Rachel  Morgan-Trimmer 

Rachel Morgan-Trimmer is a neurodiversity consultant. She delivers talks and training sessions to demystify neurodiversity and to help organisations be more inclusive. Empowering people to comfortable and confident about neurodiversity is at the heart of what her company does, and she's a keen promoter of the business case for inclusion. Rachel is autistic and has ADHD. She loves nature, food, and info-dumping about one or more of her special interests.

How to exploit autistic people*

Autistic people bring a huge range of skills and talents to the workplace. But how do you ensure you're attracting and getting the most out of autistic staff? In this insightful talk, you will learn what it's like to be autistic, why autistic people are an asset, and how to ensure they're able to work at their best.

*Yes, it's a joke 

I used to have a normal job. I was quite good at it too. Really good, some people said. Always did my work on time to a high standard, quite often early, worked quickly. And although at the office where I work, I never really felt that I fitted in, I did my best to get along with everybody, to be helpful. So when it came time for my annual performance review, I was very excited. Because I thought, yep, time for a promotion for me, because I'd already been doing the job that was a level above me and obviously, with a promotion comes a big pay rise. So I walked into my performance review all confident and they said what I already knew, said I was really good, the only thing they put under the weaknesses there was that I helped people too much. That was all that they could find wrong with me, was that I was too helpful and they said, you should be focusing on your own job, but I was always finishing my work in time so I had time to help other people. After that, I sat back and waited for them to tell me about my promotion. On only there wasn't one. And there was only a very paltry pay rise as well. I was quite shocked. And I remember what my boss's boss said to me then, she said, you have to walk before you can run. But I'd already been running. For some time.


But I did take her advice. I walked right out of there and into residential...
(Laughter) And then eventually I set up my own company. Autistic people, like me, have long been treated as less than others, thought of as weird, or difficult, or a challenge, undesirable, even incapable. And when we are capable of doing stuff, it's often not really valued. That was my experience. I don't know which was worse. Feeling like I was being left out of things and not understanding why, or the frustration that came with not being able to shine, to do my best work. But it is starting to change. And we now understand that autistic people are not just as good as everyone else, but we are harbouring unique talents. And today, I'm going to be showing you how to make the most of these brilliant people. Because if you don't, someone else will.

How to exploit autistic people. Thank you for coming to my talk. And big thanks to the Nexer Digital team for inviting me here and everybody who works to pull this together, it's a lot of work and the AV team and the tech people and the transcribers, very much the unsung heroes at any Conference, to big thanks to them for giving me this opportunity to talk to you today. I will be telling you three things in this talk. First of all I'm going to tell you about the autistic experience, and what it's like to be autistic. Secondly, we'll talk about why exploit autistic people. Finally, the biggest part of the talk, I'll tell you how to exploit autistic people. First up, the autistic experience. People say to me, what is it like being autistic and I don't know because I've got nothing to compare it to. It's just the way I am. I want to give you an insight into what it's like to be autistic and I've decided to do this through the medium of stupid things people say to us when they find out that I'm autistic. In fact, I write them down. Every time someone says one of these things. I write them on a list. (Laughter)


This is a 10‑foot roll of paper, by the way. What is first. Yes, number one on the list of stupid things people say when they find out I'm autistic, they tell me about another autistic they know. So I'll say, I'm autistic, and they'll say, my nephew is autistic. What the everlasting gob-stopper am I supposed to do with that in! They don't do it with anything else. For example, I'm a woman. My sister's a woman! You should meet her! You could talk about feminism. You know, she managed to go to university, despite all her womanliness. So inspirational! What's next on my list. Ah, yes, number five, so this happened to me not long ago, I said to somebody, I'm autistic and she said, have you tried Keto?! (Laughter) No, Keto, the Ketogenic diet. It's really helped you no. I'm not seeing a lot to aspire to. She honestly thought I had challenges and her solution was to take away carbohydrates.

I think we have got time for one more.

Let me think. Number 9. On the list of stupid things people say when they find out I'm autistic. Awww. Nice ain't it? You are autistic, she's autistic Jean, got autism, you are doing ever so well. Well, I should be, because, you know, I'm a published author and you are congratulating me for going to the toilet. Awww, well done you. So that's an insight into what it's actually like being autistic. First up, people assume we are all the same, then they try to make us not quite so autistic and finally, thinking we are less than others. So, why exploit autistic people? Three reasons. First of all, because we are productive. Secondly, we do things properly and finally because we are cool. So, let's have a look at some statistics now around diversity and inclusion and productivity and why we should be employing autistic people. This first infographic is from Equal Approach in 2017, about all kinds of inclusion, not just neurodiversity or autism. They found that for every pound you spent on inclusion, you get £15 return. So every £1 you invest in making your workplace more diverse, inclusive, you are looking at a £15 return. Quite a good return on investment I would say. This is an interesting study that Accenture did on inclusion generally. They looked at a number of different companies and rated them all on various different inclusion factors. And then they compared the most inclusive companies with the less inclusive companies and this is what they found. They found that the revenue of an inclusive company was 28% higher than that of a non‑inclusive you have company. They also found that the profit margins of inclusive companies were 30% greater than those of less inclusive companies. And finally, the most staggering thing they found was that the net income of an inclusive you have company was twice that of a non‑inclusive company. And when I say non‑inclusive or normal, that world normal is used there on purpose because inclusion is still something quite progressive and something people are not doing, and certainly not doing well. Talking about inclusive, it's the slither that are ahead of the curve. This next statistic is from JP Morgan & Chase. They did an autism at work programme and found that the people who're not recruited through their autism programme, were taking up to two years to on‑board fully. When they hired just autistic people through their autistic hiring programme, they found they were on‑boarding in three months. They were doing it in an eighth of the time. That again is quite a staggering statistic.

Wells Fargo this year actually came out with some data. They found employer retention data but their neurodiversity programme of 97%. So for every 100 people they hired, only 3 people would leave within a year.
The national average retention rate in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics, is about 75%. So this is significantly higher. And every person that you are not replacing represents cost‑saving, because recruitment is expensive and on‑boarding is expensive. Neurodiversity in the workplace is an American company that creates autism hiring programmes for its clients and it found something more staggering. You might think that retention rate of 98% is note that much higher than 97% and you would be right. But, here is the thing. This wasn't over a year, this was over five years. They had an 98% retention rate over five years, so in five years only two people out of every 100 were leaving. Again, it's absolutely staggering, but then when you think about it, it makes sense.

Autistic people don't like change. They are happy somewhere they are going to stay, right. When I talk about these statistics, I sometimes get people not believing me. They go, well, you are just cherry‑picking the statistics to suit your own narrative, aren't you? I'm not real hi sure about all this inclusion stuff. But I'm not. I've chosen a few to show you today that I think are the most interesting, but if you go and look for yourself at any statistics on diversity and inclusion, and how they are good and how they make a place more profitable and cut costs and there's nor innovation, better perception of leadership and these good things, the evidence is piling up, like court cases against Donald Trump and it's all pointing towards the same thing. And you know who those people remind me of when they are doubting their stuff? People who pretend that smoking is not that bad. And that's the body of evidence saying that, it's just, you know, made up or something, you've probably met people like that, well it's not that bad, my grandfather used to smoke and he lived to be 92 and you think, well yes, but a lot of other people didn't and that's what I hear when people are doubting that diversity and inclusion is a proven business benefit. It reminds me of the people who used to say smoking is not that bad. So, autistic people do things properly. This is the second reason for inclusion in autistic people or exploiting autistic people. We like to do things properly. Now, the language around autism is really deficit‑based. We have social communication issues and there's a lot supposedly wrong with us. If you look at the other side of every deficit, you will find a positive quality, a positive characteristic. It's like foil. Kitchen foil. You have got the shiny side and the dull side. When you are autistic, you are presented with the dull side, this is what is bad about you. If you turn it over, you will see the shiny side, what is great about you. An example of this is that autistic people are often called, obsessive or pernickety or fussy or picky. But isn't that quality something that you want at work, if you want someone to look through your line of code for it not to break, somebody to look through a legal document to make sure there are no loopholes, or if you want somebody to proof read an important email that's going to your client. Suddenly,  those qualities, that autistic attention to detail is something that you really need. And the other part of this is that we actually enjoy this stuff. So many times people have said to me, this stuff is in a mess, we need someone to organise and categorise it and everything and they go, I'm sorry to have to ask you, and I'm like, gimme, gimme, gimme. Anyone want to do the filing. Me. We get lots of satisfaction out of doing that and that is one reason we do things properly because we like doing it. Finally, autistic people are cool. Three examples. Jason Arday, who is the youngest black Professor at Cambridge, didn't talk until he was 11. Then Greta Thunberg, the climate activist and then Eminem, the rap artist. We are not tapping a I way at a computer all of us, we cover a different spectrum of different types of people than you might otherwise think that that might be the case.

And, we also bring a lot of joy. It's not just about the work ability to skills, we experience a lot of autistic joy and it's something that we share with other people. So we are actually fun and cool to be around.

In fact, in 2017, it was found that autistic people are sexier than Normal People, in a study. And you might be thinking, what has that got to do with work. It kind of depend where you work really... but what I'm trying to get at, it's not all Trainspotting, we are valuable and wide‑ranging and interesting cool fun people to be around. So, now we come on to the meat and potatoes of the talk, or if you are vegan, the hydrogenated potato. You can't exploit autistic people unless they are happy. You need to give them what they need so they can be as sanely productive as we have just seen on the slides. When we talk about productivity, I'm not just talking about quantity. There's no point producing loads of stuff if it's all crap. It's about producing quality as well. And it's not just about the machines either, lots of you do work producing products and services that have a significant positive impact on other people. And, that is true of my clients as well. When I train people on neurodiversity and inclusion, my clients produce things that literally save lives. There are people walking around right now because of that sterling work that my clients have done. So when I say this stuff is important, I really mean it.

This man is called John Harrington. He has a moustache, a pointy goatee, and a big Elizabethan rough around his neck because he lived in Elizabethan times. He was in fact one of Elizabeth I's godchildren. She had 102. Which is quite excessive I think. She didn't always get on with John Harrington, who was very likely possibly autistic, judging by what I've read about him. And he sometimes annoyed her because he was a bit left field and racy. He annoyed her so much one day that she wanted him out of her face, but she didn't want to banish him. She thought that would be too harsh. So she did the Elizabethan equivalent of ghosting, which was, she sent him away to translate a poem and she said, don't come back until you have translated this poem, because it was quite long and very difficult and she thought he wouldn't do it. Some time later, John Harrington reappeared and he said, I've translated that poem for you, and by the way, I have also invented the flushing toilet. To which Liz beat presumably responded the what with the what? And he said, do you want to come and see it? Do you want to have a go? And so she sat on the throne, did her Royal wee and liked it so much, she had one installed in her palace.

John Harrington went to all that trouble to invent the flushing toilet and a lot of the time we are not even letting people use it. You might be saying, but what are you talking about, you can go to the toilet any time you like. Can you really though? How many of you would feel comfortable standing up right now and going, I'm off to the toilet, and getting up and making everyone stand up while you shuffle along? It can be quite hard, can't it? What about when you go to work, a job interview or meeting, you might have been travelling or you might have just had one of those massive Costa Coffees or something, and sometimes you don't even get to go to the loo before you go into the meeting. And the thing is, when we go to the toilet, it's not just going to the toilet that we go in there for, people go to the toilet for load of reasons. To take medication, just to be by themselves, maybe to calm down, maybe to cry. Maybe to check if their period has started. Lots of reasons why we might go to the toilet. But there's a lot of judgment around how often and when and how might be acceptable. It's really hard to say, you know, go to the toilet more often than might be considered usual. Autistic people are not that in tune with what is going on inside our bodies. And that can be hunger and thirst as well as whether or not we need to go to the toilet. Sometimes we go just to see. It's hard to actually to that in real life. The first thing you can do to make autistic people happy is access to the toilet. Easy, non‑judgmental access to the toilet. The second thing you can do to exploit autistic people and make them happy at work is food. I love food. I eat it everyday. Autistic people don't eat like Normal People. I don't mean wee out of a trough or a band or anything. Eating habits are quite different. Sometimes we seek stimulating foods like crunchy or salty or sour or spicy food. Others might like beige food, crisps and bread and things, autistic people. A lot don't eat normal food at normal time, we like to graze, because it helps us feel calm if we are able to nibble throughout the day.

Again, it can be surprisingly hard to get this accommodated, not because we don't have the food available, but because of the lack of understanding or the judgment around it. We get told that we are picky, or inconvenient or greedy, and we are none of those things. We are try just to feel okay. And again, it's easy to accommodate this. Have some crisps out, or stick a bottle of Tabasco in the cupboard. Don't be stingey with the mint Clubs. Have snacks at a meeting because then autistic people will know that it's okay for them to snack too if you are doing it. Modelling behaviour is a really powerful way of being inclusive, because you can say as much as you want to people, but when you are actually doing the behaviour that you find acceptable, that sends a really strong, positive message.

Next up is the environment. All of us require a suitable environment to be able to work and concentrate and so on. I don't think any of us would be able to concentrate right now if I was blasting an air horn or if there was a strobe light going on or a weird smell like the one you get on a Avanti train. Awe test you can people tend to have a non‑sensory profile than autistic people. This means we are more sensitive to things like life and sound temperature, and again, it's easy to accommodate this to improve the environment, so, you might have some plants around, or you might have more casual dress codes that we can dress more comfortably, we might offer noise cancelling headphones or might offer a colleague a desk by the window for natural light. Different autistic people enjoy different environments. One person might like a big window, lots of background chatter or music, and another might like a quiet dark cosy space. How do you find out what sort of environment your autistic colleague would prefer? Ask them. Groundbreaking isn't it? And you might not think that changing the environment makes that much difference but it really does and enables people to work so much better. Next up on my list of things you need for exploiting autistic people and making them happy and comfortable at work is enjoyable work. You know that JP Morgan Chase study I mentioned about autism at work study programme, they found that autistic people wither 90% more productive, but when they put autistic people on to projects they were enjoying, that went up to 98% above their peers, absolutely staggering, showing how important being into your work, enjoying your job can be. Now, it's not realistic to expect every aspect of a job to be enjoyable. It's not. But this's okay. But what we can do more and more now is tail the job to the individual instead of trying to find an individual to fit the job. It's called job carving and can be quite effective. So, for example, if your autistic colleague is not very good at thinking, or they are too anxious to make a call, could you give that part of the job to somebody else and the autistic person is freed up to do something that they are good at and quick at and they actually enjoy. It's not just about the work itself, it's about understanding the importance of that work. Because, a lot of people don't know this actually, autistic people are often ambitious and competitive and passionate and when we understand our place in your team or the impact of our work, we get that intrinsic motivation and we are able to do a much better job as a result of that. The last thing on my list of things that autistic people need to be are happy at work with is generosity. An autistic parent of autistic children says this is autistic people, if you give them an inch, they won't take a mile, they will give you several inches back. And I found that to be really true with many, many autistic people. We tend not to take things that we don't want or need. So when you are being generous, you need to initiate this, you need to offer things that you think your autistic colleague might find useful. And the reason is not just because the actual thing that you are offering might be helpful, like noise‑cancelling headphones or more comfortable chairs or flexible working, or hybrid working options or whatever it might be, the fact that you have offered communicates to that autistic person that you care about them, that you care about their needs and want them to be comfortable and happy.

Have you noticed anything about these five things? They are incredibly basic, aren't they? Letting people go to the toilet when they want and not being weird about it. Having some snacks out. Offering people the environment they want. Sticking the pot plant on the window. Telling them what impact their work is having. And finally, being generous when offering adjustments or accommodations.

I know five things can be a lot to remember, I've got ADHD so I have trouble remembering things. Fortunately, I've made sure they create a handy acronym for you to remember. TFEEG. And if you can't remember my acronyms, here is something that you might be able to remember. The last one of these is the most important. Generosity. Because, it's not just being generous with stuff, it's generosity of spirit. It's trusting your autistic colleague when they say something is bothering them. It's understanding where they might be coming from. And, it's meeting their authenticity with a bit of your own.

We are not really talking about exploiting people at all are we, we are talking about including autistic people. All the things I went through, they are exactly what you need to do to be inclusive. They are two sides of the same coin. The thing is, even though all those things I went through, not challenging, incredibly simple and basic and mostly free or at least cheap, a lot of people still aren't doing that. Autistic people are still not being included.

There is a lot of stigma around autism. Imagine if there wasn't. Imagine if, instead of hiding our true selves, or being ashamed of who we are, we could wear our autism like a badge of honour. We could put it at the top of our CV. Knowing that people actually value and want our autistic skills and our personalities, because very often we don't feel wanted or valued. When I was developing this talk, I was asking my husband to help me, and he said, can you put a story in there, a time when you felt included. And I went yes, it doesn't really happen that much. And all of a sudden, a huge wave of sadness washed over me. Because underneath all the jokes, and the sarcasm and the controversial talk titles, there's an awful lot of sadness. And it's not just because I feel excluded, and I felt left out my whole life, it's because I don't know if it's because I'm autistic or if it's just me. Maybe people just don't like me. Maybe it's nothing to do with autism. It's just who I am. I have never ever spoken about this before. It's hard to verbalise. And I think when you grow up not knowing that you're autistic and you spend most of your adult life know knowing you're autistic, you never really have the opportunity to understand yourself. And even when you get diagnosed at the age of 46, like I did, you find that there's so much to unpack that maybe it's not unpackable. And probably never will be. But there's a ray of hope. I said that things are starting to change. And however, and whyever you choose to exploit or include autistic people, however you do it, the outcomes are the same, and autistic people want to earn money and to feel a part of something and to feel important and to have an impact on the world. So it doesn't really matter what you do, how you go about it, why you do out, whether you are doing it to earn loads of money or whether you are doing it because you want to be inclusive, the outcomes are the same. The outcome for me is that, maybe other autistic people too, it chips away at that deep‑seated sadness, that part of us that says that we are no good, that we are not important, and that no‑one cares about us. And that, you being inclusive, is giving us that massive gift. How to exploit autistic people ‑ by making us feel that we belong. (Applause)