Fall 2017 EY Navigator

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A neurodiverse world is a better working world

To drive sustainable growth in the 21st century, businesses need to continually innovate and identify new sources of talent. Leading companies are finding that people on the autism spectrum can spur innovation and often have the very skills they’re looking for.

Though many people with autism are intelligent, well-educated and eager to work, they often face interpersonal challenges that make it difficult to get in the door. According to a Drexel University study, 58% of young adults with autism are unemployed. This can lead to isolation, financial insecurity and social and economic dependence on family, government and community-based organizations.

However, some employers are turning these challenges into opportunities. Read on to learn how EY is helping diversify its talent pool, excite its workforce and drive innovation and productivity by hiring neurodiverse professionals.

Neurodiversity in a connected world

The business world is rapidly changing, fueled by increasingly sophisticated technology and an accelerating pace of innovation. As businesses adopt applications like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and process automation, they become more data-driven and connected.

Strong analytics and cybersecurity are critical for effective, stable operations. However, there’s a shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) talent needed to do this vital work. Moreover, the overall workforce is shrinking.

Organizations need to maximize their human resources by enabling their most highly skilled workers to focus on the highest value activities. One of the ways they’re doing this is by streamlining and automating labor-intensive processes. STEM skills are needed to do that work too. Leading companies such as SAP, Microsoft, HPE and professional services firm Ernst & Young LLP are addressing strategic business issues by leveraging an often-overlooked pool of talent — people on the autism spectrum.

Neurodiverse individuals are often technologically inclined and detail-oriented, with strong skills in analytics, mathematics, pattern recognition and information processing — among the very skills businesses most urgently need. They thrive on predictability and can be especially tenacious and loyal workers who prefer to stay with one organization rather than move from opportunity to opportunity.

Companies are finding that people with autism approach problems differently and that their logical, straightforward thinking can spur process improvements that greatly increase productivity.

Driving innovation through neurodiversity

To consistently deliver high-quality services to clients, EY professionals must perform a wide array of detailed tasks, calculations and processes. Technical professionals handle some of these activities, including data collection and analytics, engagement economics, and document tracking and control.

They generally work for one client and are based at the client’s office alongside colleagues focused more on client relationships, higher level analytics and complex business issues. To drive even greater efficiencies, EY took the specialization one step further. In Philadelphia the firm set up a new Center of Excellence (CoE) where a team of EY office-based professionals handles some of the most time-consuming, repetitive tasks for a number of client engagements across various areas of the business.

Scoping the project

EY is one of the first professional services organizations doing this work, and there are few precedents. The usual recruiting, training and onboarding practices don’t necessarily apply well to people with autism. The firm needed to create new ways of doing things and assemble a new team to figure out how.

Talent professionals with recruiting and disabilities subject matter knowledge came together with functional managers to form a project team. The project team then made a list of the external resources they’d need to source, select, onboard and support the new hires. Those resources included the following:

Sourcing — organizations that specialize in recruiting and screening neurodiverse candidates

Job coaches — trainers to help neurodiverse hires adjust to the business environment and negotiate interpersonal relationships at work

Community partners — government agencies and nonprofits supporting these activities. The team enlisted the EY resources required to build and run the pilot, as well as the key internal stakeholders they’d need to consult. Those included the following:

Project management — the launch team included recruiting and diverse abilities professionals, functional area leaders and managers.

Stakeholders — the inclusion of recruiting, legal, local office leadership, administration, talent professionals and professionals in job descriptions, compensation, training and benefits. The project team surveyed other employers, and spoke with vendors, community service providers, schools, advocacy organizations and other constituents to determine costs and which program elements EY would create and run and which would be outsourced. It was decided that CoE members would be full-time employees and compensated on the same scale as other technical professionals in similar roles. The existing role description was revised based on the location, responsibilities, education and skills required for this new position.

To read more about our approach, download the full report.