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 celebrate.

This World Autism Acceptance Week, remembering how important we all do our bit to improve inclusivity at work is worthwhile.

Photo by Annie Spratt, from Unsplash.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Creating a truly inclusive working culture requires consistent and meaningful input from everyone, up and down the professional food chain, from recruiters to business leaders, employers to work colleagues.

In this blog, we want to highlight that, within a few industries – such as finance and accountancy – neurodiversity still needs to be widely understood. However, by following in the footsteps of the proper HR and recruitment specialists, neurodivergence can be a force for good in the workplace.

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 broader autism community in the UK – have collated a ton of fantastic ideas for communities, schools and businesses to engage with this year.

The NAS is most notable for introducing two events this year: the Spectrum Colour Challenge, a virtual challenge, and the Spectrum Colour Walks, an event that any town can organise.

The NAS also lets people launch fundraising for Autism support in their way and has a dedicated Do It Your Way page for companies and communities to make their own fundraising events.

Photo by Alireza Attari, from Unsplash.

Photo by Alireza Attari on Unsplash

Autism, Neurodivergence and How Workplaces Are Changing

Consider that “nearly 42% of young adults who experience autism never worked for pay during their early 20s” or that “more than 66% of young adults on the autism spectrum are unemployed and are not engaged in higher education two years after exiting…school”. Autism is misunderstood, and neurodivergent people are marginalised. It’s clear that most 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 changing for the better.

How neurodiversity appears and how distinct brain processes and behavioural features diverge from neurotypicality have received much attention. Autism Spectrum Disorder is no longer an alien or foreign term but a potential source of niche and brilliant skills.

The 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 fantastic 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 get across the full spectrum of the company.

How Businesses Are Expanding With a Neurodiverse Workforce

To better help all neurodivergent persons, World Autism Acceptance Week may and should be viewed as a guidepost.

Here is 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 autistic employees – can provide enterprises with a genuine competitive advantage?

  • As this HBR piece indicates, when hiring neurodivergent staff, “the accommodations and challenges are manageable, and the potential returns are great”.
  • “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 the talent on the edges that you had never seen before”.
  • Additionally, in the same study, the manager of Chevron’s neurodiversity programme is reported as saying, “Every company needs the passion and creative minds of neurodiverse individuals to enable them to think and resolve challenges differently.”

Plus, as numerous interviewees in the HBR and Business Chief pieces indicate, leaders and managers are learning to accommodate better autistic employees and autistic people, making them better managers overall.

Primarily, this results from their changing workflows, expectations, and concepts of ROI due to neurodivergent – and effective – working methods.

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.

Photo by Arlington Research, from Unsplash.

“But neurodiverse people wouldn’t be able to handle client-facing work”.

 Unfortunately, HR directors and department heads worldwide continue to ask candidates this standard, useless, and outright biased question (not to mention terrible recruiters).

When the results are so favourable, the answer should be, “Why can’t we accommodate neurodiverse employees in client-facing roles?”

Above all else, this comes down to empathetic, flexible and accommodating management strategies – leaders 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.

Imaginative leadership is required here. 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 imagine that executives are committed to hiring the finest candidates and investigating ways to create a more inclusive and diverse company. In that case, they should make amends to legacy HR attitudes to accommodate a wider variety of employees – especially those whose technical abilities benefit specific, niche industries, like people with autism and accounting.

Benefits of Autism and Accountancy

Consider the main complex skill requirements of an Accountant:

  • Logic;
  • An analytical mindset;
  • High degrees of focus;
  • Problem-solving;
  • Great with numbers;
  • Being effective with repetitive tasks;
  • Maths-driven;
  • Objective-based;
  • 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 job in a firm that contains a like-minded workforce, all of whom benefit directly from the unique skills autistic candidates bring to the role.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Three Changes Accounting Firms Could Make To Tap Into Neurodiverse Talent Bases

There are a host of policies and neurodiversity-friendly hiring programmes and strategies accounting firms could implement to source neurodivergent people.

In our view, the most effective strategies are the following:

Prioritise adaptable communication. 

Suppose an autistic person struggles with colloquial language and eye contact or cannot fully grasp language inflexions or nuance like a neurotypical candidate. In that case, your traditional sourcing/interview/placement strategy may be entirely unsuitable for them.

When creating a hiring strategy, we advise prioritising flexible communication at all contact points for assessing each candidate fairly.

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 suitable 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 reducing confusing nuance. The only way to do this is to use frameworks that are considerate of the candidate and all of the 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 regarding assessments or skills testing during the interview process. So employers must make reasonable adjustments during testing to better include neurodiverse talent.

Work Sample Tests are a great way to remove an interview’s sometimes-awkward social or discussion element and focus entirely on 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 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 suitable for the job and can give more accurate and meaningful feedback to candidates on their career progression options and future.

Photo by Peter Burdon on Unsplash

Prioritise feedback!

Lastly, you’ll never improve if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong. Recruitment managers must be acutely aware of adapting interview questions and processes to help neurodiverse employees feel more included.

The best approach to identify recruiting and recruitment plan roadblocks is through feedback.

Many organisations already have a 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 candidate base, network, employees, workforce, 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 concerted effort to fully understand the benefits of employing autistic adults and struggle to see the good it can do for their team and more comprehensive firm.

As we’ve proved above, the facts are pretty straightforward when it comes to how people with autism and finance intersect – specifically, the advantage of neurodiverse skills within accountancy and the broader accounting profession and how easy it is to make reasonable adjustments to typical working styles to incorporate neurodiverse employees better.

We urge every employer reading this to take a moment to fully parse the potential of bringing on board 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 for Jobs to find out about the parts we currently have available.

Similar posts:

Building More Inclusive Working CulturesRenaix Guide to Gender Inclusion and Cultural Diversity in FinanceDoing Diversity Work – Implementing a Successful D&I ProgrammeDiversity in Skills and Education: 4 Ways to Be Fairly Compensated


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