Designing a workplace around people, not policies

Setting a benchmark for improvement drives the changes that matter


After her son was diagnosed with autism, Nikki Roche, a Reward Partner in corporate HR, became acutely aware of the huge potential that neurodivergent individuals can bring to a business, like Siemens. She explains why standard recruitment processes and workplace practices mean we could be missing out on critical talent that could help the business grow, and how she’s tackling the issue head on… 

“It’s not who is the best at doing an interview, it’s about who is best at doing the job.”

You are not average. I am certainly not average. The person on the desk next to you isn’t average either. So why do we expect every employee to be at least average in everything when they apply for a job?

We all have different strengths, but for some reason our success in the recruitment process and at work is measured by how many of the same boxes we can tick, or hats we can wear, not by the areas which we truly excel at.

When my son sets out to pursue his career in 10 years’ time, I hope this workplace mentality is a thing of the past. Everyone’s abilities are different, we need to embrace the fact that where some would shy away from speaking to colleagues and networking with customers, they could excel in technical processes. 

“Siemens has an open-minded culture. When we started to tell people about the possibilities, we saw so many eyes light up.”

What began as a conversation into how our workplace could get the most out of autistic people soon became a much bigger question – how can we make our recruitment process and ways of working fairer for everyone? We held workshops in 3 UK sites to raise awareness and gather ideas.

One autistic employee at our workshop actually punched the air with excitement when we suggested disclosing questions ahead of an interview. That’s when I knew we were on the right track. He spoke about the challenges he faced trying to prepare and perform at interviews when he couldn’t anticipate what would be asked. And why do we expect that of candidates where it isn’t a necessary skill for the job? 

“Don’t try and develop something perfect straight away. That will take you years. Just start talking and get your thoughts out there.

In truth I wasn’t sure where to start, but I figured if Siemens could listen and change then it would help spark a wider conversation in the industry and society in general. Our UK CEO Juergen Maier had indicated an interest in neurodiversity, so I found myself with a window of opportunity to get his backing. The research I did after my son’s diagnosis led me to organisations that were already making improvements in this area, so I reached out to them to learn as much as I could.

After working on a business case, I had the buy-in I needed from Juergen to progress with three pilot workshops. These would raise autism awareness amongst Siemens employees and managers and introduce a pilot autism friendly recruitment process for apprentices at Manchester. 

“We need to treat and manage employees as individuals.” 

Autistic people can exceed neurotypical performance in certain areas but may struggle more than a neurotypical person in others. Isn’t this the case for everyone? We all have parts of our role that we’re better at than others. I know I certainly do.

When designing jobs, we need to focus on creating diverse teams made from individuals who excel in different areas, and really capitalise on the things that each individual is brilliant at. To me, this is the very essence of how diversity and inclusive behaviour should operate within our business.

“Never be afraid to start something you’re passionate about.” 

But don’t expect to build an end-to-end programme overnight. Start small by sharing your views, posting on Yammer, joining a network, or even starting your own if one doesn’t yet exist. But do start now. I was spurred on in the early stages by how supportive and open to learning my colleagues were. We have a whole team dedicated to helping make Siemens a more diverse and inclusive place to work, they just need your input. 

Feeling Inspired?  Join the conversation #DiversitySparksIdeas