auticon – changing the conversation on neurodiversity
Unwritten social rules of corporate office culture and recruitment practices can present real barriers for neurodiverse people, both in finding employment and then thriving at work. Only 29% of autistic adults in the UK have paying jobs, compared with 80% of working-age people without a disability [i], despite research showing the vast majority want to work [ii]. The seemingly successful minority who do find work still face challenges, often struggling to be themselves in the workplace and not receiving the support they need.
auticon is a social enterprise on a mission to change this and build a more inclusive world, by addressing inequalities in employment for neurodivergent adults and showcasing the strengths of neurodiversity in society. It was initially founded in Berlin in 2011 by Dirk Müller Remus, a father wanting better employment opportunities for his autistic son. The business model was simple: employing autistic adults as IT consultants, tapping into the STEM skills often associated with neurodiversity to help organisations in need of tech support.
Following investment from Germany’s first social investment fund, the business grew to have six German offices, with large clients such as BMW and Allianz. Global expansion followed, with auticon UK opening in 2016. The company operates in 14 countries with two main workstreams: IT consulting (in data science, analytics, engineering, cyber-security and quality assurance) and offering EDI services on neuroinclusion.
Creating jobs and changing lives
auticon employs adults on the autism spectrum as technology consultants, supported by job coaches and project managers, who are matched with client organisations to suit their individual skills. Its innovation lab, auticon Labs, is where neurodivergent teams-members collaborate with clients and investors to develop technology solutions to the challenges of neurodivergent people in the workplace and in their day-to-day lives.
Globally, auticon currently employs more than 450 autistic consultants on full-time contracts with big businesses including PwC, NatWest, Deloitte and Zurich among their many UK clients. 67% of auticon consultants had been unemployed for more than a year, despite 85% having a professional qualification or degree, and the impact of supportive employment has been transformative [iii].
92% of consultants feel supported at work, 87% say their quality of life has improved since joining the organisation, and 91% believe they’re valued for who they are. auticon consultants Chris Lever said: “Before I joined auticon, I had been unemployed for 15 months, and was being treated for depression for the third time. auticon took me in and I’ve been working consistently for 3.5 years now. That is the power of a social enterprise.”
Transforming business culture
As well as directly supporting autistic people to build successful IT careers, auticon works with other employers to shift perceptions of neurodiversity in the world of work. auticon’s Neuroinclusion Services help organisations to become confident neuroinclusive employers through consultancy, training and support.
85% of clients report a greater understanding of neurodiversity as a result of working with auticon, and the same percentage say their team feels more confident working with autistic people.
Furthermore, the skills and insights of auticon consultants are having a real positive impact on clients’ work; 93% reported that consultants made valuable professional contributions to projects, with increased accuracy and efficiency as well as more innovative approaches cited as benefits of their alternative perspectives.
Gareth Crabtree, Head of Data Design Enablement at auticon client PwC UK, said: “Throughout my time working with auticon consultants, they have consistently demonstrated a range of technical skills that have allowed them to produce innovative and high quality work. Having autistic people on my team has led me to having a much better understanding of neurodiversity, helping to make me a more well-rounded leader. The support that auticon’s job coaches provide is highly valued, and it is very clear that the needs of their consultants are very much at the centre of everything that they do.”
Some of the auticon team at the UK Social Enterprise Awards 2022 where auticon won the overall Social Enterprise of the Year Award
auticon works closely with customers, local communities and other partners to raise awareness across society of the benefits that autistic people can offer employers as well as the barriers they face. So far auticon has delivered more than 235 awareness events and trained 66 organisations. Last year, they also launched a podcast series, featuring leading voices on autism from around the world.
auticon places neurodivergent people at the heart of its workforce. All consultants are on the autism spectrum and 78% of the workforce are neurodivergent, making it a majority autistic business. Its success shows how a social enterprise can transform the lives of people facing real barriers in the workplace, not only empowering individuals but changing the way they’re viewed by big businesses and wider society.
In 2022, auticon’s incredible impact was formally recognised when it was named UK Social Enterprise of the Year at the UK Social Enterprise Awards, and since then the company has gone from strength to strength. This summer, auticon joined forces with a Norwegian social enterprise called Unicus that runs a similar model, making it the largest autistic-majority company in the world.
You can find out more about auticon’s impact in their latest impact report