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EY will be opening a Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence (NCoE) in the UK where it will hire neurodivergent talent to encourage diversity and inclusion, and to push forward technology innovation.
The professional services firm is following the lead of six already established Neuro-Diverse Centres of Excellence for the firm across the world, including locations such as Poland, Spain, India, Canada and the US, the first of which was launched in 2016 in Philadelphia.
It also plans to add centres in Europe, South America and Asia Pacific alongside its UK location.
Stephen Church, Manchester office managing partner and North markets leader at EY, said: “I couldn’t be prouder that EY has selected Manchester and the North of England to locate the NCoE, recognising the innovative spirit in the city and the strength of the community we have locally.
“We have joined cities around the globe that are opening up the world of work to neurodiverse individuals, while offering local businesses largely untapped talent to help fuel their growth in ways they haven’t imagined before.”
In many cases, hiring neurodiverse talent can be beneficial for a firm for many reasons. For example, neurodiverse people are better able to understand and develop solutions for neurodiverse clients, and in some cases display skillsets that are aligned with certain technology fields such as cyber security.
Previous EY experience has suggested neurodivergent talent is more innovative than neurotypical employees because of an increase in diversity of thought, according to Catriona Campbell, EY’s client technology and innovation officer, UK&I, who is leading the development of the UK Centre of Excellence.
EY’s Neuro-Diverse Centres of Excellence are specifically designed to create an inclusive environment for employees with conditions such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia.
Employees in the Centres of Excellence will be focused on the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, cyber security, blockchain and automation, with the aim of helping EY clients with projects involving high levels of innovation such as product development, overcoming specific business challenges, data analytics or adopting emerging technologies.
The firm claimed the local talent and community engagement in the Manchester region led to the decision for its first UK-based Centre for Excellence to be based in the city – since the pandemic forced many to work from home, the number of tech job adverts has been increasing outside of the London bubble.
Opening in January 2022, the Manchester Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence will initially have six tech specialists, with the plan to open applications for further workers later in the year. The goal is to eventually employ up to 100 people over the next three years.
Citing ONS statistics that say around 22% of adults with autism in the UK are unemployed, EY’s managing partner for client service in the UK & Ireland, Alison Kay, pointed out neurodivergent people could actually be the answer to current skills gaps in the UK.
While the UK complains of a lack of skilled technology workers, neurodivergent people who in many cases might have skillsets well-suited to technology roles are often being overlooked for employment opportunities if the ONS’s figures are to be believed.
But firms are often avoidant of hiring neurodiverse talent because special adaptations need to be made to the workplace to make it more inclusive.
When hiring neurodivergent talent for its centres, EY has developed a process which involves more accessible criteria such as performance-based interviews, training people in smaller groups, and giving new hires more time for orientation before starting their roles.
EY also adapts its current workplaces and recruitment processes to cater to those who are neurodivergent.
More needs to be done to increase inclusion in the technology sector – recent research by Mthree found that 71% of young people in tech said they had been made to feel uncomfortable at work either because of their gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background or because they are neurodiverse.
Figures from the BCS also found that in 2019, only 11% of all IT specialists in the UK had disabilities, which – while an increase from 8% in 2015 – is still a relatively low number.