Every brain works a little bit differently, and it’s those differences that make us unique. A growing number of employers are realizing that those differences add as-yet untapped value and skills to the workplace, and so they are actively recruiting from the neurodivergent community.

Among the leaders in this movement is Hiren Shukla, the global head of EY’s Neuro-Diverse Center of Excellence. He joins me on this Work in Progress podcast to discuss how EY has evolved its hiring process to make sure neurodivergent jobseekers aren’t overlooked.

What Does ‘Neurodivergent’ Mean?

For many people, neurodiversity is a relatively new term and it is one, says Shukla, that is often misused. “Neurodiversity represents all of the different thinking styles—cognitive approaches—that exist in the world,” Shukla explains. It breaks down into two main categories, neurotypical and neurodivergent.

“There is the majority of the population in the world—about 80%—that are considered neurotypical, meaning as we grow up and as we integrate in the world and conform in thinking styles, there is some sort of an alignment of how we can understand each other and maybe even nuance and things of that nature. So this is the majority of the world.”

About 20% of the world are considered neurodivergent, he adds, “and divergent means they have an inherent cognitive difference.” Types of recognized neurodivergence include autism, ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, Asperger’s syndrome, epilepsy, and other conditions.

Neurodivergent people may find traditional job interviews challenging, resulting in underemployment or unemployment. Take autism, for example, a condition that manifests itself as challenges with communication and social interaction. More than 80% of people with autism don’t have a job.

An Overlooked Talent Pool

Shukla says he was diving into how to increase innovation at EY when he had his “ah ha” moment about the potential of hiring from the neurodivergent population.

Research shows that “neurodiverse individuals are often technologically inclined and detail-oriented, with strong skills in analytics, mathematics, pattern recognition and information processing—among the very skills businesses most urgently need.”

“I was listening to characteristics of neurodivergent individuals (with) dyslexia or ADHD and (thought) ‘oh my God, your brainstorming and creativity is off the charts.’ When we think about individuals who are autistic, we often will think about their ability to hyper-focus into something, which means if they like something, they don’t like it a little bit, they like it a lot. And so they expend their energy towards those things while other areas like eye contact, or making small talk, are probably not their strengths,” he tells me.

“I thought, how is this possible that you’ve got millions of people around the world—20% of the world population is a large amount—that are misunderstood and on the fringe of the workforce and their contribution capability potential, particularly in areas where creativity, agility, resilience is needed more than ever.”

Revamping the Hiring Process

Shukla says it was not enough to simply recognize that face-to-face communication skills might be masking the strengths a neurodivergent individual could bring to the team. EY began to reevaluate its hiring process. “What if we subtracted all of these behavioral-based assessments and we pivoted more towards a performance-based assessment where we get to observe individuals and actually see, is this an environment that they will thrive in, that they enjoy, and is this something that they are coachable with?”

EY developed a new framework by which it recruited and interviewed neurodiverse job candidates. It includes changes to structure of the in-person meetings, the length of time the candidate is evaluated, and—if hired—how the new employee is integrated into the EY team.

Shukla and I go into detail about how the four-step process that culminates in Super Week at EY works. And we discuss what the attention to hiring from the neurodiverse community has meant for the company, its clients, and jobseekers themselves. The results are inspiring.

You can listen to the entire interview here, or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 181: Hiren Shukla, global lead, EY Neuro-Diverse Center of Excellence
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, editor-in-chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan LynchMelissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

Download the transcript for this Work in Progress podcast episode here.
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