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This article by Daphne Kasriel Alexander originally appeared on Goodnet.
Think back to your first interview nerves. Then multiply that feeling several times over to more closely experience how a person with autism, typically with a much greater fear of meeting new people, likely feels. It doesn’t help that employer first impressions are usually formed within a minute or so, when someone with autism may be feeling at their worst. This can make getting past a first interview challenging, but things are starting to change. More companies are discovering the potential of people with autism, with some actively recruiting for talent on the spectrum.
One of these companies is global accounting firm Ernst & Young (EY). This well-known consultancy has just launched a new drive to attract people with autism with extraordinary talents to boost their workforce.
Autism is a developmental disorder that can affect how the brain processes information. People with this condition have a spectrum of abilities and disabilities. While some are unable to care for themselves, others live independently and have unique skills like excellent memory and attention to detail.
Any high-profile recruitment drive like this one is hugely significant, as people with autism struggle to find work and are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed despite some very impressive skills.
Parents of children on the spectrum often talk about their feelings of despondency when their kids come of age so are no longer in structured education, but just seem to graduate to their parents’ couch. But companies that are sensitive enough to accommodate their specific needs stand to benefit.
Helping them is Vanderbilt University’s Frist Center for Autism and Innovation. Since 2018, this future-focused center has been developing tools and technology to transform the workplace for people on the autism spectrum. It is focused on supporting and developing the neurodiverse talents of individuals with autism and facilitating their entry into employment.
The benefits of hiring people on the spectrum due to their outstanding capabilities are known to global firm Ernst and Young (EY). This company already has procedures in place to help overcome difficulties that can be barriers to their integration into work environments.
An insightful documentary from American TV journalist, Anderson Cooper, reveals that EY has already scrapped the traditional interview process for applicants with autism. They’ve replaced it with problem-solving challenges which test aptitude, creativity and teamwork.
EY has used this technique to hire dozens of employers in fields like artificial intelligence, cyber security, and blockchain technology.
EY’s new recruitment drive comes from its Boston Office. Jane Steinmetz, who heads this hub of 2,300 staff, hopes to encourage her clients to similarly develop programs to welcome people with autism and other “neuro-diverse” recruits.
This Boston office is the site of one of EY’s latest “Neuro-Diverse Centers of Excellence” (NCoE). These centers, launched five years ago, offer programs designed to hire and provide onboarding and ongoing support to talented candidates whose cognitive differences could hamper them in traditional job interviews and demanding work environments. These recruits include people with cognitive differences like dyslexia, autism, or ADHD.
According to Steinmetz, these hires are respected for their different way of thinking, such as being able to quickly identify patterns, as well as breaks from patterns.
“They’re able to take a client’s problem and come up with solutions that are nothing shy of amazing,” she told the Boston Globe.
EY’s US Chairwoman, Kelly Grier, is quick to tell Cooper that EY’s initiative isn’t corporate social responsibility but one powered by business needs. She reveals that the employees they’ve hired have saved the company millions of dollars by looking at problems in a different way, and creating algorithms to shortcut and automate processes.
EY also participates in regular discussions about best practices with three other major companies that have their own autism-at-work programs: Microsoft, SAP, and JPMorgan Chase. They also launched the Autism @ Work employer roundtable to broaden the scope of their efforts.
Supportive measures that the Boston EY office offers, Steinmetz explains to WBZ NewsRadio, include softer lighting, quieter places to work, and being open to and accepting of varying communication styles.
It seems clear that as more prominent companies can think outside the box to welcome staff with autism bringing them super-creative skillsets and so outstanding business solutions, many more companies will follow their lead.
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