Personal Stories

My autism diagnosis: coming out at work and establishing a neurodiversity network

Telling work I am autistic was a great leap of faith for me, as I had no idea of how they would react. I decided there was only one way to do it, so I started with the head of my firm and HR. Then I asked if I could setup a new neurodiversity network.

Here are my diary entries from the year.

Head of UK Practice and Head of HR - February 2018

Today I came out as autistic at work - to the Head of the UK practice and the Head of HR. More than this, I went to them with a proposal and business case for establishing a neurodiversity network at Capco.

Before the meeting I felt sick with nerves. I told someone that I was nervous about the meeting, but not what it was about. They tried to reassure me, by highlighting that even if it was no then at least I had asked.

The reality is that I never considered the option of no. Once you are out, there is no option to undo it. They may say no to a neurodiversity network but they will never forget my coming out.

Getting ready to tell the wider leadership team - March 2018

They said yes! They have agreed to launching a neurodiversity network which will be focused on raising awareness across the company, and providing support to neurodivergent employees as well as those who care for neurodiverse individuals.

As the first step, I have agreed to come out to the rest of the leadership team at the end of the month and then the rest of the company in April.

I know that I need to set an example for others in the firm, so that they feel more secure in speaking out about their own challenges. Despite the support I already have, the thought of telling so many people at work does make me nervous as I am going all in.

This is not your every day announcement, and I am sure there will be those that will judge me. My doubts are going mad in my head. What makes you think you are viewed as successful? What makes you think you can make a difference? Who are you to speak out for neurodiversity when you have employment, and so many can’t get a job?

Will they be supportive? Will they be willing to change? Can I really make a difference?

Finding allies for the neurodiversity network - April 2018

The announcement to the leadership team has been delayed, however everything is gathering pace. I have now spoken with training, recruitment and HR. I also have champions who are willing to share their personal stories. The feedback from those that I have shared my vision with has been positive, though I still worry about how it will be perceived by the wider company.

With mails  &  posts drafted, it is now the waiting game. The tortuous pause as I wait for the go-ahead. I still worry that we will never get there, and someone will step in to say ... nope ... changed our mind.

So wait and see.... wait and see

Presenting to the leadership team - June 2018

After a three month delay I have finally presented to our leadership team about the future launch of the neurodiversity network. I have also come out as autistic.

I couldn’t sleep last night, and this morning I felt sick with worry. The person who was to provide my moral support was pre-booked elsewhere, however they cut it short so that they could be there as I spoke. I had 5 minutes - 5 minutes to share my vision and story. To get buy in from the people I needed to support me in achieving what I wanted to do.

As I stepped up I was petrified. I didn’t know what I was going to say and can’t quite remember what I said. I remember some tears (mine), a mild telling them off for the way in which development feedback is given. I told them about feeling like an outsider, how I have felt over the years, and how being told that I needed to change had impacted me. If there is one thing that they remember, I hope it is that "gravitas is not a development point".

Then there was a deluge of emails. The head of the U.K. practice said I knocked it out of the park and that I was honest in a way that not many in the room often see in the workplace.

The long wait for the wider launch goes on. It is frustrating waiting, but I am assured it will happen.

Launching the network - December 2018

We are live, and the Neurodiversity network exists. Joined by the Head of the UK Practice, Ray Coyle of Auticon, Michelle Beckett of ADHD Action, Neurodiversity champions who are neurodivergent, and employees.

We talked about the benefits of embracing neurodiversity at a personal, team and business level. Our champions and Michelle Beckett shared their personal experiences, while Ray Coyle talked of the benefits that his business had achieved through embracing Neurodiversity.

Our mission and goals are simple

OPENNESS: To create a space where employees feel safe in disclosing that they / someone close to them is neurodivergent

SUPPORT: To establish a support network with access to key resources that neurodivergent employees and carers, as well as those who work with them, can access when needed

POTENTIAL: To identify and drive for the removal of barriers that prevent current and future neurodivergent employees from achieving their full potential

RECOGNITION: To ensure our company becomes recognised internally and externally as a Neurodivergent friendly place to work

The feedback has been amazing, and already I have had people start to reach out to me that they are/ think they might be neurodivergent.

I am excited about the future of what we will be able to achieve together, and the difference that we can make in the lives of people in the workplace.

Reflecting on our progress - December 2019

It is now a year since the Neurodiversity network was launched. I am so grateful to see the network become part of the fabric of our company.

We have had several events and focus groups bringing together employees and invited guests to talk about neurodiversity. The most recent of these events was focused on Bridging the Gap through effective conversations. It is great to see these conversations taking place, and the ripple effects that this is having.

A key highlight of the year for me was the inclusion of neurodiversity as one of the questions in our workforce composition survey. We now know that at least 10% identify as neurodivergent.

As we look ahead to next year I am excited to see other initiatives be rolled out, like our pilot of Do-It profiler for employees, the development of our neurodiversity strategy and the establishment of a neurodiversity working group to help ensure the implementation of changes.

Most importantly, I have seen the differences that have been achieved for individuals who have previously struggled in silence. People who have been empowered to reach out and talk to others who are able to understand what they are going through.

We still have so much to do, but I am pleased to be part of an organisation who have been willing to put neurodiversity on their agenda. I can't wait to see what next year brings.

We are always looking for people to share their experiences or thoughts on topics related to Neurodiversity. Please get in touch if you are interested.

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About Helen Needham

Helen is the originator and founder of Me.Decoded. A passionate advocate for Neurodiversity, - diagnosed as autistic in her 40's after a lifetime of feeling like she was on the outside looking in.
  • England