Investment Bank Goldman Sachs in London are supporting people with Asperger syndrome in the workplace. In the following article, Richard Bremer gives some insight into the bank’s initiative.
Goldman Sachs’ commitment to diversity is deeply rooted in our business principles and the culture of the firm. To be successful, we must hire the best people regardless of their background. Our people must reflect the diversity of the communities and cultures in which we operate, which of course includes disabled people. We are committed to providing an environment which proactively supports all our employees.
The firm has many diversity training and networking events. We host client diversity events, and we have just completed our second summer disability internship programme.
Goldman Sachs started to work with Prospects, the employment and training arm of The National Autistic Society, in January 2003, after I was approached by a friend outside the firm who asked if we could offer someone with Asperger syndrome (a form of autism) some work experience. Prospects are always searching for job opportunities for their clients as well as work experience. It is worth remembering that some of their well qualified clients have never had the chance to work in an office environment before.
Prospects, through its 4 offices in the UK, provides people with autism (including Asperger syndrome) the vital training and opportunities they need to gain employment. The purpose of the work placement initiative at Goldman Sachs is to make a positive impact on the lives of people who have little or no opportunity to gain workplace experience. They are able to achieve their full potential as they interact with the firm’s professionals and grow to become more confident in their abilities. These placements radically expand the opportunities that may then be open to them.
By way of examples, the first Goldman Sachs placement candidate, although well qualified, had never worked before. After an 8 week placement in the Investment Banking Division, he successfully secured a permanent position with another company. Our second placement candidate was in a similar position. We offered him a work experience opportunity in Human Capital Management from where, after a five week placement, he secured a position at The Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand – and he is still there after more than over 4 years.
The first few placements were so successful that we decided to develop an ongoing programme. To-date the firm has sponsored 22 paid interns in London, in various divisions, including the Legal Department, Corporate Services, Equities, Investment Banking, Investment Research, Operations and Technology. Of those 22 people, 4 are now working permanently in Investment Banking, Operations, Technology and Settlements and we helped a fifth person find a full-time job with another company.
All the placement candidates have made a significant and valuable contribution to the firm. We are so encouraged by the initiative that we would like to see other businesses around the City become increasingly involved. As a firm participating in these placements, Goldman Sachs has been able to learn and develop good disability practice across all our recruitment initiatives and increase awareness throughout the firm.
It is estimated that there are about 332,000 people of working age in the UK with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), including Asperger syndrome (a form of autism). Of this number an estimated 260,000 are thought to be of average or above average intelligence. NAS research by Beth Reid (‘Moving on up?’ report, 2007) has shown only 15% of adults with autism are in full-time paid employment. This proportion is much lower than the general figures for the employment status of the 7 million people of working age with disabilities, where 49% were in employment in 2003, compared with 81% of people who are not disabled.
Employers can hugely benefit from the skills and qualities a person with ASD might bring to a job in their company. People with ASD tend to be reliable, hard working and motivated. Their attention to detail is often well above average, as are their high levels of accuracy and consistently good performance on repetitive tasks. Their approach is straightforward and honest. They may have technical skills of a high order and a good knowledge of facts and figures.
A sound business case can be made for employing more people with ASD. The firm gains reliable and effective employees, progresses towards meeting its commitment to diversity and raises awareness of diversity among its staff. Many managers who have gained an understanding of the communication difficulties people with ASD experience have commented that they have learned to communicate with their whole team more effectively.