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Breaking Down Barriers to Entry: How Ernst & Young Creates Opportunities for Neurodiverse Candidates
The past year has been tough for job seekers everywhere — even those with perfect qualifications and a flawless interview technique. So imagine how bewildering the job search process must feel if you struggle with social interactions or find it difficult to express yourself.
This is an everyday reality for the millions of people who have been diagnosed with a neurodiverse condition, from ADHD and dyslexia through tourette syndrome and autism.
Around 17% of Americans are officially neurodiverse. Unfortunately, these individuals have historically been overlooked by hiring companies. According to one recent study, for instance, nearly half of 25-year-old Americans on the autism spectrum have never held a paid job.
But the situation isn’t hopeless. At Ernst & Young (EY), staff are committed to supporting a range of neurodiverse individuals.
Unemployed and underemployed
This includes neurodivergent and neurotypical professionals, Bermon says, to help “create transformational teams that are better equipped to meet the challenges of a rapidly increasing, complex world where thinking and teaming are rapidly accelerating.”
Even so, Bermon is keen to emphasize that despite the growing importance of neurodivergent people to the business world, they’ve historically been afforded fewer opportunities than their neurotypical counterparts.
“There are a ton of capable and motivated individuals that historically have been ignored,” Bermon says. “They’ve been unemployed and underemployed, because they have these conditions in their lives.”
More to the point, continues Bermon, it’s important to remember that many neurodiverse individuals don’t actually see their conditions as a disability — rather seeing themselves as “differently abled.”
As an example, Bermon cites Greta Thunberg, the noted climate activist who also has Asperger’s. Thunberg recently noted that being different can, in some circumstances, be a “superpower”.
Undoubtedly so. Yet for too long, companies have felt more comfortable sticking to the status quo and shunning more unorthodox candidates — regardless of their actual skills.
But with the rise of new technologies, these outdated attitudes are changing. “We’re finding that both neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals can really spur innovation,” Bermon explains.
That’s doubly true, Bermon continues, given the growth of digitalization. To explain what he means, Bermon quotes Karyn Twaronite, EY’s Global Vice Chair of Diversity & Inclusiveness.
Among other things, Twaronite has described neurodiverse people as both technologically inclined and detail-oriented, with skills in analytics, mathematics, pattern recognition and information processing. No wonder Twaronite has emphasized that these are people with “the very skills businesses most urgently need.”
To put it another way, with the rise of artificial intelligence and blockchain, cybersecurity and data science, Bermon says that neurodiverse individuals are starting to really thrive.
“They’ve been doing a fantastic job and have been a huge addition to our teams.”
From theory to practice
This sounds great in theory — but how do you funnel neurodiverse and neurotypical professionals from an interview pipeline to the payroll of one of the world’s most distinguished consulting firms?
For one thing, Bermon and his colleagues believe it’s important to know the candidates early, often when they’re still enrolled in a program like a tech boot camp. EY staff mentor prospective employees throughout their education — especially those with neurodiverse conditions.
“My team and I drop in to share concepts, specifically related to web development,” Bermon says. “Then we try to attend students’ portfolio shows.”
Once EY has pinpointed a promising neurodiverse candidate, they invite them to interview. But the style and atmosphere are a far cry from the stuffy exercises typical in corporate America.
As Bermon rightly notes, recreating the Fifth Avenue ideal wouldn’t be useful — for interviewer or interviewee. Instead, EY has tweaked its process to make it more informal and based on problem solving challenges.
At the same time, EY hiring managers are also given formal training to support neurodiverse candidates — and have experience supervising EY’s neurodiverse professionals.
Rather than being grilled by a panel of executives, candidates are placed in small groups and gently assessed on their critical thinking skills. Whoever excels in these “hangout” style chats then has a more formal interview — though Bermon emphasizes that the process is always relaxed.
“It’s less about asking them trick questions or creating a stressful environment,” he says, “and more about deeply understanding them as individuals.”
This sensitive approach continues even after neurodiverse candidates have signed their contracts. Like all new EY hires, they’re assigned a counselor who keeps track of their progress and offers coaching opportunities. Work schedules and vacation days are flexible, too.
These neurodiverse employees are proving their worth each and every day. That begins, Bermon suggests, with innovating existing processes.
As an example, he highlights the work his new neurodiverse colleagues did on EY’s training program. “In the first month, they identified improvements that cut the time for technical training in half.” These colleagues then improved processes even more, creating training videos to make automation easier for all EY staff — neurodiverse or otherwise.
Though better training saves time and money, the ultimate aim is to change thinking across EY. “The more diverse we are in our thinking,” explains Bermon, “the better equipped we are to help solve tricky client problems.”
More generally, Bermon hopes that EY’s successes will encourage other big firms to seek out neurodiverse talent.
“The hope is that they don’t see these conditions as limitations — but as this extraordinary talent that can be channeled in incredibly productive ways,” he says. “We essentially believe that the world works better when we include everyone.”