Finding the right person for a job--or convincing a hiring manager you're that person--can be a little like getting jam out of a jar with a toothpick. A big part of the problem is that companies tend to look in the same boxes or use the same hiring processes over and over. Subsequently, if you're in a specific group, they might unintentionally pass you over without even realizing just how well your talents fit their demands.

For professional services firm EY, that's just not good enough. So back in March 2016, the business launched a neurodiversity program out of their Philadelphia office to take a closer look at poorly tapped talent pools. Specifically, the program looked at those on the autism spectrum--more than 80 percent of people on the spectrum are underemployed.

Why this group?

Carolyn Slaski, EY America's Vice Chair of Talent, says individuals with autism have many of the skills that EY depends on, such as excellent mathematical abilities, technical proficiency and facility for details. So EY developed customized screening to bring those with autism into the EY family. They also created training processes that enabled the new hires to work as Account Support Associates (ASAs) and get certified in the Blue Prism software EY uses to automate. Managers and supervisors also got training to help them understand autism better and get a better sense of how to work with the new hires most effectively.

The bigger picture

While EY's new program currently focuses on autism, the concept can be applied on a broader scale, taking into account the traits and abilities associated with other conditions. Those hired gain not only the financial stability that comes with a good-paying job, but other benefits like a sense of purpose and independence, the chance to socialize, reduced stress from having needs met and better self-confidence. There are even potentially long-reaching effects to families and communities, which don't have to provide other more expensive supportive resources and which can become more stable through the contributions from the hires.

 "At EY, we know that when people with different perspectives and abilities come together to form high-performing teams, they deliver better, more innovative results for our clients," says Slaski. "We see our neurodiversity program as a critical component of our ongoing commitment to making a real business impact with our clients and in our communities."

Slaski points out that those hired through the neurodiversity program cut time for technical training in half and have sped up automated processes, all within their first months. They also reduced the time necessary for calculations and evaluations on a project requiring predictive analysis and redesigned an automation robot, resulting in faster preparation time for statements of work.

In other words, while there might be a learning curve and some accommodations to consider--for example, those with autism often enjoy quieter spaces, according to Slaski--taking a neurodiverse approach to hiring isn't just good for the new employees. It's good for just about everybody.

"Everyone feels tremendously energized by the neurodiversity program," Slaski says. "People of all ranks have reached out to offer their support, express their pride and find out how they can get involved. They're truly excited to be part of an endeavor that is helping to build a better working world."

And while EY is one of the first companies to introduce this type of program, a handful of other well-known businesses are on board, too--Microsoft, SAP and DXC all have explored neurodiversity initiatives. Slaski says EY works closely with these companies so everyone can learn from each other and share best practices, and that it's one of the few areas where competitors are truly working together to improve each other's programs.

Whether you need to get hired or are the one doing the hiring, programs like EYs point toward a workforce future where labels matter much less than a specific skill or the ability to complete certain tasks. And when you focus on what people can do, entire sets of new doors can open for you. You only have to decide which one(s) to walk through.