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EY plans neurodivergent employee recruitment to wield creative edge

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 20 Jul 2021

EY has set its sights on neurodiversity as the next target of its diversity and inclusion campaign, with a plan to recruit 150 neurodivergent individuals over the next three years.

Five years after setting up its first Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence (NCoE) in Philadelphia, the Big Four firm says a similar centre in the UK will also fuel innovation in technology and bring a new dimension of creativity. Neurodiversity is a collective word for cognitive differences including dyspraxia, dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) dyscalculia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Tourette syndrome. 

EY says the NCoE in the UK will create a supportive working environment focusing on emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, data analytics, automation, blockchain and cyber. 

Catriona Campbell, EY’s Client Technology & Innovation Officer, UK&I, who will head the UK Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence said the move would give the firm a creative edge. 

“For instance, in the US, we measured the impact on innovation, by comparing the work quality, efficiency, and productivity, generated by neurodivergent and neurotypical professionals. Quality, efficiency and productivity were comparable, but the neurodivergent employees excelled at innovation. The diversity of thought and creativity they brought was a differentiator,” Campbell said.

At the same time, EY says the NCoE will provide an employment path for those who have not had access to equal opportunities. While the true extent of hiring bias against neurodiverse individuals is difficult to quantify, research published by the Office for National Statistics earlier this year found that just one in five autistic people in the UK are in any form of employment, prompting experts to urge the government to offer greater support and information to employers.

Globally, EY already has six NCoEs established in the US, with others in Canada, India, Poland and Spain, with further expansion plans into Europe, South America and Asia Pacific. The first UK NCoE will launch with a founding team of six to ten, with applications opening in August 2021.

Alison Kay, EY’s Managing Partner for Client Service, UK&I, said the last 12 months had highlighted the importance of purpose in business and the role that employers can make in helping to drive social change. “As a business leader, accelerating progress on diversity and inclusion in the workplace makes commercial sense and fits with our purpose – Building a Better Working World.

“I hope that as EY aims to create a highly supportive working environment for all of our people, our UK NCoE will encourage others to lead with purpose and challenge their own talent strategy, to help transform the employment prospects of neurodivergent individuals,” Kay added.

The firm says work is underway to change the hiring, training, and onboarding process, including a shift to a performance-based one interview, hiring and training in small groups and orientations done in advance so that candidates can familiarise themselves with the workplace.

Caroline Turner, a neurodiversity consultant at Creased Puddle, said employers should approach neurodiversity as identifying people’s strengths and helping them to thrive. “Because of the analytical nature of accountancy, there are real opportunities for individuals who recognise patterns and who like analysis and who find numbers predictable and like the truth of maths.”

However, the combination of fear and traditional views of how we recruit, retain and develop people were preventing organisations from tapping into the neurodivergent market. “Policies and procedures can be so rigid that they stop us from being creative in how we make our recruitment accessible. We need to understand what skills are actually required. And when individuals disclose their neurological differences, there’s a real responsibility for organisations to handle that disclosure with integrity and care. Training and education is key.” 

ICAEW is delighted to bring members this webinar - Understanding Neurodiversity and its benefit to workplace culture - live on 12 August 2021.