In 2016, Ernst & Young LLP hired four individuals to work in a new Philadelphia Neurodiversity Center of Excellence (CoE). Philadelphia was chosen as a pilot location for its proximity to universities with good STEM and autism-specific programs, its location midway between DC and NY, and its history of generating strong candidates for SAP’s Autism at Work program. The office also had suitable workspace and a highly supportive leadership team. Creating the CoE took several months, divided into four stages.
Building a Neurodiversity Center of Excellence
An external vendor, Specialisterne, sourced candidates for Philadelphia; additional candidates were identified through employee referrals, parent and advocacy groups, universities and personal contacts. After learning a lot about sourcing during the pilot, the project team determined they’d manage sourcing for any additional hires and/or other CoEs.
Specialisterne screened Philadelphia candidates via phone and then brought them into the office for a half-day of group activities — a “hang out” designed to assess critical thinking, technical skills and teaming. This was followed by short informal interviews with the project team.
Going forward, the project teams decided to bring screening in-house. Hiring managers now conduct the initial phone screenings. Candidates who pass the phone screening complete an online skills and critical thinking assessment created specifically for the CoE. This is followed by a video interview and then an invitation to attend a weeklong, in-person orientation, training and evaluation experience called a SuperWeek.
3. Assessment and training
In the pilot, candidates who were selected to advance following the hang out and interview attended a three-week interpersonal skills training. The highest performers were extended job offers. Going forward, the project team customized that training and condensed it into the SuperWeek, which combines team-based work simulations, interpersonal skills development and introductions to the role and firm. The highest-performing candidates receive job offers at week’s end.
4. Onboarding and support
Onboarding and training is conducted by hiring managers who’ve taken formal training in autism, have gotten to know the candidates throughout the sourcing and selection process and have experience supervising EY’s neurodiverse professionals in Philadelphia.
In evaluating the pilot, EY considered business metrics only. Though they expected positive impacts on people and brand, they knew the program would be most sustainable if it could demonstrate value on the basis of hard measurements like work quality, efficiency and productivity. The pilot achieved that and more.