Yeah.

Tim Vogus 22:20
Yeah. Because some of the things that you see, you know, so reasonable accommodations, right. You know, are, and most of the accommodations that folks on the spectrum tend to need in terms of workplace environment adaptations, are things that are pretty minor. So some of its are sometimes around workplace environments, like lighting. So fluorescent lights can be problematic, like the, the hum of them and just kind of, like, they give off, just there’s too much too distracting, sometimes needing um, so I’m, when I’m talking to you, I’m worried by noise cancelling headphones, you know, so those kinds of things can be helpful. Sometimes having an office with that doesn’t have like a big glass door in front, you know, because it’s too overwhelming or distracting kind of environment. So kind of a space to kind of focus on the work, you know, so these are relatively small adaptations. But those are some of the ones that I consistently hear from employers that they say make a big difference. Okay, just things that help the environment in minor kind of waste. But again, those are things that, you know, it helped me to, I have this annoying heater in my office that just like, blows at 100 decibels. And I’ve managed to work on that by just stuffing paper into it. So if you hear me dying in a fire in my offices, because I couldn’t handle the sound.

Steve 23:38
Yeah, that’s probably a different kind of violation work.

Tim Vogus 23:41
Yeah exactly. That’s right. Yeah.

Steve 23:49
One other question I had too, was so many more jobs and roles within organizations are more reliant on technology than ever before, right? Whether it’s someone in a manufacturing setting, operating advanced technology, someone in dB in a distribution center, who has to rely on say, a handheld device to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing next. And then of course, like, all the jobs that we have the office jobs, the the marketing jobs, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, where advanced technologies or new technologies right, have just become so important and so crucial to organizations, how they adapt and how people need to adapt in their roles. Are there some specific examples where where folks are on who go into workplaces who might be on the autism spectrum? Do they have? Is it I guess, the right way to ask this? Do they have the ability to adapt quickly, more or less quickly? Or is about the same as everybody else right to change the technological changes that are being wrought at work?

Tim Vogus 24:48
It’s a great question. So I think the kind of change and disruption to routine is something that is that can be characteristic as a as a challenge for people on the spectrum. And so that doesn’t mean people can’t handle change or things like that. But like unexpected change or unexpected disruption to routine. But actually, engagement with technology is something that a lot of employers have seen as a is a real strength, like, like thinking in that kind of technical manner. Now, that’s not the only job. And that’s why I made that point a little bit earlier about people on the spectrum being well suited to being leaders too. There are a whole range of jobs that we’re just scratching the surface of. But some of the early leaders in autism at work and things like that have been organizations that really have a Technology Emphasis, for example, like EY has their neurodiverse centers of excellence. And what they’re doing in there is recruiting people on a spectrum who have kind of computer science and technical kinds of backgrounds doing cybersecurity kind of work. So the kind of engagement with technology and those kinds of systems that have a logic to them. You know, in other kinds of financial service institutions like UBS and JP Morgan Chase, you know, with quality assurance with noticing anomalies in big sets of data in our own Frist Center for Autism and innovation. So our director is a guy named cave on stuff and who’s an astrophysicist. And he had in his lab, graduates student named Dan Berger, who’s on the spectrum and developed this software to filter data in a way to be able to see, you know, to be able to find new planets and things like that, right, like so, you know, being able to use technology in a way to see and visualize data and different kinds of ways. So there’s real, some real evidence of technological strength. But you’re right about the disruption to routine. So. But I would say, you know, there’s, in my field, organizational behavior, human resource management, right? There’s been a lot of writing about resistance to change. And what is that resistance to change really about, in general, for all of us, it’s about unexpected disruptions and deviations that we don’t know what how to make sense of, and we don’t know what to do with. So I think, you know, some of the things that might help kind of even that out in the workplace with change, where it’s kind of plan change, and there’s kind of some scripting around it, here’s how we’re going to address it. Here’s the timetable over which is going to unfold and being a little bit more systematic about that. While it’s necessary, I would say more so maybe a little bit for people on the spectrum, it’s essential for all of us, right? Yeah. Effectively.

Trish 27:20
Yeah, I like that. You mentioned that before, just in terms of, you know, overall organizational design that it really does everyone to do it that way. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, obviously, we’re now all in this time, you know, we’re we’re working differently, and maybe not doing some of those routines. Have you heard or any just, you know, stories around people who might be on the spectrum? How are they handling times like this where it’s such an unknown, at home at work? Is there anything that if you know, someone on the spectrum that you can be doing to be helpful to them? Since they prefer routine? And now it seems like all of our routines are out the window right now?

Tim Vogus 28:01
Right? You know, so one of the things that kind of my my friends on the spectrum, who, there’s some gallows humor around, I’ve been socially isolating for a long time.

Steve 28:11
I think I made that. The only one?

Tim Vogus 28:15
Yeah, one of the things that’s characteristic of autism is some of the times the challenges of social communication. So there’s a real active community on Twitter, for example, called hashtag, I actually autistic, that is a real nice community there where people are just able to engage in commune and using these kind of virtual forums. So there’s a, I think there’s a lot of community being built through those channels to kind of manage the situation. You’re right, there is disruption to routine, but there’s also a rule and a structure to it to in that stay in your home, do these things like don’t, you know, wash your hair, right? Like there is a structure to that too, which says, you know, do your work, but do it in this kind of way, in terms of but that isn’t to say that there’s no disruption, there’s no difficulty. I mean, it when you take social isolation to an extreme, you know, there are certainly consequences to that. And you know, autism co occurs a lot of times with, with a kind of mental health, anxiety, depression kind of thing. So that can certainly be amplified with these other kinds of conditions under these under these circumstances. But I think, you know, so having all these channels to connect virtually is helpful, you know, and being able to kind of retain some of the work rhythms and things like that.

Steve 29:29
I have a question for the folks who might be listening who maybe you know or not, have not directly launched, programs or initiatives, like some of the bigger companies you’ve talked about, like the SAP’s, the EY’s, etc. Maybe they’re not in Tennessee, and they’re not maybe easily going to be able to connect with you and your organization at first, what might be some recommendations for HR or organizational leaders? Isn’t the the show who might want to do more or sort of begin to think about how we can become a little bit more inclusive for folks on the spectrum.

Tim Vogus 30:00
That’s great. I think there, there are some really simple things organizations can do about how they think about how they hire people, you know, and what are they doing in their interview process. So for example, one thing that can really be helpful, and it helped me help autistic individuals be much more successful in the course of interviews, give the questions related to the interview in advance, so people can actually prepare to what you want them to talk about. Because otherwise, what are you really rewarding? In those interviews? You’re bet you’re differentially benefiting people who have the social capital to know what the questions are going to be anyway, right? Because they have connections. So people who know that organization know how it works and things like that. And I told you, one of the challenges for a lot of people on the spectrum is about social interaction, and maybe, maybe might be outside of some of those kinds of networks in the first place. So if you want somebody to perform well on a task, you know, and there are questions that you need answers to, you know, provide those events, and also ask questions, ask the right types of questions. So rethinking ones that are about wild hypotheticals are what are very unstructured? Tell me a little bit about yourself a terrible question to ask them again, that’s a great question to ask anybody. But, it’s really not.

Steve 31:13
Well, that would also fit into those 10. Those brain teasers, like how many, you know, how long would it take you to wash every window and Seattle kinds of things?

Tim Vogus 31:20
Right, right. Exactly. And the evidence on those kind of ones? Are, they don’t really help generally, anyway, right? There’s not really any kind of relation with task performance or things like that. That’s why you’ve even seen some of the people who, some of the organizations that champion them early on, like Google move away from them, right? You know, because it’s a certain kind of approach and a certain kind of person who gravitates towards those kinds of those kinds of problems, and that kind of way of seeing the world too. And that’s the other thing, you know, related to hiring is about thinking about the mindset of the organization and its leaders no matter how small it is, you know, do you want to hire people that contribute something unique? Or do you want to hire people that are like everybody else who’s already there? So if you want to hire, you know, if you’re hiring for fit, which is I think something we’ve all been talking about, I’ve certainly written about, you know, we may be excluding, unintentionally, because that fit might be, you know, if you’re, if you’re neurodiverse, that means you think differently, your brain is wired to think differently. Well, there’s also a real opportunity with that we don’t have to just hire for cultural fit, but we can think about is how Adam Grant talks about, you know, hiring for cultural contribution, you know, what is something unique that somebody can provide to the organization? So that’s just even a mindset thing. So if somebody is giving a different answer, and seeing things in a different kind of weigh, you know, can we see how that might actually be an advantage? Do we want to be innovative? You know, one of the real benefits of neurodiversity is getting different perspectives and thinking differently about how one doesn’t work and how an organization operates. So you have to be willing to like when you hire for that, you have to let somebody engage in work in that kind of way.

Tim Vogus 33:03
So I think some simple things around this around, you know, structuring questions, you know, maybe giving people questions upfront, and kind of rethinking, what am I trying to accomplish? In getting somebody into my organization? Do I want them to be a unique contributor? I want them to be like everybody else, you know, and do how do I want them to shine in the interview? You know, another thing would be substituting away from interview questions altogether, right, like in some organizations engage more like even the the UI and the saps, they have pretty elaborate hiring processes that the more small to medium business probably can’t engage in, or they don’t have time and capacity to do it. But even just like having people, you know, with work samples, where maybe people engaging in a task for a day or an hour doing something at the office, you know, more like, kind of, you know, when I interviewed for Ford Motor Company, 4-5 years ago, you know, they had a big Assessment Center, and like, they took over the Dearborn high up, which now is like, a, just a shell of an empty organization, which shows you how old I am. And but they brought us in there and you were doing actual tasks, right? Like that resembled the job you are interviewing for, you know, so it doesn’t need to be that elaborate where you need to take over a hotel, but what are specific things that you want to know people can do? Can they bring samples from their prior work to show you they can do that? Are there?

Tim Vogus 34:26
You know, are there specific tasks they can engage in, in your workplace to say, yep, this person knows how to do what we need them to do, right, like so I think that’s a foundational bit is rethinking that hiring process in that kind of way. And as I just described to you, none of that takes, you know, a huge amount of cost to do that. It’s just kind of rethink. I think the same holds for socializing people to the workplace, because the biggest challenge for people on the spectrum is about learning about an organization’s culture, the unwritten rules. If you have challenges social communication and reading emotional cues, you’re gonna have a tough time figuring out what people really mean in a culture. So what can you do? Take some of that implicit stuff that tacit knowledge and try to make it more explicit. So, you know, if you’re a boss, and you’ve got a new employee, why not have a one page document that says, here’s my style, here’s how I work, you know, here’s what I do? Well, here’s what employees sometimes tell me they struggle with about me. And then you know, kind of model that as a practice, where we summarize who we are, what I do well, what might be what might be challenging for me. So we at least have clear expectations for how we like to work upfront. And that’s just, you know, writing one page, kind of like a bridging document, you know, or something like that, that can that can help to things that try to make, you know, expectations clear. And it’d be the behavioral expectations and task expectations, because the, because those kinds of things that you think, oh, they’ll figure it out, they’ll see what other people are doing and just kind of learn by observing, that’s a little bit harder for folks on the spectrum, so making more that explicit. And then I mentioned earlier, a little bit around performance feedback, you know, not just waiting for the annual review, and hoping people kind of figured out along the way, you know, what, you know, but being much more concrete. And this is something organizations have started to do, but then kind of backed off on, which is like Deloitte was noteworthy. They had this big Harvard Business Review article, it said, we’re getting rid of the performance appraisal, we’re just going to give people weekly feedback. And then it’s like, whoa, that’s really hard. But I couldn’t do that anyway. So I hope I didn’t ruin any chance of them being a sponsor. You can read it out.

Trish 36:41
I’m a PWC girl. So there’s that.

Steve 36:46
It’s so funny, because we talked about that topic for the better part of three years. And we’re not really talking about it right now. Like, we haven’t talked about it lately, anyway. Yeah.

Tim Vogus 36:55
So I think, you know, just feedback that’s much more grounded in the specific moment. And there’s kind of, you know, here’s what I saw, here’s the conditions under which I saw it, here’s the kind of replacement behavior, I’d like to see engagement, you know, just making it much more concrete and breaking it down. So those are the things I think that employers can be doing to shift in this direction. You know, because, you know, EY, SAP, Microsoft, they and they partnered with the University of Washington and Hala Nabi out there, who’s an outstanding researcher. They developed this playbook, the Autism Playbook, right for how they launched their programs and things like that. And it’s really good. But it’s good for those big employers. Because they have infrastructure and like, how do you make the business case inside your organization? How do you get buy in across these levels? And for, you know, the small to medium business or like the buy in? I’m the boss, like, I make decisions, right? Like, what can I do at a micro level. And that’s the kind of things I’m trying to talk about here. And that’s a lot of the stuff that we’re working on, at the Frist Center. So one of the things that we’re doing is developing this virtual interviewing system, where people come in who are on the spectrum, and they engage with an interviewer. And it was the interviewer works through a battery of questions and has natural language processing. So it knows when you answered a question, when you finished and can respond to specific kinds of things. It’s really cool. And there’s there’s also eye gaze tracking, so people can know where they’re looking whether we’re looking away, because that’s also something that’s a big barrier in interviews for people on the spectrum is if they’re not looking people think, Oh, they’re disinterested, whereas it’s, that’s a way in which people manage the situation, if I need to concentrate on giving you a substantive answer, I can’t also look at you because they take so much of my capacity to just focus my gaze, and that when, and then we also have people wearing skin conductance. So we can see stress levels in response to particular questions. So we learning, we’re learning about what kinds of questions and that’s where I know some things about these unstructured questions really activating big jumps in stress. So is there a way to rethink those for employers, but also for the candidates? Can they manage those circumstances? Okay, when this type of question gets asked, How can you break it down? Like how can you give a better response? What was your response? Here’s a better response. So there’s kind of an intervention component of what we’re doing to, you know, and we also build in some things like interruptions, so somebody knocks on the boss’s door during the interview. And even in a virtual setting where it should be non threatening, you see big spikes in people’s interest levels, because somebody knocked on the door and the routine was disrupted. So then we can intervene and say, Well, what do you do the routine gets interrupted? How do you you know, reengage? Okay, stop, pause, collect, what was the question you were answering? How are you answering it? Think about that, okay, and then start again, you know, just to kind of help people process through it. So we’re also trying to, you know, with all these things that we’re directing and employers, we’re also trying to help candidates to kind of recognize that we want employers to go a certain direction, but that takes time and takes time to diffuse. So how can candidates engage with the world as it is more successfully?

Steve 40:06
Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, Tim, as you were going through some of those examples, that you’re also helping the folks who are going to go through these processes and have to engage with some of these awful questions. And some of these just Yep. You know, exigencies that happened in the workplace today. Managers or hiring people or HR people aren’t really, totally well versed and prepared. That’s just the truth of it. Like for a while anyway. Right. So you’re, you’re thinking about both sides of it. This is I have one last question. I know, we’ve been going a while and I apologize, and we take them a lot of your time. But I have one last question, which it touched back on the hiring side. And it’s a little bit more about sourcing and attraction. Because one of the things we hear all the time when we just have the more generic diversity and inclusion conversations that we have, and we’ve had a lot of them on the show is often organizations fall back on Well, I just can’t find the right candidate from underrepresented group A or, you know, people from maybe smaller schools be that I just can’t find them. They’re not there. Now, we know there’s lots of people on the spectrum who were there, right? That’s not? That’s not, it’s not that they don’t exist, but I don’t necessarily think they’re flocking to, like how do you encourage them to get involved with organizations to actually apply for roles and help them in that regard? how do organizations maybe do a little better job on the outreach side?

Tim Vogus 41:25
So I do think these autism at work summits that like SAP, Microsoft, you know, UI these folks have been engaged in for have gotten the word out, because what they will tell you is they get an overwhelming number of applications relative to the number of positions they have. And so what why they’re publishing things like this playbook and things like that making it available for free download, is because they know they can’t serve the need themselves. So they need to try to diffuse their practice to get it out to more organizations to show it’s plausible to do. And it’s not overly costly. And there are real business benefits to it in terms of innovation, you know, attracting and retaining talent and tough to find areas, a lot of times in STEM, but other areas as well. So I do think getting the word out in this kind of way has surfaced a lot more folks. And I also think this is where business can partner with kind of existing state vocational rehabilitation, other kinds of agencies that do this kind of work, I might be more aware of the candidate pool, but might think too narrowly, because historically kind of corporate interests haven’t been, you know, prominent is kind of employment places, right? Like, there’s been a lot of other types of organizations that have been more more acutely tuned into that. So I think building some of those kind of public private partnerships around this can be another way where, where the, the the talent meets the employers, there are also a number of kind of intermediary organizations which have popped up which have done some of the work. You know, you mentioned early on, I think it was nutrition, about, about training people on neurodiversity, generally. And there are organizations like the precisionist, which is a company that’s headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, on the east coast, but they also have a site in Nashville. And what they do is they work with employers. So they they are the ones that are charged with kind of sourcing people on the spectrum. And they do some training in their centers to kind of get people up to speed, get them employment ready, then they connect them with employers. And then while they’re doing that, they’re also training the employers about neurodiversity, and what things they need to know, things like that, and kind of making these matches.

Tim Vogus 43:35
And they have multiple sites throughout the US. And there’s kind of building in that direction. Another organization that does a lot of that was founded in Denmark by a guy named Torkel. Sana, called Special Eastern on that is a Harvard Business Case written about them. And they, I might have been confusing them. They’re the ones headquartered in Delaware. And they also we’ve done some work with them. We’ve been the first center with trying to move some of their training and materials kind of online to get it to a broader audience, right to get it out to the world, because they’ve done some really interesting things around selection and hiring and kind of finding candidates because those people are out there. And they’re out there through networks of parents who are interested in networks of disability organizations, networks of governmental agencies, all that kind of stuff. So I think there are pools there, it’s just now that companies are starting to recognize the possibilities. I think it’s just in making the match, and then making sure that kind of infrastructure is in place. So once it happens, it’s not just hey, we made all these hires. And then six months later, we fired all these people because they didn’t fit, right, because they didn’t do any of the kind of infrastructural development. So I think those are some of the ways so these kinds of partners with these intermediary organizations that are emerging. I think there’s there’s a real possibility to get some real traction on this. And we’re trying to serve as a hub for that to at the first step.

Trish 45:00
I think too, you know, if I’m someone listening to this episode, I would say, in addition to reaching out to them reaching out to some of the companies we mentioned who have programs in place that have been working for a while, I am positive that they would be more than happy to share what they’re doing, like you mentioned, even even seeking out to share that knowledge with people. And I would say to I think if you reach out to your local high schools, your local colleges and university it’s just a matter of so kind of the the takeaways for any any HR professionals listening is first get some neurodiversity training yourself, and then do some some of your own community outreach or outreach to some of these larger organizations that are seeing success? Because it seems like if you start following these students, even at the high school level, maybe through the guidance counselor’s you could then follow them through college or you, you know, yes, absolutely. Bring them on, even in different capacities as their as their students as they’re sort of maturing in their career as they go through college if they choose that route. So lots of good.

Tim Vogus 46:04
Absolutely. And that’s what that’s one of the things, one thing that I didn’t mention that we’re doing at the Frist Center, we so we partnered with a school in town called Korean Grimm Academy, which has this way, and we develop this week long event that’s building kind of job related skills for people on the spectrum who are going to be transitioning in the near future into the world of employment, right, like so trying to build, you know, create those kinds of capacities. And so your point about getting in touch with people earlier, and building those relationships earlier, I think is a great suggestion. And, you know, if people want to reach out to us to the first center, you know, we’re always doing research on these topics, or if some aspect of what we’re doing is of interest to you, you know, let us know where it’s gonna take, it’s gonna take a real big community to, to make a dent with us and kind of make real meaningful change happen. It can’t just happen from one group, we can’t do everything from the Frist Center, you know, EY can’t do everything, SAP can’t do everything, it’s gonna take all of us kind of together to get it done.

Steve 47:06
This is a super great conversation. Trish, I say this often, maybe not that often one of my favorite shows in a long time i Great, great, great stuff.

Trish 47:17
I literally have two full pages of notes,

Steve 47:21
lots of notes, I’m gonna have to cram everything into the show notes. So this is what we want to do. So Tim, will put the links to the Frist Center, of course, in the show notes. It’s pretty long URL. So I’m not going to read it right now. But that’s fine. You connect with you. I did find you on Twitter. Can we give that out if you want to?

Tim Vogus 47:38
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. It’s @Owen4Aiden. All right. I know it’s kind of a it’s there’s a long story behind that but it’s, yeah, that’s my Twitter. You can also find me you know, just by Googling me taking out a faculty webpage and then I’ll give up my email and all that kind of stuff. All right, well,

Steve 48:05
We’ll put those links in the show notes as well. We will also link to DJ Dean Nice. I think I got that right.

Tim Vogus 48:18
You can call them D Nice.

Steve 48:19
Even the hip hop guy willing to that? No, I checked out after Run DMC that was as far as I went. I actually was on a plane not that long ago with Reverend Ron. It was yeah, sorry. There you go. 6am departure right, leaving Vegas to go wherever Detroit or something wherever I was connecting through. And Reverend Ron was on the plane and he must have performed the night before. And he was in the uni which I loved. He had the superstars on the black track pants, the black Adidas track jacket, the medallions it was on. I didn’t I wasn’t sitting next to him. I’ve gotten upgraded to it. I wasn’t sitting next to him in first class, but I was near enough I would have said hi to him. But I wasn’t gonna you know, if I was right next to him, I would

Trish 49:08
pass that up. If he especially if he’s dressed like you know, given off

Steve 49:12
a little bit of an air of it’s 5am in Las Vegas. I’m not really interested in talking to anybody kind of vibe which, fair enough, which is probably getting that off myself. But yeah, super and atypical. And of course and Giri, Haji and Sterling K brands, workout tapes we’ll get we’ll get that on the show notes.

Trish 49:34
It can be like not a long answer. But how, how realistic is Atypical, a good show for people to kind of know, because obviously I haven’t.

Tim Vogus 49:44
I actually haven’t seen it. I don’t have Netflix. So the write about the word on the street with the the autism community. There was some real ambivalence about the show. Like it was good that it put, you know, autism at front and center and didn’t just make it Like a problem, like, but there was some in the the self advocacy community some kind of like ambivalence about the depiction in the ways you described earlier.

Trish 50:11
I think, from what I’ve heard, and I’ve not watched all the seasons yet, but what I’ve heard is that and read a little bit is that as the season progressed, the writers obviously took that, that feedback into consideration. And then apparently, we’ll see when I get to season three, have, you know, tried to, to build in more understanding, greater understanding. So it’s actually a little bit of occasional, but it’s I think the positive things are it does show someone, what I like, is this, it shows the person that is autistic is not the one with the problem, right? Yeah, we all communications that reminded me a lot of my grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s. And so she had it for a good 10 years. And, you know, as they go through phases of being able to communicate, and then that breaks down over time, one of the things we learned as a family was, and I would tell her this all the time, I’d say, it is not her inability to communicate with that it’s not her problem. It was our problem. We were the one to communicate differently and figure out what made her comfortable. I would say that’s the same for anybody. Right? It’s, it’s not their issue. That’s just life, right? It’s not a lifestyle choice. It’s just life. Right? So I need to brace how do we you know, if someone needs your, you know, noise cancelling headphones, perfect. Let’s make that happen. If they need to take a moment or not look at me. Perfect. Make that happen.

Tim Vogus 51:38
It’s a great place close as stretch because it really is about shifting it from seeing people with deficits to just seeing it as difference, you know, and so that’s one of the things we’re all trying to do around this right move it from deficit to difference. And I think that show right is trying to do exactly.

Steve 51:54
That could be a good little tagline for the show title too, I think. All right, Tim Vogus. We’ve kept you far too long. Thank you so much. Really great. To talk to you Frist Center at Vanderbilt links in the show notes. Please, everybody follow follow along connect with Tim learn more about this issue. We hope you do. We’ll keep we’ll keep on it Tim and some time but once once it’s all over with and we can not worry about sequestering in place or whatever.

Trish 52:23
If I take a trip to see the school from Bowling perspective, great opportunity in person.

Tim Vogus 52:31
Love it, that’s great.

Steve 52:33
Okay, Trish, thank you so much. This has been a great show. Thank you so much for the support and all the help and remember to subscribe the HR Happy Hour wherever get your podcasts for our guest Tim Vogus, for Trish McFarlane. My name is Steve Boese, thank you so much for listening. We will see you next time. And bye for now.

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