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Freddie Mac Enlists Employees on the Autism Spectrum

People with Autism Possess Skills that Strengthen Workforce

Rockville, Md., Oct. 25 – “An untapped reservoir of talent.”

This is how Megan Pierouchakos, Diversity Manager at Freddie Mac until earlier this year, describes a commonly overlooked segment of candidates poised to work for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation.

Since 2011, Freddie Mac and The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) have partnered to create internship opportunities for recent college graduates on the autism spectrum. These interns gain experience and enter the workforce of a leading American company. Through Freddie Mac, the interns are able to access valuable work experience that suit their specific skill set. In return, Freddie Mac gets new and talented recruits.

“Individuals on the autism spectrum can be a real asset in the workplace,” says Freddie Mac EVP and Chief Administrative Officer Jerry Weiss. “Yet too often, employers overlook their skills and strengths – and the value they can bring to a company. Freddie Mac’s program is about innovation and opportunities. But most of all, it’s about hiring untapped, exceptional talent to strengthen our workforce and move our business forward.”

Aaron Cohen, an IT data analyst with a B.S. in Mathematics and concentration in actuarial science, began his career in Freddie Mac’s autism internship program. Prior to coming to Freddie Mac, Cohen worked as a cashier after interviewing for a number of jobs in insurance, banking, retail, and with temp agencies. He is one of three paid interns who have become full-time employees of the company.

“I like being able to analyze data and find patterns within the data, which is where having autism can actually come in handy,” says Cohen, who wishes companies would consider autistic employees an asset instead of a liability. “I enjoy doing the job and it suits my background.”

Pierouchakos cautions other businesses that they could be missing out on an untapped pool of candidates.

“The majority of the people we bring in to intern not only have bachelor’s degrees but have pursued multiple master’s degrees,” Pierouchakos says. “They’re highly educated, but they’re underemployed.”

She warns other businesses, “You’re overlooking someone who is highly analytical, very focused, and very task-oriented, who likes to be in that space.”

This commitment is why Freddie Mac was one of 19 businesses to receive a perfect 100 score on the first annual Disability Equality Index (DEI) Survey, a joint initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities and the U.S. Business Leadership Network. They remained at the top in both 2016 and 2017. The DEI is a national, transparent benchmarking tool that enables businesses to receive an objective score, on a scale of zero to 100, on their disability inclusion policies and practices.

In addition, RespectAbility’s campaign #RespectTheAbility features companies like Freddie Mac, who affirms its commitment to inclusion with action.

As Freddie Mac states on their website, “We value diversity because it’s smart business. Our focus on diversity and inclusion creates opportunities — for our workforce, our suppliers, and for renters and homeowners in the communities we serve. Different perspectives make us a stronger company, drive innovation, and support our efforts to make home possible for America’s families.”

Cohen’s perspective for identifying irregular patterns with a company’s computer make him a valuable team member. He reports, “Well, I’m good at math and I’m also good noticing patterns.”

Rob Lux, Freddie Mac EVP and CIO, emphasizes that this program is good business.

“It’s these investments in future leaders that help you gain a competitive edge… At Freddie Mac we are committed to employing young people with autism, because they’re part of our future.”

“A strong diversity program helps Freddie Mac’s business and allows us to more effectively meet the needs of all the communities we serve,” adds CEO Donald H. Layton.

About RespectAbility

RespectAbility is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities. We understand we are a stronger community when we live up to our values – when we are welcoming, diverse, moral and respect one another. We work with entertainment, policy makers, educators, self-advocates, nonprofits, employers, faith-based organizations, philanthropists, journalists and online media to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. Led by people with disabilities and those who love them, we know that people with disabilities and their families have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, even if they face different challenges. We do not lobby; we educate. Our free tools and factual resources inform so people with disabilities can achieve the education, training, jobs, security and good health that everyone needs and deserves.


Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email [email protected]

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