Other than dyslexia, autism and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) that are generally known, neurodiverse would also include people who display certain behavioural traits during work pressures and group discussions.
EY commenced the process of assessing 27 neurodiverse candidates in June this year. A week in October — marked by an unusual power outage in Mumbai — was a special one for a bunch of neurodiverse candidates who were shortlisted by EY. Through a rigorous three-step assessment process, EY shortlisted 13 candidates who then went through a week of eased-out, real-work environment simulation that tested their adaptability, agility and ability. Through this ‘super week’, the firm identified five exceptional candidates who joined EY early November.
Amarpal Chadha, partner-people advisory services and sponsor for people with disabilities initiatives at EY India, said, “Despite the adverse situation, not a single candidate dropped out. All of them wanted to be in office.” The candidates were mainly assessed for an aptitude for coding. Once the candidates were finalised at EY, on-boarding was done over four days to allow them to get into the culture at the professional services firm.
Globally, Microsoft, SAP and Willis Towers Watson are among those who have reportedly made some efforts on neurodiversity. Japanese IT company Fujitsu has worked on recreating conversations — during a webinar on neurodiversity — between managers and neurodivergent employees, and simulating situations. These include performance reviews and appraisal discussions. The company believes such techniques can be an effective tool in helping neurodivergent individuals with interpersonal interactions.
This year, Fujitsu has started out on neurodiversity and is currently recruiting through individuals and referrals. Sumit Sabharwal, head of HR services delivery, Fujitsu global delivery centre, said, “We also simulated talks between neurodivergent and neurotypical colleagues, making the former learn how to read other people’s facial expressions, body language or nuances within conversations as well as learn from sounds.
For example, saying ‘Aha’ in various pitches to depict different emotions.” By creating different scenarios virtually, Sabharwal said, the organisation has learnt a few key things. Among others, these are how to communicate slowly and clearly, how to use various emoticons on an online platform to understand feelings, how to keep online meetings brief and precise which are easy to remember, how to communicate clearly through concise emails and following standard practices such as sharing a written agenda, minutes for meetings, etc.
Sujaya Banerjee, CEO, Capstone People Consulting, said, “The most surprising positive outcome of integrating neurodiverse talent is the impact it has had on managers who are now thinking more deeply about leveraging the talent of all employees through greater sensitivity to individual needs. Neurodiversity programmes are inducing companies and their leaders to adopt a style of management that emphasises the value of placing each person in a context of maximising contributions and valuing them as unique individual assets,” said Banerjee.
What’s key is creating awareness among all employees, added Sabharwal. The employment rate of persons with disabilities, which includes neurodiverse employees, at Fujitsu was 2.2% in FY19. “The number is not important in D&I. If I can get 100 people to understand why we are doing this, that would be an achievement,” said Sabharwal.
Organisations understand that such talent can be utilised in analytics and AI. All that is required is to match the profiles of these people with jobs. “We don’t want anybody to think we are making an exception. We are telling them they have been hired for talent,” said Chadha of EY.
“These are people who have finished schooling and in some cases did engineering, but struggled to cope in a corporate environment. We realised there are some who currently would not be able to work in a team but would excel if tasked with a project that they can accomplish on their own. All you need to do is give them the right environment to flower,” said Chadha.
Banerjee said those who adopt the idea of neurodiversity believe that people with differences do not need to be cured — they need help and accommodation instead.
Everyone at EY, whether in client-facing roles or business support, interact with clients and other external stakeholders. “Our neurodiverse employees would be supporting the centre of excellence for now. If and when there is a need to send them for client meets, we will have to sensitise the clients to structure meetings in an inclusive way as many neurodiverse people have their own speed of reaction,” said Chadha.
EY plans to hire more neurodiverse candidates and would not stop at five.