Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Autism in the workplace: Building a place of belonging

Candi Gennaro, a Siemens Healthineers colleague, learned to fully embrace her autism – the challenges and benefits that come with it. She also stands up for the needs of the neurodiverse community, including helping to design an inclusive workspace for everyone.
Julia Nedoma
Published on March 31, 2023

Only six years ago, Candi Gennaro learned that she is autistic. At that time, she didn’t know much about the invisible disability. Understanding her autism meant discovering herself and understanding all the benefits that come along with the challenge it brings to her life. Today, she is using her strengths to advocate for the needs of the neurodiverse community and is even helping our company to build a more inclusive workplace.    

According to the WHO, one in 100 children is autistic. Children with autism become adults with autism, which makes it essential to take into consideration the needs of the neurodiverse community in the workplace. As the range of characteristics, the autism spectrum presents there is no one-size fits all solution. Instead, it is even more important to be in dialogue with neurodiverse employees. 

For most people with autism – including Candi – social norms don’t come easily but need to be learned and actively applied to a certain situation. This can be exhausting: “It’s a lot like acting,” Candi admits. “For example, I tend to script out my responses and rehearse situations in advance.” Things like job interviews or meetings without a set agenda – situations that require ad hoc reactions – can be difficult.

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many ways. There is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits. Neurodiversity is often used in the context of autism.
Havard Health Publishing
Candi often thinks back on the early days of her diagnosis. Six years ago, she learned that her brain works differently than those of neurotypical people. Today, she knows how to use that to her advantage, especially in her work environment. For instance, she enjoys challenging the status quo and sharing a different perspective in conversations. “I really enjoy problem-solving, making rules, process improvement, and finding creative solutions,” Candi says.

Candi standing in the library and is smiling.

At the same time, Candi also needs quiet periods to regroup and recharge her batteries before connecting with colleagues. A structured work environment, continuity, and clear processes can provide a feeling of safety. Candi was a bit anxious about the planned site renovation and the associated open office concept at the Siemens Healthineers location in Malvern, Pennsylvania, in the United States. 

For example, she feared that the cubicle walls that served as a barrier to visual distractions for her would disappear. “This can really impact my ability to stay on task,” Candi explains. “And I was also very anxious about having to reserve a workspace in advance.”

Instead of holding herself back, Candi stood up for her needs. She got involved with the renovation planning team to make sure the requirements for the neurodiverse community were considered during the whole renovation process. For example, a library was established on each floor for focus time, as well as phone boxes to keep the noise down in the open offices and private spaces. 

Candi is also part of the employee resource groupHANDS (Healthineers for Autism and Neurodiversity Support), which gives a voice to extraordinary minds like her. In this group, she not only found support from her fellow Healthineers; she also gained a strong sense of community and close friends.

Chrissy Boston co-designed the Malvern office and was one of the people who incorporated valuable feedback from different employee groups in the plans. “Inclusive design is all about flexibility,” she says. “We wanted everybody to have the flexibility and the opportunity to utilize whatever spaces worked best for them.” 

As a company, Siemens Healthineers is always looking for extraordinary minds for our diverse and global team. Through the flexible working setup Healthineers Way of Working, employees have the freedom to decide when they want to work from which location. The office design does not only aim to consider individual needs and preferences but also fosters an atmosphere of belonging within the teams. That also means keeping the unique requirements of employee groups in mind and creating an inclusive environment.

Candi found her own way of working and the strength to stand up for her needs. She is happy to be able to support her child, who is also autistic, and make it possible for them to grow up in a world where they are seen as a human being with their own needs.

By Julia Nedoma

Julia Nedoma is an editor at Siemens Healthineers.