Careers Week 2021
Successful, professional, autistic? Absolutely!!!
That's why The Courtyard we celebrated Autism Awareness Week in a VERY special way!!
Students had the opportunity to virtually meet 4 successful professionals with Autism who talked about their career journey.
It was a success!! Speakers were very inspiring and our students were very engaged!
These four professionals clearly made an impact to our young people. Our students had many questions and we ran out of time!
Please see below the Q&A session after the fantastic masterclass.
A BIG THANK YOU to Jonathan Andrews MUniv, Andy Clayton, Rachel Worsley AND Billy Chandler!!! Thank you for being a great inspiration to our young people!
Q & A
Jonathan Andrews MUniv.
Entertainment & Media Associate, Reed Smith; D&I Forum, Bauer Media; Britain's 4th most influential disabled person, Shaw Trust Power List 2020
- How did employers react when you told them you were on the autism spectrum? Did you receive enough support? If the employer could have made some reasonable adjustments in the workplace, which ones would those be?
My firm are big advocates of disability inclusion, and as a prospective applicant I was invited to an open day they ran focused on including disabled people in the legal profession – so I felt able to be open with them from the outset (and in fact introduced the firm to a disability consultancy I volunteered for before I’d been hired). I’m now a qualified solicitor in my department of choice, and definitely feel supported by the firm in my role.
I’ve found clear instructions and knowing what to prioritise are very helpful procedural adjustments for me personally – other autistic people I know have also benefited from adjusted lighting in offices or accessible versions of documents.
- Is there anything in particular that you would like employers to know about Autism?
It’s important for employers to understand that autistic people can bring great talents to the workplace, from having great focus and knowledge (particularly in areas of interest) to bringing a different perspective to discussions, and being more likely to stay with companies for longer periods due to loyalty.
On top of this, autism is a spectrum condition and so it affects people in many different ways – no two autistic people are the same – and so employers shouldn’t assume that all autistic people will be interested in the same things (e.g. some of us like IT and tech, others the creative industries).
What's the best part of being a solicitor? And what's the biggest challenge of doing your job?
While there is an element of routine in being a solicitor, it’s also true to say that you’ll often be researching and advising on different areas of law from one day to the next – so you end up continually learning about the law and expanding your expertise and awareness, while also finding the work interesting, which is great. The biggest challenge is that because you can never predict what will come in and when, there are times when you’ll be extremely busy – but this isn’t so bad if you work in an area of law you find interesting.
- How did you become the first autistic board member and when?
I believe this question is referring to my role at Ambitious about Autism, the young autistic people’s charity. I joined as a youth patron in 2015 and set up a campaign focused on increasing employment opportunities for young autistic people, called ‘Employ Autism’. This led to me becoming the first autistic chair of the youth council, and I was then asked to serve as the first ever autistic board member of the charity, I still serve on the board today, and use my position to ensure the charity fully supports and involves those it serves.
- How did you become Britain's 4th most influential disabled person? Has this title helped you in your career? Are you excited about being a judge at Shaw Trust Power list? Who nominated you last year?
I was ranked number 4 on the Shaw Trust Power List 2020, which lists the 100 most influential disabled people in the UK, in recognition of my advocacy for opportunities for disabled and neurodivergent people in work and society over several years (I am not sure who nominated me). I only received this about 6 months ago so it’s a bit early to say if it’s helped in my career, but it has led to me being asked to judge the 2021 Power List and decide who should be ranked on the list this year, which is a fantastic honour and one I am very proud of.
- What university did you go to? Did you have enough support? How was your experience?
I went to King’s College London and studied English. I received Disabled Students Allowance and was supported by the Disability Support Team there, and was provided adjustments I required (such as the option of taking exams in a low-occupancy room), which allowed me to do well and graduate with a High 2.1 degree. I was happy with the support I received and I very much enjoyed my time at university, not just in terms of what I learnt academically but because I became more confident during my time there, made new friends, began to think about what I wanted to do as a job and became involved in a lot more autism awareness advocacy.
- What's your advice for coping with anxiety?
New situations are something which I have often found stressful, but I’ve found it useful to expose myself slowly to new situations rather than all at once – for example, I was able to visit the Reed Smith offices a few times before my interview, so I could become used to the surroundings and be put at ease before I had to then talk about myself and why I would be best for the role. I’ve found my anxiety has reduced as I’ve grown older too, because I’ve been in more situations and learnt more things over the years, so when I am faced with a problem or situation it’s more likely I’ll have a past event to think back to and follow what I did then – so while it’s difficult at first, I’ve found this does get easier as you gain more experience.
Events Host at Royal Museums Greenwich
LNSEN Autism Champion Ambassador
- What's your plan in the future?
I plan to work full time as an actor, whether it's onscreen, on stage, or both, performing on stage or in front of the camera and making a living and legacy off of it I felt like has been my destiny for over a decade now. However, after becoming the Autism Champion Ambassador for LNSEN, I've realised that if becoming an actor doesn't work out, I can spend the rest of my life helping people like me. Either way, those are two fantastic future plans.
- What's your advice for coping with anxiety?
There's various methods that I've used, and I hope any of these help. First one is, handling it on your own, sometimes you need to be your own best friend and push yourself forward whatever the situation is. Second is, talking to someone, could be a family member, friend, someone at your school, college, university, or workplace, their advice can be helpful and comforting. Thirdly, music, listen to music through your earphones or headphones, music can help you relax, especially classical music.
- Why did you work for AllChange?
I worked for AllChange because at the time I was unemployed for 8 or 9 months and I was looking for anything and everything just to get a job. Getting the job at AllChange I thought was fantastic, finally getting work, close to home, I was generally excited. Despite the job mostly not being anything I hoped it would be, I will always be thankful for the experience, their lovely staff (especially a woman named Morgan, call me if you read this), and the things I've learned that helped me grow as a person and a worker.
- What was it like for you to pass A levels? Was it easy or hard?
I'll use my Performing Arts course for this. First year was significantly tougher because besides the acting, the singing, and the dancing, I had no idea what I was doing, especially with it being my first Performing Arts course, and I had to write this, remember that, research this, do that, it was a lot to take in. Second year was easier as I had more of an idea of what I was doing, so to answer your question, passing A Levels is right in the middle of easy and hard, you need enough knowledge of what you're studying and what you need to do. Passing my A Levels was surreal, I couldn't believe it, here I was, a guy with a few BTEC passes, Ds and Es in GCSEs, and I've just passed an A Level, it was one of the most incredible feelings.
- What's the best part of working as an Event Host at Royal Museums Greenwich?
Despite many things I love about working as an Events Host at Royal Museums Greenwich, to me the best part is that I'm able to choose my shifts. I can go onto an app on my phone, it use to be Google Calendar and now it's TimeTree, I can see a shift, put my name down for it, and then I'll see if I get the shift or not, having that freedom is so much fun especially as I love to do acting in my own time, one day I could be on set, the next I could be working a shift at the Royal Museums Greenwich.
- Did you have enough support when you were an apprentice? If the employer could have made some reasonable adjustments in the workplace, which ones would those be?
I definitely felt like I had enough support when I was an apprentice. My line managers and work colleagues were all very kind and helpful, I would have 1 to 1 meetings with either one of my line managers every 2 weeks, same with someone that worked in the HR Department; I also had someone come in every now and then to help give me advice and ideas for plans following my apprenticeship, I also had one of the teachers from the Business Administration course have 1 to 1 meetings with me to discuss my progress in the course and my course work. I was very lucky and felt very fortunate for the support I got as an apprentice. Personally I felt like my employer at the time didn't need to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace, to me it was perfect.
Founder @ Scale and Sweetspot.
- Does having ASC diagnosis help with your career?
Certainly, having a diagnosis is helpful, as it has improved my self-understanding, and therefore allows me to make better decisions about what I should focus on, and what I should find others to do for me. For example, it’s help me to realise why I'm not a great CEO, (it’s a very people-focused role), so I focus on more specialist positions, such as leading research or operations.
- What were your initial feelings and thoughts when you were diagnosed at 39?
Surprise and disbelief. I thought I'd achieved a lot in my life, and I didn’t see how that could be compatible with my perceptions of what an autistic person can do. I associated ASD with restricted ability, rather than alternative ability.
- What's your advice for coping with anxiety?
Anxiety is a form (or flavour) of fear. Writing a ‘fear inventory’ has helped me. I write down all the things that cause me fear, starting from the obvious (sharks, spiders), right down to the more subtle (generally fears of failure and hypothetical outcomes, like my wife not loving me, or getting hit by a bus). It helps remind me how irrational a lot of my anxiety is.
When facing a specific decision or block in life, it helps me to work through the problem either by writing the elements down (I do a long ‘pro’s and cons’ list) or talking it through (I have a weekly session with a specialist ASD coach). There’s something about the objective eye that removes the emotion from problems and helps me to narrow down where my concern is, and what steps to take next to overcome it. Overcoming anxieties is more about habits - a constant maintenance process (like having regular showers), rather than a one-off moment of insight (like reading an amazing book).
A baseline sense of urgency or ’there’s never enough time’ is something slightly different, but also called ’stress’ or ‘anxiety’. This is harder to deal with, and still a work in progress for me.
- What are the challenges of starting your own business?
Dealing with fear. There are regular moments when things go wrong and you face very real failure, e.g. key people leaving, projects you’ve invested in not working out, or customers leaving. Each time it’s like a hit to the stomach.
Having to promote yourself. It’s easy to underestimate the difficulty and investment required (time and money) on the sales and marketing part of a business. It’s not enough to just have a great product or service, it requires networking and social interaction (digital or in-person). I prefer substance over style, so find the messaging (i.e. the wrapping, rather than the present) part of the business difficult.
Taking full responsibility. The realisation that no-one is going to make difficult decisions for you, do you a favour, bail you out, or encourage you along. There is just you, your team, and the market (who can be a cruel mistress). Even your own personal learning and development is all down to you to find people to help you with.
- What are the first steps of starting your own business?
The ‘lean’ mindset is helpful. What are the fewest steps to get to ‘Minimum Viable Product’ MVP i.e. move quickly, get a working prototype, and worry about perfecting things later. The biggest step is the first customer, then the second, then the third.. What matters most, particularly in the early days, is - what will sell?
- How are you finding leading your own company?
I’m enjoying it at the moment. I am temporarily between crises.
- Why did you decide to go to China? Was it difficult to learn Mandarin? What are your best memories of living there?
I’d been backpacking there as a student and found it fascinating. I lived alone in a remote region (Inner Mongolia) for 2 years, so learned the language that way (total immersion). I made some great friends, and we would go out riding motorbikes in the grasslands in the summer, which was magic.
- What made you start the entrepreneurial network?
For me, I see a clear overlap between being autistic and becoming an entrepreneur. I assumed there must be others out there for whom that is also true, and that if I could get them together, then we would all be able to learn so much about ourselves from each other.
- How can you join the Entrepreneurs organization?
You need to be the founder of your own business, and have a turnover of at least $1m
- How did you come up with the idea of Sweetspot Guru?
I had a finance manager working for me many years ago. As well as running finance, she was running lots of other parts of the business too, such as operations, HR, and customs clearance. We needed to model to assess all the activities she was doing, and decide which ones we were going to get off her plate, and how. We used it for 2 years, and finally ended up with her only doing finance, we she was very happy with.
- What does NASDAQ stand for?
Look it up.
- If employers could make some reasonable adjustments in the workplace, which ones would those be? What would you ask for?
I honestly don’t know, I haven’t been an employee for a very long time.
Founder and CEO at Neurodiversity Media | Entrepreneur | Speaker
- How did you come up with the concept of your company?
I struggled to find relevant, useful and evidence-based resources about how to explain my ADHD and autism to my bosses at the time back in 2018 when I was properly diagnosed as an adult at the age of 25. At the same time, I could see many companies trying to help autistic people get into work but they were doing a bad job marketing their services, so I started Neurodiversity Media initially to help them with content marketing.
But as a former medical journalist, I had a passion for translating research papers into general information that was useful and helpful for people, so I ended up starting an international email newsletter about neurodiversity in the workplace alongside my content marketing service. I then got funding to turn my newsletter into a technology platform called the Resource Library today, as an easy-to-navigate one-stop shop of resources aimed at neurodivergent people, their support network and employers.
Fundamentally, Neurodiversity Media is about tackling the inherent prejudices, bias and stigma that are preventing neurodivergent people from getting jobs or fulfilling their potential at work through evidence-based information and actionable resources to overcome those fundamental psychological biases and unleash potential at work.
- Does realising you have ADHD at a later stage empowers you in your job and career?
Yes, knowing that I had ADHD, and understanding how ADHD works, and how it works for me specifically, gave me the courage to pursue entrepreneurship as a career path after five years of working full-time in journalism and marketing in law firms. I realised the high energy, creativity and hyper focus that comes with ADHD has been particularly advantageous for the journalism and marketing type work that I still do today in my company, but transformed on a much bigger, technological level.
- What qualifications do you need to get a job in journalism?
You don’t actually need qualifications to get a job in journalism, but getting a university degree or some kind of technical training from a college helps with finding contacts or connections in the industry that can help you get a job. What’s far more controllable is improving your writing skills, so start an online blog around your topic of interest in current affairs (if you want to get into serious news) or around a topic of interest (like fashion or food). Ideally, you need to be multi-skilled in producing video, pictures and audio in a multimedia world to get a good job in journalism. It also shows passion and determination to get into journalism and allows you to stand out among the hundreds of hopeful job applicants.
- How did you find a job as a neurodivergent employee in libraries, news outlets and law firms? Were these companies neurodiversity friendly? Or did you tell them?
I was only diagnosed with ADHD towards the tail end of my professional working career. I did tell one workplace. While initially supportive, I ended up having to leave the job abruptly and that informed my approach to my business today that the root of the problem is really about prejudice and stigma.
As for the other workplaces, I was lucky that they were already fairly neurodiverse workplaces, but not that I knew at the time. However, I feel that it is important to note that it is actually a good thing because those workplaces had great leadership, great workplace cultures and great workplace flexibility which work really well for neurodivergent people as well as neurotypical adults.
I applied and succeeded in getting those jobs via traditional job interviews.
- Did you receive enough support? Did you ask the employer to make reasonable adjustments?
Yes, I was able to work flexible hours such as from 10am to 6pm, or to take work back to my house to work from home on occasional days. I was also allowed to wear headphones or go into empty meeting rooms (when not used) to help cope with sensory overload from ringing phones or many conversations. I was very lucky for the most part to get reasonable adjustments. I also had flexible time off for going to university to finish off my law degree at the time. To clarify, I started out doing combined journalism and law degrees, dropped out of my journalism degree when I got full-time work and finished my law degree to have a university qualification to fall upon.
- Is there anything in particular that you would like employers to know about Autism, ADHD and Dyspraxia?
Always ask anyone with autism, ADHD and dyspraxia (or a combination of all of them) about what supports and structures they can provide to help them succeed in the workplace. Knowledge of how each of those conditions affect activities in the workplace as explained by that particular individual is usually the best way to help them succeed, as opposed to relying on secondhand information that may not be evidence-based or useful.
- What's the biggest challenge of doing your job?
The biggest challenge facing me as CEO today is knowing how to manage and support a talented neurodiverse team to help execute on our mission to unleash neurodivergent potential in the workplace. Everyone has their different needs and strengths and I have to be across them as well as on top of my own needs and strengths which can be very challenging when I don’t have the right support networks in place. However, I’m making good progress in this area now, although managing a team to perform at their best will always remain a challenge!
- How do you measure the impact or your job?
From a content perspective, I measure Neurodiversity Media’s success by the number of views or shares we get on our content in the Resource Library, because that shows how our content is reaching people all around the world and equipping them with the latest lived experiences or evidence-based resources.
In recent times, I’m also trying to measure the impact of my job through our social initiative the NDM Jobs Trust Fund, where we look to employ or contract long-term unemployed neurodivergent people to help produce resources in our Resource Library. I already do this informally, having provided work for at least five individuals in nearly two years of this business running at the time of writing, but I’m looking forward to formalising a proper internship placement strategy to help formally assess the impact of my job. Ultimately, the unemployment rate is still disproportionately high among autistic people despite their great capability for work, and the more jobs or work I can provide, the more I’ll be able to make a measurable impact on reducing that rate and changing their lives at the same time.
- What's your advice for coping with anxiety?
For me, I like to do creative work like scrapbooking or paper-based art to cope with anxiety, to engage my creative side of the brain to help create a “flow” process that drowns out the anxiety. Otherwise, I’ve practised over time a range of acceptance-based and mindfulness techniques by learning to observe my emotions dispassionately and not being afraid of them, and practising a range of mantras like “things will be okay” or “this will pass” to help manage feelings of anxiety. One autistic person taught me a metaphor about seeing it like a wave that comes and eventually recedes, and sometimes picturing that wave for me can help put anxiety into perspective.
- What's your career advice?
Don’t be afraid to try different things to find out what you like. No experience is wasted - today, you’re most likely to have six different careers over your lifetime so don’t worry so much about whether you’re picking the right university course or job. As long as you adopt a learning mindset to each experience, you’ll be able to find the career of your dreams.