The Self-Directed Career Growth Success Factors of Autistic Business Leaders Who Serve The United States Tech Industry. A Phenomenological Study

Date of Award

Summer 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

Committee Chair

Susan Campbell

Committee Member

Courtney Mckim

Committee Member

Joel Light


When autistic professionals in the United States secure employment, over half remain underemployed (Linden & Wiscarson, 2019). Underemployment impacts a significant portion of the U.S. population, as autism appears in 2.4% of males and 0.5% of females in the United States (Austin & Pisano, 2017). Even with a college degree, 85% of autistic Americans remain unemployed compared to 4.5% of the general U.S. population (Lyn Pesce, 2019). Employment programs have been developed for autistic people. However, these programs may stereotype autistic people as pattern-recognizing-savants and build autism employment programs centered on these stereotypes (Austin et al., 2017). Furthermore, autistic professionals, especially those lacking visible characteristics of autism, feel that a disclosure of a clinical autism diagnosis negatively affects their employability (McMahon, 2021). However, limited autism self-disclosures by prominent tech executives, such as Elon Musk (Musk, 2021), anecdotally demonstrate autistic professionals self-directing themselves to attain leadership roles. This study used qualitative research to determine 12 self-directed career growth success factors of autistic business leaders who served the U.S. Tech industry. A phenomenological approach with semi-structured interviews was used in the research to understand themes as data was collected to determine how autistic business leaders self-directed themselves to their leadership roles. The research study aims to empower autistic professionals to own their career development with or without third-party support.