How to Hire and Retain Neurodivergent Employees — A Solution to Accounting’s Talent Shortage

by Anthony Pacilio, Neurodiverse Solutions, CAI | May 30, 2023

Accountants and auditors are exiting the field in record numbers. In fact, according to Bloomberg Tax & Accounting, employment numbers in accounting dropped by 17 percent from 2019 to 2021. However, a new source of candidates — neurodiverse talent — is ready to assist in this employment decline by filling back office operations and accounting roles with the necessary certifications.

Neurodiversity describes the differences in brain functions and traits that include but are not limited to autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia. So, why this talent pool? Neurodiverse staff may have skills such as attention to detail and pattern recognition that can help lower error rates in datasets to identify, mitigate and prevent larger issues down the line.

Start at the Beginning

The number-one question I get when interested employers want to implement neurodiversity in their workplace is, where do I start? My answer is always the same: at the beginning. The employee lifecycle begins at the application and interview stages. But for neurodivergent candidates, an inclusive and accessible process is necessary to ensure an adequate opportunity to showcase their skills.

Neurodivergent candidates, many of whom hold advanced degrees, may be rejected for a job due to neurotypical interview standards. Traditional responses hiring managers may look for in a neurotypical employee — maintaining eye contact, having a firm handshake, knowing where they want to be in five to 10 years — are interactions a neurodivergent candidate may struggle with. These are not reasons to disqualify a perfectly qualified candidate for the role.

In lieu of a traditional interview, hiring professionals within accounting can follow these best practices:

  • Utilize neurodiversity-certified professionals. Allow them to lead the interview process for a hands-on evaluation. This can often showcase a candidate’s skillsets in a supportive environment.
  • Remove the panel-style interview. This kind of interview is not conducive to accurately assess both hard and soft skills.
  • Have patience. Candidates may have delayed processing, so it is imperative that you provide ample time to respond.
  • Ensure a quiet environment. Whether remote or onsite, eliminating outside distractions from the interviewer is key to maintaining a strong level of focus from the candidate. Interruptions, even from a pet or child, can disorient candidates’ responses.
  • Respond with empathy. Neurodivergent candidates have faced trials and tribulations. Being neurodivergent myself with generalized anxiety disorder and depression, I understand what some of those experiences are firsthand. It’s that empathetic response that makes for a stronger leader.

Expand to Onboarding

Onboarding and integration into the workplace culture are both essential in setting employees up to thrive. Neurodivergent employees can be successful when they work with accounting leadership to identify, advocate for and help implement any necessary workplace accommodations that will make it easier to perform. Some accommodations that can greatly improve comfortability and productivity include the following:

  • Provide noise-canceling headphones.
  • Place desks away from high-traffic areas.
  • Avoid overstimulating lighting.
  • Use virtual closed captioning or record meetings for later review, which can reduce anxiety for remote or hybrid employees.

Impact Beyond the Workplace

One of my greatest passions in life is helping the neurodiverse community find long-lasting, meaningful and rewarding careers with a life of independence. Being neurodivergent myself, I empathize over workplace nuances that can make it challenging to navigate not only the working world, but life in general.

Anthony  Pacilio

Anthony Pacilio

Anthony Pacilio is vice president of Neurodiverse Solutions, a neurodiversity employment program at the global technology services firm CAI. He is recognized domestically and internationally as an expert in neurodiverse employment.

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