Google leader on inclusion, accessibility: 'We can do more'

Google's global lead for disability inclusion discusses recruiting initiatives

Google leader on inclusion, accessibility: 'We can do more'

Lorne Needle is making the world a better place.

As the global lead for disability inclusion at Google, he’s responsible for creating and executing the Mountain View, CA-based company’s strategy for hiring people with disabilities. That’s a huge responsibility that the California resident has been bearing to great success, as evidenced by the tech giant scoring a 100% on the Disability Equality Index – organized by global nonprofit Disability:IN – for three years in a row.

Additionally, Needle has conceived, designed and launched Google’s Autism Career Program to expand the hiring of qualified autistic candidates. In conjunction, he’s created and rolled out a comprehensive, innovative training curriculum for Googlers on working with autistic candidates and teammates. It’s not all on Needle’s shoulders, though: The Disability Alliance, founded by employees, is a community of Googlers that supports each other, leads projects like accessible product hackathons and helps work on disability inclusion by building awareness at all levels of the company.

After all, Needle and the rest of the team at Google understand the importance of maintaining a workforce that’s representative of people who use its products, as well as a workplace that creates a sense of belonging.

“We train our Googlers in the hiring process, such as hiring managers and interviewers, to work effectively with neurodivergent applicants,” Needle told HRD during a recent press briefing. “That translates over once they’re employees because the same skills around effective communication and showing up in an empathetic way are just as valuable when that person is your teammate.”

Read more: Microsoft director: Fill job openings with neurodivergent candidates

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many ways, according to Harvard Medical School. Although neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, it’s most commonly used in the context of autism, as well as other neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia and/or Tourette Syndrome.

Last year, Google was invited to join the Neurodiversity @ Work Employer Roundtable, a group of nearly 50 companies with neurodiversity hiring programs and support systems in place for new employees. The roundtable started in 2017 with six founding members: Microsoft, DXC Technology, EY, Ford, JP Morgan Chase, and SAP.

California companies (aside from Google) that have since joined the roundtable include Hewlett-Packard (HP), Chevron, Wells Fargo, Qualcomm, Salesforce, VMware and Warner Brothers.

As part of the roundtable, members can join monthly virtual employer forums to share advice and discuss experiences, participate in regular working group sessions on a variety of topics around increasing the talent pipeline and supporting employees, and attend an annual conference where academia, social partners and companies network, learn best practices and obtain resources for strengthening their neurodiversity hiring, onboarding, training and support programs.

“We have a robust accommodations team experienced in helping neurodivergent people get the support they need to be successful,” Needle said. “We also have very strong ERGs that provide a welcoming environment and an instant community for neurodivergent people. There’s a mentor program they provide to new employees, too.”

Despite Google’s efforts, there’s a 30%-40% unemployment rate for neurodivergent adults, according to the University of Connecticut. That’s three times the rate for people with a disability, and eight times the rate for people without a disability.

That’s why the Neurodiversity @ Work Employer Roundtable and Disability:IN have joined forces to launch the Neurodiversity Career Connector (NDCC), a career portal dedicated to neurodivergent job seekers. This new marketplace connects neurodivergent people with companies already committed to neurodiversity hiring programs with open roles, such as HR, finance, customer service and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) positions.

In order to be part of the roundtable and post a job opening on the NDCC, you must have inclusive hiring and training practices in place for at least a year. There have been 100 job openings – about 40% of which are non-STEM related – posted on the portal already.

“We’re pleased with what we’ve done so far because we know we have thousands of employees who identify as having a disability,” Needle said. “They’re in technical and non-technical roles across Google across the world making really valuable contributions. But we can do more. These job seekers will help our business succeed – we want to be where the talent is.”

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