Akari, who were named Global Microsoft Partner of the Year for Diversity and Inclusion in 2020, tell us about the measures they’ve taken to ensure neurodivergent people feel welcome in their business, and the tools they’ve created to help other employers do the same.

How have Akari helped neurodivergent employees?

A few years back, after attending a Microsoft Parentship event, we learned that only 11 per cent of adults with autism were in full-time paid employment. On top of that, a fifth of kids with autism were not finishing their education. We decided to create a new company focused on digital inclusion and accessibility, and so Akari was born.

What happened next?

We developed three different products.

The first product we developed was a translation service which would allow users to translate documents at scale. Then, we created a virtual, artificial intelligence-powered chatbot for Microsoft Teams called AVA (Akari Virtual Assistant) that allows employees to gain answers quickly within productivity tools in Microsoft.

When we won Microsoft Partner of the Year for Diversity & Inclusion Changemaker 2020 we decided to give something back, which led to the creation of ADI (Akari Diversity and Inclusion). ADI is our free conversational app which fully integrates into Microsoft Teams once installed. It’s a knowledge bank app designed to answer questions within Microsoft about accessibility, diversity and wellbeing in the workplace and learning environments. It’s useful for neurodivergent people because it allows people time to ask questions at their own pace, using language they are comfortable with within the chat interface.

Additionally, we run a dedicated school programme called Bright Spark where we increase exposure of technology role models, encourage collaboration through technology and promote the use of Microsoft tech tools and resources – with a particular focus on neurodivergent students.

Bearing in mind all these great products, I assume you must really practice what you preach at Akari?

Our ethos is embedded in all areas of Akari’s work and is regularly audited. Our recruitment, employment standards and Professional Code of Conduct all promote inclusion and accessibility.

We’ve worked to develop an inclusive recruitment framework and create an environment that levels out the field for every player. This is an end-to-end process — from the initial application to the signing of an employment contract.

We also believe that employees should have a voice, and this is a fundamental part of our induction procedure. Upon joining, new employees are given access to ADI and training surrounding the accessible features within the Microsoft suite they will be using.

What are the benefits of bringing neurodivergent individuals into your business?

It’s so refreshing and helpful to see the different skills and perspectives people can bring to the organisation. It’s a joy to see individuals – often ones that, otherwise, would not have been given the opportunities they deserve – reaching their full potential. By not excluding any talent we ensure we get the best people for the jobs.

What advice would you give other employers regarding employing neurodivergent people?

Do it. You will never look back – but be prepared to adjust. Make sure your entire organisation knows exactly what you are doing and why. Make sure you have the necessary tools in place for everyone. Change your recruitment process from end to end, ensure you are as inclusive as you can be. You will find it’s worth it. You’ll get exceptionally talented people coming to your business that you may have missed out on before making adaptations.

For more information about the support available for companies to recruit neurodivergent talent, visit SDS’ employer dedicated site Our Skills Force where you will also find more case studies to inspire you.