Building a better working world for neurodivergent colleagues

In a welcome tripartite, this month is home to National Dyslexia Week, National Dyspraxia Week and ADHD Awareness Month.

With a broad range of themes and activities, all three events aim to celebrate neurodiversity and improve public understanding of the respective cognitive variations they champion. They’re also designed to help individuals make informed decisions about their lives, seek any assistance they may need, and access the same personal and professional opportunities as neurotypical friends and colleagues.

Annual advocacy events are crucial for these reasons and others, but dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and other cognitive differences don’t simply go away when they come to a close. Supporting people born with different types of brain is a lifelong commitment, and it’s one EY has embraced with a unique vigour.

The neurodivergent perspective

Just ask Frances Eida, a dyslexic & dyspraxic User Research Manager and Neurodiversity Champion at EY. She previously worked at companies who had no interest in understanding her needs — even those said to advocate neurodiversity. Managers seemed to think, when she wasn’t great with seemingly simple things, it was acceptable to doubt her across other areas of the role — without asking any questions.

Now, the 47-year-old, who wasn’t diagnosed until her mid-thirties, appreciates being at a firm where the leadership understands dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism.

She says:

“The workplace culture here is built around empathy. There’s an emotional intelligence that runs through the company, which means you can have these conversations with meaningful outcomes. It’s about working to your strengths, building trust that you can work differently and employ the strategies you know will help navigate the challenges you have. You just want to get on and do the work you’re great at”.

“It’s so empowering to work somewhere that gives neurodivergent people room to be themselves and grow. We work in the redesigned EY wavespace innovation area, and it’s a dream. We have focus booths, where I can go off and concentrate, which is a lifesaver on my bad days. It’s such a small thing, but it’s really helpful”.

“And as my old UX boss would say, when you design for inclusion, things can become easier for everyone”.

Callum, a Digital Apprentice at EY’s Risk Innovation Hub in Manchester, who has ADHD, feels much the same:

“The company not only welcomes neurodiversity in the workplace, but is proactive in giving individuals from neurodiverse backgrounds the tools and skills they need to thrive in the workplace. EY’s investment in diverse minds and perspectives allows the company to understand the business world from a wider range of viewpoints, meaning we can build a better, and more inclusive, working world”.

“I could not be more proud to be part of a company who values minds like mine and the thousands of others who each contribute our own unique set of skills”.

The leadership perspective

The entire leadership here at EY also sees the value in building an organisation with a genuine awareness of cognitive differences, how best to accommodate them, and what doing so means for the workforce as a whole.

Time and time again, we’ve heard from colleagues who have, in the past, found themselves in working environments where people couldn’t understand their needs and where leaders wouldn’t make special provisions for them. Such spaces can be incredibly challenging for neurodivergent folk, negatively impacting their work and relationships with coworkers and managers.

But that will never be the case at EY, where people have long come first, including those who need a little extra support. This is part of the reason we recently made moves to further accommodate non-standard personality and cognitive types with our first-ever UK Neurodiverse Centre of Excellence (NCoE) — the latest in a rapidly expanding network of centres across the globe.

The NCoE aims to hire 150 neurodivergent individuals to work within EY’s integrated client teams across the UK. For such people, the centre will open doors often closed in other organisations, giving them an equal chance to unleash their creativity and apply their other strengths in a more diverse, inclusive and supportive working environment.

Tori Roberts, UK NCoE Leader, says the response to the new centre has been incredible and heartwarming:

“People are sharing just how proud they are and how hopeful it makes them feel for themselves, friends or family members. Until a few years ago, neurodiversity in the workplace wasn’t a subject raised often, so giving people the freedom to talk openly about their cognitive differences at work means a lot. We’re even hearing from school and university students who are excited about what this might mean for their future”.

But as Tori points out, the UK NCoE is just another step in EY’s mission to fully embrace and harness the power of neurodiversity for the sake of boosting productivity and innovation across the company and giving neurodivergent colleagues equal opportunities.

She states:

“EY is an inclusive employer, so our processes for onboarding and internal progression are adapted for maximum inclusivity, and all reasonable adjustments are made. At least 20–25% of our workforce — and probably more — is neurodivergent”.

What next?

Like all other neurodiversity trailblazers and the rest of society, EY’s journey to perfection is ongoing. The company will certainly get there, but there’s still a lot to be learned from new and existing colleagues. Tori suspects that efforts in this respect are slowed down by an understandable reluctance to declare impairments and request reasonable adjustments.

Tori, who believes allyship and empathy go a long way, feels the NCoE is one development that will help knock this stumbling block aside:

“The NCoE will offer extra support to those who need it in a real psychologically safe space, giving them a buffer from client work and the assurance they don’t need to mask every day. What we learn from their experiences, we can apply elsewhere in the company to optimise processes, and my greatest hope is that we’re catalysts for improved neurodiversity education across all our people”.

As EY continues to build a better working world for its neurodivergent and neurotypical colleagues alike, find out how you can participate in National Dyslexia Week, National Dyspraxia Week or ADHD Awareness Month. Any contribution that helps raise awareness of neurodiversity, no matter how small, makes a big difference!

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Catriona Campbell

Catriona Campbell

Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position. catrionacampbell.com