Global finance giant EY (formerly Ernst and Young) has come a long way since Arthur Young, a Scottish immigrant to US shores, founded his accountancy firm in 1906 with his brother, Stanley.

Today the firm employs nearly a quarter of a million people in 150 countries, and its work touches upon everything from audits to blockchain to AI. And that’s not all: in 2018, EY also placed high on Indeed’s first-ever rankings for Top-Rated Workplaces: Banking and Finance.

A company doesn’t grow like that for more than a century without knowing how to adapt—and it’s in that spirit of looking ahead that Dan Black, EY’s Global Recruiting Leader, lives. We recently had a chance to talk to Black about Gen Z, neurodiversity and other emerging trends impacting the world of work, as well as how organizations can embrace change to create more diverse workforces.

60% of millennials at EY are in management positions

Prior to becoming the Global Recruiting Leader at EY, Black spent over a decade as the company’s Director of Campus Recruiting. During that time, he recruited a lot of millennials, and today this age group constitutes “two-thirds of [EY’s] workforce.” He is dismissive of many of the cliches that surround this much-talked-about generation.

“When you hear about them wanting to be challenged and wanting to get promoted and wanting work-life balance, a lot of those things are the same things that previous generations really wanted,” says Black. The key difference is that earlier generations “just didn't have the same amplification channels with social media.”

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Black’s internal research reveals a more complex picture.

“Over 60% of full-time millennial employees are now managing other employees.” This dispels the idea that millennials are “kids at work," says Black. “A lot of them are in leadership roles.”

Black adds that not enough time is spent thinking about what millennials bring to the table as positives.

“They certainly are digital natives. In this time that we're living in, of disruption and change and technology and AI—fill in the buzzword—having people that have grown up with that as natives ... This is a second language, second skin to them. If you can take advantage of that, you're going to help pull the rest of your organization forward into this next digital age a lot more quickly.”

Black also finds that millennials are “globally comfortable” working with people from different backgrounds, countries and religions.

“As the world continues to get smaller, thanks to technology, this is a group of people that really understands and is really comfortable in that kind of global environment.”

From eliminating the college degree requirement to neurodiversity—how EY is expanding the talent pool

EY has also implemented some interesting programs that upend many assumptions surrounding how and where to find talent.

For instance, in 2015, the U.K. branch of the company removed the requirement that candidates require university degrees. Instead, EY used a suite of online assessments and numerical tests to assess candidate potential.

Says Black, “EY's take was, as long as we hire people that can learn the skills we need them to learn, the degree isn’t really necessary.” And the results? “It has opened a lot of doors, flooded our application inbox, candidly. We have been able to employ lots of people that up to this point might not have availed themselves [of] an opportunity at EY.”

However, this type of innovation isn’t possible everywhere. “In the U.S. you can't be a CPA unless you have a certain number of college credits.”

Here, a different program has opened doors to a previously neglected pool of talent.

“Our Fraud Group helps companies get to the bottom of how an event happened. That often requires a detailed review of documentation, some of which requires human intervention.... So we started a neurodiversity program that hires people along the autism spectrum, people who otherwise might have difficulty fitting into a traditional work environment but happen to be perfectly suited to methodically pore over documents looking for specific keywords or entries.”

The program has been a success: “We've got two centers now.”

Overall, a greater strategy is at work. “I think widening that net serves a couple purposes. Certainly it helps us find talent that wouldn't have normally thought to even apply at EY but also is bringing a diversity of thought and background to the firm that I think in our long and illustrious history was absent.”

Tackling unconscious bias

Tackling unconscious bias is also fundamental to EY’s efforts at expanding its talent pool, Black adds. As the world changes, so does the business and incorporating viewpoints and experiences that may have previously been excluded is essential to success, he says:

“We're advising clients on a whole host of things,” Black explains. “Thinking that we could do all that with the same skill set we've always had is shortsighted.”

The first step, he says, is to acknowledge that bias: “Everybody has some bias built in, based on nature and nurture, where you grew up, the experiences you had. It's human nature to be biased, much of which, candidly, is unconscious bias. You don't realize that you might be treating someone differently.”

At EY, the firm has introduced a concept called PTR, which stands for preference, tradition or requirement. Whenever a role is opened, the hiring manager is asked to consider whether the decision is based on “preference” (e.g., ”I've always worked with this type of person” or “This person went to my alma mater”), tradition ("Hey, we've always served this client with someone who does these eight things and has this background”) or requirement (are you hiring someone because they have the requisite skills to get the job done?)

So once a person is aware of their unconscious bias, how do they mitigate it? EY also uses analytics to understand the current and potential makeup of teams as they plan for succession. But ultimately the actions you take are critical:

Black suggests, “You can start building for the future so there's more diversity in the next year, or you can bring people over from other accounts with similar skills. You look for diversity outside your own small circle and say, ‘Let's add them into the slate, even though they haven't been brought up and through on this client.’”

You can be the greatest leader, the greatest manager,” says Black. “You get along well with all different types of people.” But he stresses, “Being aware of the choices you're making and why you're making them is really important.”