International Day of People with Disabilities: How a Pilot Program Changed Lives

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December 02, 2020 – Diversity & Inclusion United States

Neurodiverse individuals bring fresh outlooks and insights

It’s not every day that a job candidate says that the interview process has changed his attitude toward life.

Jeremy Miller, TD Bank’s Head of Data and Analytics, recently experienced just that after taking on a pilot project to recruit U.S. job candidates with autism spectrum diagnoses. It’s these experiences that are celebrated at TD on this International Day of People with Disabilities.

The project featured a three-week assessment in September that allowed five applicants to perform in simulated work situations rather than undergoing typical job interviews.

At the end of the program, one told the entire group that the experience of working toward a real career had given him the “energy to live his life … to hang out with his friends again and go outside and do things.”

Hiring neurodiverse individuals can both change applicants’ lives and strengthen a company by bringing in talented people with fresh viewpoints and insights, Jeremy explained. “That’s just awesome.”

TD worked on the pilot with Specialisterne, a firm promoting workplace neurodiversity and what it calls the “business value of untapped talent,” after several years of successful partnership with the organization in Canada since 2016.

Specialisterne said some of the benefits that corporations gain from hiring diverse candidates include:

  • Bringing fresh perspectives
  • Coming from diverse professional backgrounds
  • Fostering a culture of curiosity and solution-seeking mindsets
  • Creating a challenging environment that brings out the best in everyone on your team
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But an outsized proportion of adults on the autism spectrum are unemployed or underemployed, Specialisterne said.

Jeremy had been looking for new approaches to recruitment while building out TD’s analytics organization. He was inspired to add neurodiverse talent after watching a video about Specialisterne’s approach.

“Our organization’s mission is to deliver value. After watching the video, it just struck me that you could get such a great diversity of perspective and thought,” he said. “For us, launching the program was a great way to recruit talent we needed across the team.”

The program was initially set to take place in New Jersey, then moved online when the pandemic hit. The virtual setup was one of the first for Specialisterne.

It allowed the candidates “to maximize their time with the group, ask the right questions and go off on their own and produce just like you would in the office,” Jeremy said.

His group hired three candidates this fall after the assessment. The applicants worked on projects independently and as a team and presented their work and processes.

How the candidates brought the “wow” factor from start to finish

Scott McElhone, TD’s Head of Analytics and Insights, revisited his assumptions about neurodiverse individuals after managing two candidates in the pilot. “My expectations are higher now,” he said. “The candidates brought the wow factor from start to finish, and it was incredibly tough to choose just three from the full cohort.”

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“This is something that we’re going to continue to do. It’s part of our long-term strategic plan,” said Jeremy, who plans to welcome a second candidate cohort in January.

Jeremy encouraged other managers to follow suit, noting it was a great opportunity to enhance his team. He has also benefitted from seeing changes in his own leadership style.

“The pilot brought a group of candidates that most likely would never be interviewed because of our traditional recruiting and screening practices,” he said. “This experience will impact TD and myself in the future when we consider how we will fill roles in the future.”

Two TD point people, Jocelyn Weyrauch, senior manager for diversity and inclusion program delivery, and senior corporate recruiter Jennifer Haines, did the heavy lifting for the pilot, according to Jeremy

“This program assists Talent Acquisition in attracting new diverse top talent, while exploring recruitment, interviewing and onboarding processes from a different lens to support our colleagues with disabilities,” Jennifer said. “It has been a rewarding cohesive experience with proven results.”

It’s not a lot of work for hiring managers but involves a time commitment to make sure TD can establish a career path for the recruits, Jeremy said. “If you’re willing to do that, you’re being given a phenomenal opportunity and a talent pool that you haven’t been able to tap into before.”



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