Why Are the Top Finance & Accountancy Firms Hiring People With Autism?
Neurodiversity is not a new term, but it is becoming more prominent in working cultures as something to truly celebrate.
This World Autism Acceptance Week, it’s worthwhile remembering just how important it is we all do our bit to improve inclusivity at work.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
From recruiters to business leaders, employers to work colleagues, creating a truly inclusive working culture requires consistent and meaningful input from everyone, up and down the professional food chain.
In this blog we want to highlight that, within a few industries – such as finance and accountancy – neurodiversity is still widely misunderstood. But, with the right HR and recruitment specialists leading the way, neurodivergence can be a workplace power to be harnessed.
World Autism Acceptance Week 2023 Theme and Background
World Autism Acceptance Week runs from 27 March to 2 April 2023, and this year’s theme is colour.
The National Autistic Society – who launched the week-long fundraising event, and who continues to coordinate and support awareness-raising and fundraising across the country for the 700,000 autistic people and the wider autism community in the UK – have collated a ton of amazing ideas for communities, schools and businesses to engage with this year.
Most prominently, the NAS has launched two events this year: a virtual challenge called the Spectrum Colour Challenge, and an in-person event that can be managed in any community – the Spectrum Colour Walks.
The NAS also lets people launch fundraising for Autism support in their own way, and have a dedicated Do It Your Way page for companies and communities to make their own fundraising events.
Autism, Neurodivergence and How Workplaces Are Changing
Consider the fact that “nearly 42% of young adults who experience autism never worked for pay during their early 20’s” or that “more than 66% of young adults on the autism spectrum are unemployed and are not engaged in higher education 2 years after exiting…school”.
Autism is misunderstood, and neurodivergent people are marginalised. It’s clear that the vast majority of employers, and modern careers, are neither built to accept neurodivergent needs, nor prepared to admit when they’re wrong.
Despite these challenges, however, over the past few years there has been a sea-change in how workplaces source, hire, accept, support, mentor and develop workers who are on the autistic spectrum.
Where previously any given firm would be openly biased against autistic workers without recourse, through the work of the NAS and many others across the workplace, celebrity and charity sectors, things are indeed changing for the better.
There has been a huge amount of awareness raised around how neurodiversity manifests and how the various brain functions and behavioural traits differ from neurotypicality. In fact, Autism Spectrum Disorder is no longer an alien or foreign term, but a potential source of very niche, and very brilliant skills.
The end result of this slow cultural change and acceptance of autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome and neurodivergence has been a much more accepting, and understanding, culture of acceptance in work – and much less fear and stigmatisation for autistic adults and autism.
Adjusting the Workplace To Support Autistic Employees
Connecting with a neurodivergent talent base requires two things:
- An advanced, and specifically trained, level of empathetic and flexible recruitment and retention strategy.
- An adjustable, kind and flexible working environment.
There are some amazing examples of how employers have adjusted their working and hiring culture to support people with Autism, such as:
- Creating psychologically safe places to work.
- Putting a holistic, personal recruitment hiring plan in action, based on specific neurodivergent needs (such as sound-limiting workplaces, adjusting social interactions or creating bespoke benefits packages that fit specific autistic needs).
- Creating autonomous workflows, flexibly offering remote work and hybrid jobs if appropriate, and adjusting access to work requirements on a case-by-case basis.
- Regular and meaningful check-ins that acknowledge worker needs, and are mindful of neurotypical norms impacting, autistic workflows and career growth.
- Using neurodiversity-affirming language.
- Encouraging discretion during disclosure, and operating with transparency and honesty when accommodating neurodiverse staff.
- Visibility matters – make sure to hire neurodiverse staff where you can across the full spectrum of the company.
How Businesses Are Expanding With a Neurodiverse Workforce
World Autism Acceptance Week can and should be seen as a signpost to how better support all neurodivergent people.
A quick summary of what “neurodiverse” means:
- “Neurodivergence encompasses any cognitive profile (or neurotype) that is not neurotypical. It includes dyspraxia, Tourette’s, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and common learning differences like dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and dyslexia”.
Whilst there are famous stories of men and women on the autism spectrum becoming prominent enterprise leaders in their own right, for the vast majority of the 700,000 autistic people in the UK, workplaces can be seen as alienating, unsupportive, abusive and unappealing, not to mention unempathetic and disengaged.
But why, when the statistics show neurodivergence – especially autistics employees – can provide enterprises with a genuine competitive advantage?
- As this HBR piece indicates when it comes to hiring neurodivergent staff “the accommodations and challenges are manageable and the potential returns are great”.
- This is because “many people with these disorders have higher-than-average abilities; research shows that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics”.
- Naturally, these skills are in incredibly high demand, especially in sectors such as finance, tech, and the wider science field. However, “those affected often struggle to fit the profiles sought by prospective employers”.
- In this Business Chief report, Jose Velasco, SAP’s VP of Product Management is quoted as saying, “the war for talent only exists if we have our peripheral blinders on…take them off and you will see talent on the edges that you had never seen before”.
- Further to that, and in the same report, Chevron’s Neurodiversity Programme Manager is quoted as saying, “the passion and creative minds of neurodiverse individuals enables them to think and resolve challenges differently, and that’s what every company needs”.
Plus, as numerous interviewees in the HBR and Business Chief pieces indicate, leaders and managers are learning to better accommodate autistic employees and autistic people, which, in turn, makes them better managers overall.
This is mainly due to them having to adjust workflows, expectations and ideas around ROI as a result of neurodivergent – and successful – ways of working.
The above pieces also highlight the world’s biggest companies who have built neurodivergent-specific hiring strategies to not only reach more candidates, but reach a candidate base with an incredibly powerful skillset – companies like SAP, JPMorgan Chase, IBM, Dell, Ford and more are leading the way in hiring autistic workers.
And in the UK, autistic hiring success stories can be found everywhere as long as you know where to look – from the Royal College of Nursing to EY, Columbia Threadneedle Investments, Sky and more.
“But neurodiverse people wouldn’t be able to handle client-facing work”.
A typical, unhelpful and downright biased statement that, sadly, is still asked by HR leads and heads of departments (not to mention bad recruiters), all over the world.
The question that should really be asked is “why can’t we accommodate neurodiverse employees in client-facing roles” when clearly the returns are so positive?
This comes down, above all else, to empathetic, flexible and accommodating management strategies – leaders on the ground who understand their people and their staff’s needs and how best to apply skills where they are most needed, most effective and most productive.
This requires forward-thinking leadership. Yes, some neurodivergent employees will require minor adjustments to workflows or situational setups to feel comfortable and able to work to the best of their ability. That may take some not insignificant investment and some tweaking of working dynamics.
But if leaders are dedicated to bringing the best people to their organisation, and dedicated to exploring a more diverse and inclusive workplace, then they should make amends to legacy HR attitudes to accommodate a wider variety of employees – especially those whose technical abilities are clearly beneficial to specific, niche industries, like people with autism and accounting.
Benefits of Autism and Accountancy
Consider the main hard skill requirements of an Accountant:
- An analytical mindset;
- High degrees of focus;
- Great with numbers;
- Being effective with repetitive tasks;
- Straight-to-the-point communication and
- Structured reporting.
Now consider how the above requirements parallel the analytical nature of neurodivergent workers – people on the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) spectrum often display high levels of focused, analytical thinking, and are contemporaneously drawn to maths, tech, the sciences and finance precisely because of the analytical, numbers-based, logic-based nature of the job.
Neurodivergent candidates have a huge advantage when it comes to working within accounting. Accountancy careers are perfect for workers who are on the autism spectrum and who want to develop a career in a firm that contains a like-minded workforce, all of whom benefit directly from the unique skills autistic candidates bring to the role.
Three Changes Accounting Firms Could Make To Tap Into Neurodiverse Talent Bases
There are a whole host of policies and neurodiversity-friendly hiring programmes and strategies accounting firms could put in place to source neurodivergent people.
In our view, the most effective strategies are the following:
Prioritise adaptable communication.
If an autistic person struggles with colloquial language, eye contact, or cannot fully grasp language inflexions or nuance like a neurotypical candidate you may find your traditional sourcing/interview/placement strategy to be completely unsuitable for them.
Our advice is to create as flexible a hiring strategy as possible and to prioritise flexible communication at every touch point so every candidate can be judged at the same level.
Take a bespoke approach to communicating with your neurodivergent hires, and work with your candidate on an inclusive language system that works for them – one that incorporates every possible communicative option available to discern whether your candidate is right for the job.
Employers should consider their impact across the full candidate/client communicative range: phone, video, digital assessments, in-person interviewing – every touch point needs to hinge on adaptable language and reduction of confusing nuance. This can only be built around empathetic frameworks that help the candidate and wider workforce.
Use ‘work sample’ tests.
“It is better to let the job seeker demonstrate their skills by diagramming a solution on a whiteboard, preparing a presentation, or having them show how they would perform specific job tasks”.
Some autistic job seekers find neurotypical communication difficult or confusing, especially when it comes to assessments or skills testing during the interview process. So it’s imperative employers make reasonable adjustments during the testing phase to better include neurodiverse talent.
Work Sample Tests are a great way to remove the sometimes-awkward social or discussion element of an interview, and focus entirely on the just the work.
In our view, when interview questions are hard to answer, and when social interaction is difficult to navigate, dispose of them, and replace them with tasks that do suit the candidate, especially an autistic candidate.
As per this fantastic piece in Forbes, interviewers should look to pivot their entire hiring process, where reasonable, towards candidates showing their skills in a more literal form. As Work Sample Tests imitate on-the-job responsibilities, it’s an incredibly effective tool to judge whether a particular neurodivergent worker is right for the job, and can give much more accurate and meaningful feedback to the candidate on their career progression options and future.
Lastly, if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, you’ll never improve. Recruitment managers especially need to be acutely aware of how to adapt interview questions and processes to help neurodiverse employees feel more included.
Feedback is the most effective way of finding recruitment and recruitment strategy blind spots.
Many organisations already have deep-rooted candidate and network feedback cultures – especially when it comes to creating inclusive working cultures (and appropriate jobs) that take stock of disabilities – so we urge every employer, business owner and Hiring Manager to seek it where you can.
Dive into your your candidate base, your network, your employees, your workforce, your advocates and most importantly autistic people for feedback on your hiring processes through the lens of neurodiverse inclusivity.
The bottom line
Autistic adults deserve the very best opportunities to make the most of a fruitful career in a job they love. Sadly, hiring managers across multiple sectors don’t make enough of a concerted effort to fully understand the benefits of hiring autistic adults, and struggle to see the good it can do for their team and wider firm.
As we’ve proved above, the facts are pretty clear when it comes to how people with autism and finance intersect – specifically, the advantage of neurodiverse skills within accountancy and the wider accounting profession, and how easy it is to make reasonable adjustments to typical working styles to better incorporate neurodiverse employees.
We urge every employer reading this to take a moment to fully parse the potential of bringing onboard a neurodiverse talent base for this year’s World Autism Acceptance Week. We urge you to be a part of the change we all need to see!
If you’re looking for your next job role in finance and accountancy, then Send Us Your CV, or Search Jobs to find out about the roles we currently have available.
Building More Inclusive Working Cultures, Renaix Guide to Gender Inclusion and Cultural Diversity in Finance, Making Diversity Work – Implementing a Successful D&I Programme, Diversity in Skills and Education: 4 Ways to Be Fairly Compensated
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