Promoting neurodiversity: A pilot program at EY recruits workers with autism.

Author:Ovaska-Few, Sarah
 
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People with autism face staggering unemployment rates, a difficult reality that organizations like EY are working to reverse by turning to the autism community for new hires.

The firm launched a yearlong neurodiversity pilot program in 2015 to recruit and train individuals on the autism spectrum. In an effort to bring in new perspectives, the firm hired four young employees in account support associate positions in the Philadelphia office. The individuals in the pilot exceeded expectations, and now the firm plans to expand the pilot, said Lori Golden, EY's abilities strategy leader, who works to bring those with disabilities into EY's workforce.

"We have gotten fantastic innovative ideas in a very short period of time from individuals that think a little differently," she said. In one instance, an associate from the pilot program gave suggestions on how to make the training process more efficient, which led to changes in the training modules EY uses across the firm.

WHAT IS AUTISM?

Autism is a condition with a range of characteristics but marked by challenges with communication and social skills, and sometimes repetitive behavior or sensory sensitivities, according to Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization for those with autism. Also called autism spectrum disorder, it manifests differently in each person. Some only have slight disabilities, whereas others are nonverbal or otherwise seriously affected.

Many companies and firms, like EY, are moving to make their workforces more neurodiverse by bringing in a talent pool that includes those with autism or other neurological conditions such as dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and Tourette syndrome.

Though communication and social interactions can be difficult, many with autism excel at data analysis, looking at problems from different angles and spotting solutions that may elude others. Data analysis is a needed skill in accounting, and those with autism can excel in environments that meet their needs--often a quiet workplace without significant distractions.

"It's an untapped resource pool," said Zoe Gross, the director of operations at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. "As a business interest, it makes sense." The accounting profession has taken notice, with neurodiversity efforts underway at many firms.

CHALLENGES AND BENEFITS

Many with autism excel in professional settings, with the ability to approach complex issues in different ways and attributes that...

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