Culture and Talent, Member Exclusive

“You want the right people to come in and say, ‘I think I can do this job’”: What banks are doing to hire more neurodiverse employees

  • Financial companies are seeing the benefits of neurodiverse talent.
  • But bias remains a sticky obstacle to get around.
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“You want the right people to come in and say, ‘I think I can do this job’”: What banks are doing to hire more neurodiverse employees

You can’t think outside the box if you’re only hiring boxes. Banks and other financial firms are realizing that hiring neurodiverse candidates isn’t just something they can do to get PR points, but a genuine way to outperform competitors. 

Companies that have been actively incorporating neurodiversity into their culture are doing much better than their competitors, according to a case study by Disability:IN, a nonprofit that supports disability inclusion in business.

“On average, they have 28% higher revenue, two times the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins,” said Jill Houghton, president and CEO of Disability:IN. “So it really pays to be disability inclusive.” 

Financial companies are also reaping the benefits of neurodiverse hiring. A more neurodiverse work environment could be the key to finding and pursuing effective ideas and strategies, creating open communication throughout the company, and improving overall efficiency. 

JPMorgan Chase and Ernst & Young are among the companies with the largest US autism hiring programs. Together with SAP and Microsoft, these companies’ neurodiversity programs have a 90% higher than average retention rate.

Since 2016, EY has implemented six Neurodiversity Centers of Excellence -- the company’s neurodiversity hiring initiatives -- and is planning to build three more. Chase, which launched its own Autism at Work program in 2015, reported a 99% retention rate. Employees in the program were also described as more efficient, with a 90 to 140% greater level of productivity.

Another bank that has taken an interest in improving neurodiversity among employees is Deutsche Bank. The bank started its neurodiversity initiative in the UK in 2016, joining forces with Autistica, a UK-based research charity, to better adapt the hiring process. 

Kate Copeman, Global Lead for Deutsche Bank’s Autism Internship, was inspired after seeing a statistic that said 85% of autistic adults in the UK at the time were unemployed.

The program began with a 12-week pilot in the UK. This proved to be a success. Out of eight people in the internship, five stayed on after, and three secured jobs in other organizations.

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In 2019, the third time implementing the internship program, the bank ended up hiring all eleven interns they had originally taken on. That same year, Copeman spearheaded the program in the US.

“I think there is a huge amount of interest and so much appetite for neurodiverse hiring -- it’s amazing to see,” said Copeman. “I would say that now, more than ever, people are keen to embed neurodiversity inclusive practices across their organizations.”

Because of Covid-19, Deutsche Bank is planning virtual internships for the time being. The goal, though, is to have neurodiverse hiring become second nature to the company.

“There is so much to be gained for all involved through hiring neurodiverse talent – more dynamic teams and more agile managers,” said Copeman. “An important part of diversity is not only bringing together people with various backgrounds but also people with diverse thoughts who offer unique perspectives to organizations.”

Goldman Sachs also has a neurodiversity hiring initiative, in partnership with nonprofit Specialisterne, an organization that focuses on integrating neurodiverse people into the workplace.

The bank formed the initiative a couple of years ago, and the program aims to identify and integrate highly skilled people that are often left out of hiring compared to their neurotypical counterparts. 

Rather than implementing a typical interview process, the program includes a three week candidate assessment program based on competency and how prospective employees complete given projects. After, there’s an eight week paid internship program that aims to integrate neurodiverse talent into the company.

Since implementing the program, the bank has seen several employees come out with their own stories about how neurodiversity touches their lives. In this way, Goldman Sachs has managed to create a much more open and communicative work environment.

“We have seen employees come forward to share their personal stories on how neurodiversity touches them – on an individual level or through a child, sibling, friend or loved one,” said Leslie Shribman, vice president of media relations at Goldman Sachs. “There is also an increased awareness of challenges that the neurodiverse community faces.”

The bank now holds annual training sessions to recruit, manage, and work with neurodiverse talents, and still has steps it’s planning to take.

“As we continue to expand the program to more divisions and offices, we have received an incredible amount of support and interest from teams around the firm in participating in the hiring initiative. Often, recruiting programs that source neurodiverse talent funnel into technology roles. In our second year, we expanded to a new candidate profile beyond technology and want to continue to broaden the candidates we are engaging in the program.”

TD Bank is another bank implementing Specialisterne’s strategies.

Keith Isaac, vp of capital markets and risk management at TD, joined Specialisterne’s board a little while ago. As a parent to a child on the spectrum, he has his own personal reasons for changing the hiring process.

“I have a nine-year-old daughter on the spectrum. So it was one of those things where there's a personal tie to wanting to do something. In 10 to 15 years, when the time for her to get a job comes, I thought ‘what are the barriers that will be in place for her, and how can we get around them,’” said Isaac.

The nonprofit has helped TD Bank implement a “supportive hiring model”. First, this involves fixing job descriptions, something called a ‘job description cleanse’. That means getting rid of anything like jargon or acronyms that might keep really good candidates from actually applying.

“So you might write ‘proven leadership experience’, and I might say ‘Well, I've never had a job before, I don't know what that is, I'm not going to apply,’” said Isaac. “And you don't want that. You want to cast the net as wide as you can. You want the right people to come in and say, ‘I think I can do this job’.”

Then there’s getting past the behavioral interview portion of the recruitment process, which can be a significant barrier in onboarding neurodiverse people, according to Isaac. Using cliched questions and over-prioritizing things like eye contact and handshakes can be major obstacles. You can end up turning away some really good candidates this way.

To bypass this issue, Specialisterne assigns candidates tasks and measures their ability to complete them. The organization then decides whether they fulfill the bank’s requirements.

Only after that is there a four week trial process between hiring manager and candidate. Hiring managers themselves receive training in autism awareness and clarity of communication.

“We want to take that bias out of the hiring process,” said Isaac.

No neurodiversity means financial institutions are missing out on a significant talent pool. Even though hiring managers know this, their own bias can still get in the way of bringing in the right people.

Disability:IN’s Disability Equality Index, a benchmarking tool that helps companies create road maps and take actions that will improve disability inclusion in their companies, includes questions that are specifically designed to spot points of bias in companies’ recruitment process.

“We've got a specific question in there related to personality tests,” said Disability:IN’s Houghton. “When companies utilize these things, they have good intentions: applicant's interests and interpersonal skills among other things. But they actually become a barrier.”

And bias isn’t only limited to the stage of recruitment, either. It also applies to the way neurodiverse candidates’ skills are perceived once they’ve made it into the company.

“Everybody thinks, ‘Okay, well, I have neurodiverse people who are on the autism spectrum, I need to find them something that isn't customer facing. I need to find them something that has to do with data entry, that involves sitting behind a computer all day.’ It's completely wrong, because it is a spectrum, frankly, and everybody is going to be different,” said Isaac.

According to Isaac, choosing to be around people who are more like us is something we do instinctively. And that may be the real challenge financial companies are facing in their neurodiverse hiring initiatives.

“it's human nature. If you have a positive sense of self, you're going to unconsciously hire people who are more like you,” said Isaac. 

“And you're not going to end up with that diversity of thought. You're not going to get that richness that you can otherwise get if you're more open minded about who you're going to put on your team.”

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