After his five-year-old son was diagnosed with autism in early 2019, Mayur Gondhea left his job as a financial modeller to go freelance. His workload was unsustainable: Gondhea was spending at least one day a week completing applications to his local authority to ensure his son got the best education possible. He was aware that employment prospects for autistic people can be dire; less than 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time employment in the United Kingdom. Yet studies have found that autistic people, who may struggle with social interaction, can also possess a variety of desirable skills including improved focus, long-term memory and logical thinking.
Later that year, Gondhea came up with the idea for CubeLynx Limited; a boutique corporate finance consulting firm that aims to recruit and train financial modellers who are neurodiverse, and autistic ones in particular. “It just made sense,” Gondhea says. “I’m not trying to force a business idea with a social objective. CubeLynx has genuine potential.”
Financial modeling uses spreadsheets to forecast future financial performance and CubeLynx specialises in large-scale renewables, utilities, property and infrastructure projects. Employees at CubeLynx need to be detail-oriented number-crunchers and Gondhea believes that among that 84 per cent of autistic people without a full-time job in the UK, there exists a large pool of talented financial modellers.
While the awareness surrounding neurodiversity has improved in recent years, the unemployment rate for autistic adults has remained static in the UK since 2007, according to surveys from the National Autistic Society. Large software and financial companies including Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase and HP have started hiring programs for autistic people, but they are far from the norm. Businesses such as CubeLynx that mostly or exclusively recruit neurodiverse candidates are even rarer.
Twenty-seven-year-old Jordan Jones joined CubeLynx as its first neurodiverse financial modeller this August. Jones, who is autistic, says he applied for between 50 and 100 finance jobs after graduating with a degree in Economics from Manchester Metropolitan University six years ago, but struggled to get a foothold in the industry – until now.
Just before the coronavirus lockdown in March, Jones was interviewing for a role in the finance department at a recruitment company in Manchester. He thought it had gone well, but was rejected. The feedback was that he did not seem “enthusiastic enough”. Jones stresses that employers need to learn to be more inclusive of autistic people. “It’s natural for me to not be as expressive as other people; my body language, my facial expressions and whatnot,” he says. “To have that as the reason was a bit of a kick in the teeth.”
Whatever the industry, the traditional application process is certainly a barrier, explains Susan Askew, an employment engagement manager at the National Autistic Society. “But to be honest with you, one of the major barriers has been the attitude of employers.” Askew mentions a recent survey where 64 per cent of employers said they didn’t know where to go for support and advice about employing an autistic person. They needn’t worry, though: “The adjustments that we recommend are much simpler to implement than they’d imagine and don’t generally cost any money either.”
With Askew’s help, CubeLynx implemented some of the adjustments that the National Autistic Society recommends. This included first of all a clear, jargon-free job advertisement. Then Gondhea created a spreadsheet case study candidates could work on for two days before a final interview, with questions sent in advance to help candidates manage anxiety. Small adjustments can make a big difference, he says, and they can benefit everyone, not just autistic people.
In all of the finance jobs that Jones has applied for, this was the first time he has had the opportunity to demonstrate his technical ability. “This isn’t just a job, it’s a career I can build upon,” he says.
Gondhea has a dual vision for CubeLynx. He wants it to be a success and he wants that success to influence the larger movement towards a more neurodiverse workforce in the UK. He has recently been speaking with one of his clients, the energy regulator Ofgem, on how it can improve its neurodiversity. He wants other companies to see what CubeLynx is doing and realise there’s a lot of untapped autistic talent out there. “They just don’t get the opportunities they deserve.”
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