This story is adapted from an original article by Alex Coop which appeared on www.itworldcanada.com on March 5, 2020.
Across the country, many jobs go unfilled because individuals with an intellectual disability or on the autism spectrum are not considered as potential candidates. Despite many steps forward in inclusion, the myth that “it’s understandable” if businesses feel it’s risky to hire employees with disabilities continues to pervade the popular imagination. So, while many people continue to believe the myth, AirGate’s co-founder and chief executive officer, Nicole Mumford, is not one of those people.
Founded in 2014, AirGate Technologies is a cloud infrastructure solutions provider, located just outside of the downtown core in Toronto. AirGate quickly became one of Microsoft’s superstar channel partners thanks to its rapid growth and hiring practices. The prioritizing of inclusiveness and diversity, spanning gender, ethnicity, and neurodiversity, has been key to these enhanced hiring practices. As CEO Nicole Mumford simply stated, “Hiring neurodiverse people has given us an edge.”
While inclusion has always been a priority for Airgate, it was their developing partnership with Microsoft that further cemented its importance. Microsoft’s own efforts around diversity and inclusion (which includes a Neurodiversity Hiring Program and the Ability Hacks) were a clear sign that the tech giant was the right fit for Airgate. A diverse team of talent, is a team built for the future. As Nicole Mumford said, “Teams help build better products, not individuals. In cloud, there is so much to learn; nobody is an expert in all of it. That’s why teams build success in the cloud, and because we have teams that are diverse, it allows us to provide high-quality solutions.”
Starting back in 2018, and continuing to the present time, Airgate’s partnership with Ready, Willing and Able (RWA) has been a key ingredient in its mission to find neurodiverse talent. As a national partnership of Inclusion Canada, the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance (CASDA), and their member organizations, RWA has the experience, expertise and community-reach to help Airgate build this diverse team of the future. AirGate currently employs two neurodiverse employees via RWA, one of them being cloud services engineer, Alex.
Even with a computer programming background – and SQL skills he rarely uses anymore, he jokes – Alex had a hard time finding a job that he felt good about. Bouncing from one job to another in recent years, which included brief stints at other tech firms and grocery stores, made him question his self-worth.
“It was just hard to be confident in myself and understand what I’d be good at,” he says. “I was always wondering how I would be useful to other people and how I wouldn’t disappoint myself.” The opportunities afforded him by Airgate and RWA changed all of that. “People at AirGate are so eager to work together and so accommodating,” Alex explains. “It’s easy to make meaningful connections here and do your work your way.”
While Mumford is proud of AirGate’s hiring practices and other accomplishments – in 2018, they picked up Microsoft’s Infrastructure Innovation Award at the annual IMPACT Awards – she is well aware of the tech industry’s reputation for being unwelcoming. She has made it her mission to convince other people in leadership positions to take a chance and tap into these overlooked talent pools. Overall, the initiative means a great deal to Mumford, who has an Autistic son. “He’s amazing,” she says.
Airgate is proud of the work they’ve done with RWA, but Nicole Mumford says she looks forward to a future when AirGate’s story isn’t a big deal: “I really don’t want us to be unique. That’s my goal. I want what we do to be done by everyone else.”