Growing EY initiative promotes neurodiversity in the workplace
An untapped workforce has proven to be a source of talent and innovation for EY, which continues to expand its neurodiversity hiring initiative as neurodivergent people gain visibility.
The first NCoE was founded in Philadelphia in 2016, and others have been launched in the United States and other countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and Costa Rica. The centers employ more than 300 people.
Shukla said EY has saved more than 3.5 million hours on work process optimization using NCoEs. Just days after EY closed its offices in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, NCoE employees used programming and data analytics to identify how best to use resources and predict how the pandemic will would affect customers’ businesses, saving the company $300 million in the process, he said.
Not ‘Rain Man’
NCoE workers perform technology-heavy tasks such as cloud optimization, intelligent automation, analytics, and cybersecurity. But despite popular belief, not all neurodivergent people are good at math and computer science.
“It’s the ‘Rain Man’ stereotype,” said Dr. Katie Rose Guest Pryal, an assistant law professor at the University of North Carolina and an expert on mental disability.
While some excel at this kind of work, not all neurodivergent people, including people with autism, have such skills. Pryal, who has autism, said this misconception contributes to high unemployment, as neurodivergent people who don’t fit the stereotype are shut out of the job market.
But Shukla said those skills are emphasized because they serve as the foundation for EY’s work, including its core audit department. He said team members have collaborated with other areas of the business in areas such as cybersecurity analysis and using blockchain to monitor international financial disbursements.
The NCoE’s hiring process skips interviews, instead testing applicants with tasks like coding. Some neurodivergent people lack typical social and communicative abilities, which would hamper their job interview performance.
“Essentially, most of the time, interviews tend to assess the quality of your interview, not whether you’re the best person for the job,” said Haley Moss, autism advocate and disability expert. “When you have a different set of social skills and a different way of dealing, it can go very wrong, there’s almost a kind of communication gap.”
The growth of NCoEs is part of a trend of increasing societal visibility of neurodivergent people and people with disabilities in general.
Unemployment rates vary within the neurodivergent population — those with cognitive differences such as ADHD, dyslexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder — but the unemployment rate is particularly high among people with autism, said Theresa Haskins, neurodiversity expert and adjunct associate professor at the University. from southern California.
“You have a lot of very capable people who communicate differently, who may approach work differently, and so they don’t get the jobs and aren’t able to keep the jobs, but they’re very capable of performing,” said Haskins, who noted that up to 85% of people with autism are unemployed.
While the 30-year-old Americans With Disabilities Act catered to people with physical disabilities, workplace accommodations for neurodivergent employees have lagged.
“I always feel like disability is the last frontier of diversity. Nobody talked about it for years,” said Leslie Wilson, executive vice president of global workplace initiatives at Disability: IN, a non-profit resource for disability inclusion in business EY is one of 40 companies that have partnered with Disability:IN.
The work environment
Accommodations are provided for staff, Shukla said, including noise canceling headphones; seating in a quieter section of the office; several computer monitors; and closed captioning of video conference calls. Each individual’s needs are assessed to determine the best way they can function, he said. Work from home accommodations include various messaging platforms for whatever team members want to use, as well as remote career mentoring and supervisor checks.
Despite NCoE’s name including the word “center,” staff are integrated into the workplace and not isolated from the rest of the company, Shukla said.
Although not neurodivergent, Shukla said his experience as a refugee inspired him to take this initiative. As a refugee, he often had a different point of view from others and originally thought “just converge and quite fall”. But neurodivergent people inspired him to embrace divergence, motivating him for his work with NCoEs.
The growing attention to neurodiversity correlates with the growing understanding that neurodivergent people can be just as competent as neurotypical people.
“Neurodiversity is a view that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits,” Wilson said.