While Canadian employers have made significant strides toward improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, employment barriers remain for the neurodiverse talent pool, according to a new report by Deloitte and Auticon Canada.

The report, which polled more than 400 adult Canadians, found employers’ focus on social competency during the interview process was one of the highest ranked barriers currently facing the autistic community, with 40 per cent of respondents citing it as a “great challenge.” The respondents also cited lack of structural support systems, including flexible work policies, as barriers that impact employee retention.

Read: How KPMG is recruiting, supporting employees with disabilities, neurodiversity

“The autistic community has so much to offer and, unfortunately, a lot of the potential of neurodiverse Canadians is either lost on employers or goes untapped,” said Roland Labuhn, a partner of digital and analytics at Deloitte Canada, in a press release. “From the hiring process to a clear lack of support systems for employees, the autistic community still faces significant barriers in finding meaningful work and it’s important for employers to recognize that removing these obstacles will lead to a more inclusive workplace for all employees.”

In 2020, nearly half (48 per cent) of Canadian companies reported they were experiencing workforce shortages, double the rate disclosed 10 years earlier.

Almost half (45 per cent) of respondents said they feel the need to mask their autism while at work and 47 per cent claim they aren’t comfortable disclosing their autism to employers. Despite efforts to build awareness and understanding of neurodiversity, more than half (55 per cent) of respondents indicated they feel there’s a stigma associated with autism. Likewise, another 56 per cent said they’re treated differently once people learn of their autism and 42 per cent claim they’ve been the target of discrimination at work.

“It’s alarming that the autistic community continues to feel they can’t bring their whole, authentic selves to work or disclose their neurodiversity to employers,” said Garth Johnson, chief executive officer of Auticon Canada, in the release. “Until people feel comfortable sharing this information, the door to the workplace will never truly be open to the autistic community. In an incredibly competitive hiring environment, it is critical for Canadian employers, across all industries, to do more to learn about autism and neurodiversity generally and launch sincere, thoughtful efforts to tap into this wellspring of talent.”

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