Award nominee assists staff with cognitive differences

Professional services firm EY was shortlisted for the Northern Power Women Inclusive Innovation Award earlier this year, sponsored by Connected Places Catapult, for creating a Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence.

Helping neuro-divergent talent to find a path into employment and make the innovation space more inclusive are aims of a new centre that opened last year in Manchester by EY. 

The company’s new Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence is the first to open in the UK but the 19th centre for EY globally. Sam Tuckey and Lorna Culpin from the firm explain that the centres look to fuel innovation in technology, bring a new dimension of creativity, and drive greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

Each of the Centres of Excellence is designed to create a supportive working environment for individuals with cognitive differences – such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD – to help them to apply their strengths and meet clients’ business needs in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, automation and blockchain. 

“We sit within our client technology and innovation team at EY and work on innovative technology and solutions for the firm and for our clients,” explains Lorna. “That means we could be looking at how we can think differently with new pieces of technology, or how we can take what we already have and apply technologies in a different way.” 

There are many benefits of working in a team with such a broad diversity of thinking. However, managing a new team at a business the size of EY and with a pool of talented technologists does bring its challenges, Lorna continues. 

“We’ve worked hard to raise awareness about what we’re doing internally. We have a lot of functions in EY and we have a lot of ways of doing things, so we need to explain what we do and what the benefits are for our teams and clients.” 

Sam Tuckey adds that it’s also important to recognise the skills of each individual. “Whilst there are talents that are common between lots of people, everyone is also an individual and you need to treat them as such to avoid stereotyping.”  

Lorna continues: “Within the Centre it’s been great to have sessions where people are willing to come forward and share their lived experiences of cognitive difference, sometimes just in little 15 minute snippets. That’s brilliant for people sharing their perspective because they don’t feel overwhelmed, but it’s also great for those listening because they still pick up valuable insights. It’s a really good way of inviting people into that conversation. 

“The entry points for inclusion need to be multifaceted and diverse, not just focused on one thing,” she adds. “We do a lot of collaborative sessions between the different networks and communities in our organisation that allow people to see what it’s like from multiple perspectives.” 

Measuring the impact of inclusive innovation involves considering a number of factors and Lorna is very clear on the challenge of being able to monitor progress and impact.

“From a broader diversity and inclusion perspective, it can be hard for firms to know how well they’re doing unless they know who identifies within a certain group and therefore how that impacts their entire employee base. Getting people to openly identify is the first challenge in this. When Sam and I joined EY at the beginning of last year, our neurodiversity community was probably around 250 people. It’s now grown to over 1500.” 
Lorna Culpin, EY

Sam explains how measuring impact is also about commercial benefit. “We were identified by the World Economic Forum as being a global Diversity and Inclusion Lighthouse programme, which basically means being an organisation that they think is moving the dial on a diversity and inclusion topic. They measured a variety of different metrics for us, and I think the most interesting one was a productivity comparison between teams that included a member of our team, and teams that didn’t. 

“The productivity, quality of work and timeliness of submission all increased by 1.2 to 1.4 times when they had someone from the Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence as part of the team. So, there’s a real tangible commercial output change that’s been proved from an inclusion perspective.” 

To people thinking about trying to demonstrate the impact of their initiative for the Northern Power Women Inclusive Innovation Award next year, Sam encourages others to combine social value with economic viability. 

“I think it’s really important that there is a social value to what you do, and you need to have that as a base level of expectation. But in order to really make inclusive innovation successful, it can often be useful to show the commercial benefits too.” 

Lorna adds: “The key is to be specific about what you’re trying to achieve – this allows you to be very focussed with how you use your resource. It’s good to be clear and say: ‘this is what our expertise is, and this is what we focus on’. By knowing our areas of expertise and sticking to doing those well, we’re able to have more of an impact.” 

Find out more about EY’s Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence.

Connected Places Catapult is sponsoring the Inclusive Innovation Award at the2024 Northern Power Women Awards. Nominations are open until 9 October 2023.