By Sean McCabe
As April marks Autism Awareness Month, Big Four firm Ernst & Young has announced expansions to its neurodiversity program with a newly-opened Neurodiversity Center of Excellence in its Chicago office.
Earlier this year, the Center of Excellence hired 11 neurodiverse candidates, with 10 of these candidates relocating to Chicago — the highest relocation rate seen by the neurodiversity program thus far. Since the program’s launch in 2016, EY has hired 40 employees on the autism spectrum across its Philadelphia and Dallas offices.
“This amount of mobility within the neurodiverse community [in Chicago] is significant because most individuals were living closer to, or with, family,” Hiren Shukla, EY’s neurodiversity leader, told Accounting Today. “We are excited to provide an opportunity for neurodiverse individuals to have this level of independence, while also having camaraderie [among] their peer group and building a support system in Chicago.”
EY partnered with local community nonprofits, such as Chicagoland Disability:IN, to launch the neurodiversity program in the summer of 2018.
“Now that the center has opened, our local employee resource group, like EY AccessAbilities Network, has actively helped us spread the message of the new NCoE’s opening,” Shukla said. “This center has been met with very positive reactions, resonating with many employees who have family or friends touched by autism, Asperger’s, dyslexia and ADHD.”
EY’s efforts come at a time when neurodiverse employees can have difficulty finding full-time work. Shukla recalls how one current neurodiverse employee with a statistical analytics education had applied for over 370 positions and received 180 rejection letters before being accepted to EY’s program. “This individual has tremendous skills to apply to some of the most complex problems we solve for our clients and we could not believe he had not been gainfully employed,” Shukla said. “Another individual we hired did not have a college degree, but has cybersecurity credentials and experience working on a contract basis for the federal government. Again, we could not believe this individual had not already been scooped up by another employer. There is great talent waiting for a great organization to notice them. We are lucky to have found these individuals and are honored that they trust EY to come onboard.”
Concerning the future of the program, Shukla says that new neurodiversity centers are set to open in EY’s San Jose, California, office in June 2019 and in its Nashville, Tennessee, office in August 2019. Shukla added that EY is also in discussions to bring neurodiversity centers outside of the United States in 2020.
“The future of EY’s NCoEs is particularly bright because the business need for talent to develop and implement solutions with emerging technologies (AI, Internet of Things, blockchain, data analytics, automation) will only continue to grow,” Shukla said. “EY will continue to open NCoEs wherever our business needs are and because we are a global professional services firm, our needs are everywhere. In addition, we are looking to actively incorporate an NCoE model via our GigNow portal, whereby EY sources independent short- and long-term contractors for specific skills.”
For EY, Shukla says that the neurodiversity program reflects both a diversity initiative and a future-forward recruiting process for the firm.
“[The neurodiversity centers have] further galvanized our organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in a very explicit manner; it directly answers the question about why diversity, inclusion and belonging are all critical factors to business innovation,” Shukla said. “While helping EY secure talent around future-focused skills like AI, blockchain and automation, we have been able to take this talent innovation to our clients and actually help leading organizations, such as Procter & Gamble, launch their own neurodiversity programs. In addition, we are helping change the lives of our employees and their families. In fact, in one specific instance, one of our team members was able to buy a house for himself and his mother because of this job opportunity. This is truly what it means to be building a better working world.”