Closing the Fair Work Gap: An Intersectional Fair Work Framework for the Autistic Workforce

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

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Abstract

The “problem”

Employment opportunities for autistic people are characterised by an extensive and complex range of barriers, rendering work for the clear majority unfair. The unfairness can be identified in the form of a sizeable employment gap between the autistic and non-disabled workforce. Further evidence of unfairness manifests in the form of widespread under-employment, plus exclusion and marginalisation due to contemporary human resource practices, and organisational cultures and workplace architecture designed for the neurotypical workforce. In addition, it is increasingly recognised how attempts to resolve the autism employment gap excludes intersecting demographics, such as gender. Taken together, it paints a picture of employers requiring a framework to transform their workplaces and close the employment gap, or as framed in this report, the fair work gap, for the autistic workforce.

Scope

The report is aimed at addressing a lack of fair work for Scotland’s autistic workforce, i.e., critiquing, collecting primary data, and then setting out what fair work should look like for such employees. It is primarily aimed at employers as the primary stakeholder to Scotland’s Fair Work Framework. It is also aimed at further key stakeholders: trade unions, the Scottish Government, and civil society organisations (e.g., autism and employment support charities).

Aims and research questions

Given Scotland seeks to become a Fair Work Nation by the year 2025, as well as reducing the disability employment gap, the over-arching aim of the report is to consider what fair work means to the autistic workforce, as well as to those who manage autistic employees. In doing so, the report sets out recommendations and action points to close the autism fair work gap. This is achieved by capturing the lived experiences of autistic working people and managers responsible for autistic employees, through a lens based on Scotland’s Fair Work Framework, the social model of disability, and intersectionality, with the aim of producing a
blueprint for fair work autism (see Figure 61, p. 73.).

The project is driven by four research questions:

1) What does work look like for autistic working people?
2) How do autism and gender intersect with dimensions of fair work?
3) What are the main barriers and facilitators to fair work for the autistic workforce?
4) How can the Fair Work Framework be advanced to be more inclusive of the autistic workforce?

Methodology

Primary data based on lived experience of autism and work was attained, via a mixed methods approach, involving electronic surveys and semi-structured interviews, from autistic employees and those experienced at managing autistic employees. The data were analysed on the basis of a conceptual lens combining the Fair Work Framework, the social model of disability, and intersectionality.

Findings

Key findings arising from the research include:

•Awareness of the Fair Work Framework varied across the sample. In addition, awareness of relevant equalities policies within organisations was often limited.
•The data shows that there is no one experience of being autistic in the workplace, with a wide range of differing barriers and facilitators to inclusion emergent from the data. Importantly, the data suggests autistic men and women can experience the workplace differently and such differences should be built into refinements of the Fair Work Framework and organisational policies.
•While employers are making progress in implementing Fair Work for autistic people, many autistic respondents felt particular dissatisfaction with ‘effective voice’ at work, including in unionised workplaces.
•Accessing reasonable adjustments was an area of particular concern for many autistic respondents, and where adjustments were implemented they were often not reviewed for suitability.
•Many respondents reported considerable stigma, resulting in masking and disguising of autistic traits at work.
•Line managers are key to autistic people’s access to fair work, with a single, reliable and trustworthy point of contact for autistic people reported by respondents as beneficial.
•Autistic respondents reported autonomy at work as a facilitator of fair work, both in terms of general job satisfaction, and as a way to access adjustments.
•Despite a range of autism initiatives, for many autistic employees, the
responsibility (and the burden) of securing support rested with them.

Recommendations and action points

Key action points to come, by stakeholder to fair work, are as follows.

Recommendations and actions for the UK Government:

•Strengthen the protections at work for autistic people through revising the Equality Act (2010)
•Devolve application of the Equality Act (2010), e.g., public sector duty in Scotland regarding addressing of socio-economic inequalities

Recommendations and action points for the Scottish Government:

•Revise and refine the Fair Work Framework to include the perspectives of autistic people in the workplace.
•Act as a focal point, bringing together stakeholders including employers, autism experts (including lived experience voices) and trade unions to improve the work experiences of autistic people.
•Recognise the diversity of and intersectional experiences of autistic people in the workplace.

Recommendations and action points for employers:

•Recognise autistic people have diverse experiences of fair work, and that these are often informed by gender.
•Develop, with inclusion specialists, and crucially those with lived experience, autism specific policies to support autistic people and their line managers.
•Undertake equality impact assessments of changes to working practices and the organisation of work, including changes to the built environment, to develop plans to mitigate any negative effects on autistic people.
•Better support line managers more generally in managing autism at work, but in particular support the regular review of workplace adjustments for autistic people.

Recommendations and action points to staff representative bodies, such as, trade unions, staff associations and equalities networks:

•To upskill workplace organisers’ understanding of autism, including the diversity of experiences and how these may be gendered, in order to improve ability to effectively represent the voices of autistic people at work,

Recommendations and action points to civil society organisations:

•Ensure autism or neurodiversity training provided to employers is up-to-date, strengths-focused and grounded in the social model of disability and lived experience of autism in the workplace (ideally led by autistic trainers).
•As an employer, provide as much job security possible while funding is under threat. Ensure communication about job role changes, contract endings and redundancies is timely, clear and provides sufficient contextual information, explanation of decision-making and opportunities for autistic employees to process information and to ask for clarifications.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages83
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2023

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