Opportunities for organisations

Ian Iceton talks to Employment Autism about the findings of his PhD research.

An HR Director for 25 years, Ian has considerable experience in all aspects of the employment ‘function’ within organisations, and of Diversity and Inclusion issues generally.

In 2022, he successfully completed a Doctorate at Cranfield University, focusing on the issues and opportunities for organisations in recruiting and then retaining Autistic employees.

Listen to the podcast or read the transcript below.

Ian Iceton podcast transcript

Employment Autism:

Today I’m talking to Ian Iceton, who’s just completed his doctoral research into the challenges of recruitment for autistic people. And he’s here with me to discuss his findings. So, Ian, let’s focus initially, what did the autistic interviewees tell you about?

Ian Iceton:

Thank you, Hilary. Well, I found the research process really fascinating. And I spoke to a lot of autistic employees, but also their managers as well. And getting the combination of those two perspectives was really interesting. And I learned a lot. I think from the autistic employees, one of the things that stood out very quickly for me was the huge breadth and range of issues and challenges that they face, both finding work going through a recruitment process, and then once in work, and whilst I’ve read a lot, actually realising just how wide the range of issues were, and the challenges, and therefore the need for organisations to think about that breadth and range of issues was really quite eye opening, from my point of view.

Employment Autism:

Was there any common thread going through any of those issues, or was it really just completely diverse?

Ian Iceton:

I think it can put them into two or three big buckets of themes. One big bucket, one big theme, was the amount and range and complexity of sensory issues that many autistic people found. And whilst I’d been aware of some, in terms of many people have been told about bright lights or loud noises in the workplace in particular being difficult, what I also found was there’s a huge range of other issues that might be to do with things that seem as straightforward as textiles or touch, or location in an office, or proximity to other people, or smells, or sounds.

One person I interviewed said listening to someone eat an apple in the office was actually very painful for them. And that was something that really, I hadn’t come across before. So, the first big bucket was the range of sensory challenges that was quite eye opening.

And then I think the second issue was, the range and complexity of the fact that all autistic people, although there are common themes, actually have differences in the challenges that they face. And therefore, you know, the phrase that we hear often – if you’ve interviewed one autistic person you’ve interviewed one autistic person – is those differences lead themselves to managers sometimes making assumptions and stereotypes about autistic people, which actually don’t work for all autistic people. And therefore, the need for it to be a very personalised individual approach came out very strongly.

And even for some of the managers of autistic employees, that complexity and difference actually was stressing them out. Many managers of autistic people were saying they wish they had more training from their organisations to help them understand the range of challenges and how they can be better at being a manager.

And then I think probably the third bucket was, if I can put it that way, a couple of groups of people who felt kind of almost particularly disadvantaged. And one of those was autistic women, who I interviewed, many of whom felt that because, for whatever reason, their masking or camouflaging seemed to be more effective than male autistic people, that actually was to their disadvantage, because it meant sometimes it wasn’t as obvious that they were autistic, and they perhaps didn’t get the support that they needed.

Then what I also found was a group of people, autistic people who who’d had later in life diagnosis, and had actually kind of managed through the workplace to a certain extent, then found out that they were they were autistic – it kind of helped explain some of the challenges that faced but they, they almost felt like they were disadvantaged because then people hadn’t been recruited as autistic people.

Somehow, again, the support wasn’t quite as effective for them, as it was for someone who came into the workplace where everybody knew they’re autistic. So, you know, they were, as I say, a couple of groups of autistic people that were felt particularly, you know, challenged and disadvantaged.

Employment Autism:

I’m interested to hear about the late diagnosed people. What were their thoughts about disclosure and their decisions about disclosure?

Ian Iceton:

Yeah, the late diagnosis people were a really interesting group. Firstly, sometimes it was what was prompting them to get the diagnosis. Quite often they’d gone through education and schooling without being diagnosed and perhaps struggled, probably because diagnosis capabilities were less strong 20 or 30 years ago, but maybe they were now experiencing something through a younger relative, you know, often it was a child or nephew or niece that was going through school being diagnosed, and they sort of said to themselves, blimey, that’s me as well. And so they were getting their own diagnosis mid career.

And then, one of the many challenges for them was, do they disclose that? Because there was almost an element of – do I feel a bit of a fraud? Am I embarrassed by it? I’ve sort of managed to get to this point in my career without formally saying anything, and will it be helpful or unhelpful? Like many autistic people, there’s a huge debate within the community, in terms of, you know, is autism classed as a disability? Well, legally, it is so that you can get protections.

But at the same time, many autistic people don’t see being autistic, as a disability in the sense that they recognise that they are different, but they don’t want to be seen as negative in any way. So the choice of language, particularly for older or mid-career people who ge