Accounting Firm EY Recruits, Invests in Workers with Autism

By Paul Weissert

About the Author

Paul Weissert, CPA, MBA, is senior manager in Ernst & Young’s Transaction Advisory Services group focused on health care transactions. He is part of Ernst & Young’s AccessAbilities National Steering Committee and acts as the Nashville Office AccessAbilities Champion. In addition to his role within EY, he has been a member of the board of Autism Tennessee since 2015, serving terms as secretary, vice president, and president. He resides in Nolensville, TN, with his wife and their three dogs and has a sister with congenital rubella syndrome.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

EY, also known as Ernst & Young, is a multinational firm, providing tax, consulting and advisory services to companies around the world and is one of the “Big Four” accounting firms. We are committed to “building a better working world.”

One way our company does this is by embracing the abilities of all individuals, including those with a disability. We want to be an organization that not only hires an individual with a disability, but also finds them the right path within our organization so the person can have a meaningful career that fits them. Although we have many programs that assist in achieving that goal, the one I care most about as the past president of Autism Tennessee is our Neurodiversity Centers of Excellence, a program targeting individuals with autism with an affinity for numbers.

(Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, Tourette syndrome, and others.)

How did we build this program?

In 2016, EY launched our first Neurodiversity Center of Excellence to hire individuals with autism to serve as full-time account support associates. Account support associates organize and analyze data sent in from account teams and translate it into meaningful information to help improve our client service.

For this program to be successful, we had to overcome certain challenges in recruiting, interviewing, integrating the new employee into the organization, as well as the day-to-day management and culture. To do this, we built a project management team that included recruiters, diverse ability professionals, functional area leaders, and managers to examine these processes, re-engineer them (if needed), and build a successful program.

The project team surveyed other employers and spoke with vendors, community service providers, schools, advocacy organizations and other constituents to identify which program elements EY would create and run and which would be contracted out to other organizations.

Challenges in finding candidates were overcome at first by working with an organization that specializes in recruiting and screening neurodiverse candidates. It has since evolved into our internal teams working with universities and national organizations such as Disability:IN to identify candidates.

Our interview processes were updated as people with autism often communicate and interact differently. Instead of traditional face-to-face interviews, we interview by phone and Skype, conduct online skills assessments, and then bring in finalists for live training and group exercises where they can show their problem-solving skills and work in team settings. This interview/training lasts one week and combines team-based work simulations, interpersonal skills development and introductions to the role and the firm. The highest performing candidates receive job offers at week’s end.

Orientation and training is conducted by hiring managers who’ve taken formal training in autism, have gotten to know the candidates throughout the sourcing and selection process and have experience supervising EY’s neurodiverse professionals.

We then worked to create an internal environment and community that could work to support the needs of the employee. We provide counselors, an office buddy, and a coach to help neurodiverse hires adjust to the business environment and negotiate interpersonal relationships at work. But just as important, we hire individuals in cohorts, which creates a peer community that members can rely on both professionally and interpersonally.

Was the program successful and how did we measure it?

After nine months, EY compared the work quality, efficiency and productivity generated by neurodiverse and neurotypical account support professionals. Quality, efficiency and productivity were comparable, but the neurodiverse employees excelled at innovation.

In the first month, they identified process improvements that cut the time for technical training in half. They learned how to automate processes far faster than the neurotypical account professionals they trained with. They then used the resulting downtime to create training videos to help all professionals learn automation more quickly.

What aspects make this program successful for our neurodiverse employees?

First, neurodiverse individuals are full-time employees and compensated on the same scale as other technical professionals in similar roles. After all, we are hiring people who happen to have a disability. They need to be compensated in a way that is equal to their neurotypical peers. This was a critical component to the program’s success in the eyes of the project team.

Second, we are creating careers, not just jobs. We are now in the third year of the program and the first round of account support associates are moving on to other areas of the firm where they can excel. One individual is looking to work as a data scientist with our automation and artificial intelligence team. Another individual who wanted to focus on marketing is now working with at least one Partner on business development.

Third, we created a community that can work together to get the best out of each other, which we are all proud of. And when I say that, I am not referencing just the cohort of hires, but also the support team, the local offices, our AccessAbilities network and our firm. Our goal, through various programs, is to ensure disability inclusion is baked in to our culture, not just layered on.

Why is this program successful?

There are four key factors:

  • Senior executive, business leader and stakeholder buy-in
  • People and a budget to build and run the program
  • The right kind of work environment
  • A long-term mindset

Senior leaders including retiring U.S. Chairman and Managing Partner Steve Howe embraced this program from the beginning, identifying its potential to achieve our firm’s goal of “building a better working world.” We, as a firm, put together a team dedicated to building and running this program. We created a new hiring, onboarding, and work environment that allowed our neurodiverse colleagues to bring their whole self to work so they could work at the highest of their capabilities, and we are making this part of the long-term vision.

What’s next for the program?

I am excited to say that, as part of the firm’s investment in the Nashville market, we will be launching a new Neurodiversity Center of Excellence. We are currently seeking resumes from individuals with the following skillsets:

  • Strong organizational skills, mathematical abilities and attention to detail
  • Strong abilities to analyze and manipulate data
  • Technical proficiency with advanced Excel functions
  • Proficiency with multiple operating systems, experience with coding and vulnerability scanning tools

We are accepting resumes from all over the region. If you wish to apply, please send your resume to ncoelinkedinreferrals@ey.com.

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My thanks to Paul for sharing information about EY’s neurodiverse program and my thanks to EY for seeing the value of employing our folks and taking the time to figure out how to make that happen. If you know about other companies making efforts to hire people with disabilities, please let me know. You can contact me at janet.shouse@vumc.org. I’m always happy to learn about new resources and possible places of employment.