Jemma Boulton 

Job title: Principal Resource Specialist

Where do you work: Alexander Mann Solutions

1. How long have you been in work?

I have been in work since the age of 14. I started as a waitress but quickly realised I was much better in the kitchen refilling pots of sauces and sorting cutlery with my headphones in rather than out on the floor. I moved from there at 18 when I dropped out of college and secured a role in a call centre. While the phones were a bit of a nightmare to start with, the rigidity of the calls and what was required was perfect for my love of routine, until we were made redundant due to a company take over, which, needless to say, sent me into a total spiral of panic. I knew I needed a job but the fear of getting a new role with new people and new routines was nearly more than I could handle, but at the time I didn’t know why. So I did what most females on the spectrum do, I just masked my feelings and got on with it. I ended up in a few temporary roles until I landed another permanent position. However, unfortunately it was not the right environment for me at all, they didn’t understand me, or want to understand me and so I ultimately made the decision to leave this role after two years of really trying to do a good job and blend in with my colleagues. Within a week of leaving this position I had a phone call and started at Alexander Mann Solutions, which is where I have remained for the last eight years.

2. When did you receive your diagnosis?

I was officially diagnosed at the age of 29.

3. How has disclosing empowered you or your employers?

For me, disclosing has been a really positive experience. It means that without question I am able to do what I need to do, so I am able to wear headphones in the office, I am able to take 10 minutes out if things are getting a bit overwhelming and that has meant that I am absolutely comfortable being in this working environment. I am also slightly more comfortable with asking for things I might need.

4. Do you have any advice about how someone should disclose and how colleagues can support this?

For me, disclosing at work was a really personal journey. I am lucky that my manager at the time that I received my diagnosis was someone who I know very well and who has been with me throughout a lot of my mental health journey so it was really easy for me to disclose to her. I have currently not disclosed to any of my colleagues because I don’t feel that I need to or have to and that’s what is comfortable for me. I have since had two further managers who have been made aware and who have also been totally and completely supportive of me and my needs where possible and that is something that makes such a vast difference to me on a daily basis.

So I would say to anyone contemplating disclosing at work, find someone you trust, or get on with, and tell them first. It’s always easier to tell someone you know well first of all

and it’s always good to have a friendly ally just in case you need one. I would definitely ensure your direct manager is aware, it’s always beneficial to outline how this affects you personally and any reasonable adjustments you want to request. I write everything down because when I’m stressed or overwhelmed I tend to just shut down verbally and anything where I’m put on the spot makes me extremely anxious so it’s always good to have some notes. If you feel that you want your colleagues to know as well, then your line manager can support you with this. They can disclose on your behalf if it’s easier for you, or you can tell your colleagues in your own time. Do whatever makes you most comfortable.

5. What do you think the different challenges are that autistic women face in the workplace versus autistic men?

Because women tend to mask more than men, it can be really draining for women, we tend to try and socialise more amongst our peers and “blend in”. I know that I contain my stims until I can get to a place where I’m alone, my only stims in work are foot and finger tapping, which aren’t massively obvious. I contain the more energy-filled stims until I can lock myself in a cubicle in the toilet and then I can just let it out. Containing stims and trying to mimic others socially is mentally exhausting on a daily basis. I think autism in men is much more well-known and accepted amongst the wider population. I think women go under the radar because they are much less outwardly “obvious”. Therefore I think sometimes people can forget that certain things will affect you in a totally different way to your colleagues, and because we work so hard to just fit in, it can be overlooked.

6. What have you found useful in overcoming the challenges?

It’s the little things that can help the most. For example, being told about any changes that are upcoming, how it will affect you personally, how it will affect your routine and the dates that these changes will take place, ensuring that any meetings taking place are put into the diary and not just sprung on you, being told if there is a fire alarm test and what time it will be so you can remove yourself from the building before the alarm goes off, being able to take 10 minutes out if you need to and being able to wear headphones in the office are all really little things that help so much. Creating a comfortable environment where employees are able to just be themselves is paramount. I am lucky to work for a company who really believes in being able to bring your whole self to work and not being ashamed of who you are, which is so important to so many people.

7. What strengths do you bring to the workplace?

So I actually enlisted the help of my manager for this one, whose answer was: “You have a dedication and commitment to your role and work. You think about all the planning processes that go into making sure the work is done. You have an amazing ability to work at a huge capacity. You are passionate about what you do and you care about the candidates, the hiring managers and your colleagues. You are self-supporting but also not afraid to ask questions. I can see that you are excellent with numbers and technology. You have a dedication and commitment to your role and work.”

I think having a plan on a daily basis and not deviating from it allows me to be successful in this environment. For example, I don’t do anything else until I have checked my emails and am up to date from anything received overnight. I am absolutely numbers and process driven so I am able to use this to my advantage in being able to plan my workload properly to ensure all work is delivered on time and to the numbers requested.

8. Why should organisations employ more autistic talent?

I think that employers should be more open minded in terms of autistic talent. It can offer a unique perspective from an angle that hasn’t necessarily been thought about previously.

Although employing autistic individuals can bring its own trials and tribulations, to not employ them would mean that companies are missing out on a different brain which brings with it a different set of skills. Having a routine is paramount to a lot of autistic individuals and therefore you will find that if you are able to support someone with autism in your workplace, you will receive in return a dedicated employee who is very rarely late or off work, who will do their very best for you continuously. Having a diverse workforce within an organisation will give you the best possible team of people due to being able to look at situations and issues from all sorts of different angles. I believe that the positives an employer will receive will outweigh the adjustments that they will need to make to accommodate the individual.

9. What should organisations be doing to be more inclusive?

Organisations should be looking at their hiring processes for a start. The Government’s disability confident scheme is a great place to start to ensure they are being fair to all applicants. Individuals should be judged solely on their ability to do the role and so should not be discriminated against before you have even interviewed them. Ensure that if autism is disclosed prior to interview that there are no pre-conceived notions that this person would not be successful in a career in your company. Remember that eye contact doesn’t necessarily mean a good interview and that if someone requests reasonable adjustments in any part of the recruitment process that they are doing so because they want to be successful and are ensuring that they are doing all they can to perform to the best of their ability. If you have an employee that discloses autism to you upon commencement of employment, don’t be afraid to ask what they need to make their working environment better. Some people won’t be comfortable in approaching you to ask, so take the initiative yourself and if there is anything you can do to make sure a workplace is autism-friendly, then absolutely go ahead and do it.