A new study exploring the ‘chronic lack’ of fair work opportunities for autistic people in Scotland has been published by academics at Heriot-Watt University.
The report, entitled: Closing the Fair Work gap: making work fair for autistic people in Scotland will be presented before policymakers at a Scottish Parliament event sponsored by Jeremy Balfour MSP, on Wednesday 6 September 2023.
Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental difference in the way a person communicates, interacts and processes the world around them.
Through providing an evidence base and practical examples of simple changes that work, we hope that this research report will go a long way in supporting us to collectively achieve these goals for autistic people and employers in Scotland
Despite protective legislation being in place for almost 30 years, unemployment for autistic adults is over 70 per cent. Even when autistic adults are employed, they face a substantial gap in their expectations and experiences of fair work, caused by discrimination and marginalisation resulting from unwelcoming workplace cultures, exclusionary building architecture, and HR policies and practices unreflective of neuro-differences.
The report looks closely at ‘fair work’ for autistic adults, a term that describes the opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect available to all employees in Scotland.
It found no single experience of fair work for autistic working people, as well as showing there to be key experiential differences between autistic men and women. Researchers also put forward a selection of recommendations for best practice, centred on extending Scotland’s Fair Work Framework to incorporate a range of four principles of inclusion: adoption of a multi-stakeholder approach, consulting the autistic workforce and their representatives, recognising intersecting gender identities, and adoption of the social model of disability. This approach is founded on changing employer practice to suit the autistic worker, rather than pursuing the highly problematic and largely traditional practice of expecting the autistic worker to change to suit the employer.
Dr. James Richards, Associate Professor in Human Resource Management, and lead author of the research and report, said: “We have taken a nationwide and recognised framework for employment in Scotland [Fair Work Framework], sought the views and lived experience of autistic workers, and then taken the findings and adapted the framework to not only accommodate what autistic workers have been seeking for many decades, but to shape that framework to recognise where autistic men and women have different experiences and expectations of fair work.”
Funded by the Scottish Government, researchers from the Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University, in partnership with Into Work, an Edinburgh and Lothians based charity set up to support autistic working people achieve their employment goals and potential, have conducted research with autistic working people, as well as managers and HR professionals with oversight of such workers. They produced a report aimed at tackling the chronic lack of fair work for one of the most discriminated and disadvantaged employment groups.
Kat Allen, Lived Experience and Training Lead at Into Work, said: “We at Into Work are delighted to share the real-life experiences of autistic employees from this research with employers and policy-makers. We know that the will is there to make workplaces more inclusive and to reduce the employment gap for autistic people. Through providing an evidence base and practical examples of simple changes that work, we hope that this research report will go a long way in supporting us to collectively achieve these goals for autistic people and employers in Scotland.”
Further plans are afoot to publicise the report and its findings, including social media, as well as presentations to employers, HR professionals, trade unions, and civil society organisations.