Making the Business Case for Hiring Autistic Workers

By Susan Ladika

Jul. 16, 2012

If a company wants to make a push to hire autistic workers, it often takes someone in management championing the cause.

At the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association and College Retirement Equities Fund, or TIAA-CREF, it was Heather Davis, senior managing director and head of global private markets for the financial services organization based in New York.

In Davis’ case, her passion was driven by her personal experience as the mother of a son, 12, with the developmental disorder.

By having a child with autism, Davis was well aware of the strengths of such people, such as an impressive ability to concentrate, loyalty and dedication.

She first did due diligence for nearly a year, visiting various companies and organizations that have hired autistic workers, and consulted with Temple Grandin, a renowned professor of animal science at Colorado State University who is autistic and was the subject of an eponymous award-winning HBO film.

“It’s a daunting task. You really have to want it,” Davis says.

She then had to present her idea and findings to the company’s investment committee, and explain why it was worth TIAA-CREF’s while to invest its time and money hiring those with autism. “Without an economic benefit, you wouldn’t do it.”

The economic benefit would come in the form of a reliable workforce. Still, there was silence after Davis made her presentation.

“You could have heard a pin drop for the longest time. No one wanted to say ‘no.’ They didn’t know what to say.” Finally one committee member suggested they do it as a social investment—doing it to benefit society, while aiming to make money.

“This would not be the method you choose unless it makes economic sense,” she says. “We had motivation. We had a workforce we wanted to replace.”

Susan Ladika is a writer based in Tampa, Florida. Comment below or email

Susan Ladika is a writer based in Tampa, Florida.

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