Job title: Associate Consultant at Interserve Construction Ltd
How long have you been in work?
Although I am now at the top of my career leading the Principal Designer practice for Interserve Construction, like many of my autistic colleagues, 45 years ago I too left school without any basic qualifications. I have had a very bumpy and varied career where I have had to re-invent myself on many occasions including qualifying as a nurse, working on exciting construction projects on Ascension, the Falklands - and I even worked in Dr Who’s Tardis!
When did you receive your diagnosis?
Four years ago and it also took me about a year to get over the initial shock.
What services have you received from The National Autistic Society and how have they benefited you?
Initially, I first sought help through the Confidential Helpline, however since volunteering as a member within The National Autistic Society, my own personal and professional skill base and confidence has grown significantly - thanks to the professional talent of the backroom team. There was absolutely no way I could have envisaged developing the marketing, sales, public speaking and media interview skills which I now have. I certainly wouldn’t have gone on to achieve a Guinness World Record and speak in Parliament!
How has disclosing to your employer helped you at work?
Although I was firmly advised against doing this by my own family, when I did eventually disclose this at work, “this gave me the confidence to be open about who I am, what I am and how I am”!
Do you have any advice about how someone should disclose and how colleagues can support this?
Once you disclose your autism, you can’t put this genie back in the bottle; you must be comfortable about your autism and take ownership of it. For me, “I was fed up with living the lie that I was neuro-typical” when it was clear that there was something different about me and anyway “I want to hold the door open for the next autistic generation entering the workplace”.
What strengths do you bring to the workplace? Please tell us about any achievements.
Despite being able to genuinely think outside the box and can come up with solutions to problems well before colleagues are aware that there is even a problem, my biggest strength is my sheer tenacity to never give up and the ability to strategically re-invent myself. Even though my career started from a very low point without any basic school qualifications, I am now a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building and a Chartered Fellow of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) as well as acquiring a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management!
Why should businesses employ more autistic talent?
For me, this is a real no-brainer. As Microsoft, MI5, MI6 and my own employer, Interserve PLC have discovered, with a shortfall of young people now entering the work, if businesses and industries like mine wish to thrive and grow, then there is a whole pool of untapped autistic talent which ought to be utilised!
What should businesses be doing to be more inclusive?
The key to successful autistic employment is simply about reducing the autism/neurotypical communication gap and reducing the reliance on recruitment through the old fashioned job interview.
Many of my younger autistic colleagues now acquire their initial work skills through work experience and go on to develop successful careers as a result of this. This is also a win-win opportunity for their employers and colleagues as they too learn about communicating and working with a more diverse workforce through this process. The critical thing is that work experience should start as early as 11 and that even as little as a few hours of work experience is extremely valuable for a autistic young person.
Are you autistic and enjoy your job? If you have a story you would like to share please contact Richmal.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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