Unlocking the potential of Neurodiversity

Unlocking the potential of Neurodiversity

Teams that include neurotypical and neurodivergent thinkers maximise diversity of thought and reduce groupthink by taking into account different thinking styles, viewpoints and perspectives.

The term Neurodiversity refers to the recognition and acceptance of natural variations in human brain-wiring or neurological make-up. This concept includes individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and other neurological differences, who possess unique and valuable skills and perspectives. While these differences can sometimes pose significant challenges, they also give rise to exceptional qualities such as creative thinking and process structuring. By embracing and appreciating the potential of neurodiversity, we unlock a wealth of talent and opportunities.

By embracing neurodiversity, Pictet hopes to create a culture of inclusivity and respect that fosters creativity, innovation, and collaboration. The company believes that by encouraging individuals to bring their whole selves to work, it can unlock the full potential of its employees and drive business success in the future.

Tim Edmans

Senior Sales Manager, Intermediaries, Pictet Asset Management, and co-chair of the Neurodiversity Workstream

Senior Sales Manager, Intermediaries, Pictet Asset Management, and co-chair of the Neurodiversity Workstream

What is your neurodiversity, what does it consist of, and how does it affect your daily life?

I'm dyslexic. Neurodiversity refers to people with dyslexia, autism, attention deficit disorder, and dyspraxia, to name a few. I would best describe dyslexia as a spectrum. It's characterised as a learning difficulty that affects skills involved in accurate and fluent reading and writing. Difficulties can also include phonological awareness, verbal memory, and verbal processing speed. However, neurodiversity occurs across all intellectual factors.

When did you or your parents first find out you were neurodiverse or even suspected?

Suspected: It was very, very early, actually between the ages of two to three because my mother noticed I wasn't making the same noises as my three older sisters had at that age. The formal diagnosis was between six and seven. Which again is really early. Most of the time you don't get formally diagnosed until around the age of ten, that’s often when teachers know. At that point, schools didn't do as much as they do now, although this was 30 plus years ago. We found the Dyslexia Institute and paid for the diagnostic ourselves. It is more usual to access it through schools now, but how easy it is to get can vary.  There are often reports of a ‘postcode lottery’ dependent on the priority and funding given by the local authority.

What did you do from a young age once you found out you were dyslexic to counter your difficulty reading? How did you improve it?

I had years of tuition. From an early age, one of my earliest memories is having to stay back in class at break time to finish copying everything on the blackboard when everyone else went out to play, I couldn't do that. So, for me, that was the norm. Also, from an early age, I had specialist one-to-one tuition to learn different ways of learning, which helped me a lot. I believe that if you want to succeed with dyslexia, adopting these different ways of learning is hugely beneficial.

And how did being dyslexic impact you in your university studies and when you were first applying for a job?

 When I was diagnosed, my parents were told they should never expect me to go to university. The expectation was that A-levels wouldn't happen either, so the longer term was difficult to see. But good support at school and at home, and – it must be said, a good degree of stubborn refusal to give in (my parent’s version is strong determination) on my part, overcame this. During my time at university, I formed a social circle which was new to me and took away some of my attention from the academic side. As a result, I found it challenging to keep up with lectures and learning, especially since I was still adapting to a new city. At the time, I was also handwriting my notes as iPads and iPhones were not yet common. However, over the course of my degree, I became more accustomed to different learning methods and strategies. This improvement was evident when I took my professional exams, where I performed much better. I realized that I needed to approach learning differently, and that helped me succeed.

Coming out of university, it may have affected my interview process a bit, but I started from the bottom and worked my way up to pension administration and eventually consultancy and sales. A graduate trainee scheme was never an option for me. Nowadays, we cater to neurodiverse candidates who may require special accommodations during the interview process. Some may need more time to respond, but that doesn't mean they don't know the answer. As interviewers, we can do our part to make the process more accommodating for all candidates.

How has being dyslexic impacted you within the workplace?

Fortunately, by the time I got to work I had been through the learning process and adapted, so it didn't impact me too much on that level. The best example would probably be studying for my professional exams. I've passed a dozen or so professional exams since university, and I've always had audio recordings, recorded webinars, and other resources available to me, which is a much better way for me to learn than just being handed a textbook and told to learn it and then sit the exam.

Have you always had the option of those different learning resources, or do you remember the first time you had an audio webinar version of an exam?

I probably always had those resources in place. For my most recent exam, the ESG certificate, the norm was to get a big textbook, but I had to do the research and find a recorded webinar series, which worked much better for me. It was great that my employer was able to support that.

When did you first share with your colleagues at work that you were neurodiverse, and did you ever feel like you had to or wanted to?

I've never felt like I had to, but apart from one or two people, including my immediate boss, it wasn't until 18 months ago, 20 years into my career, that I started talking about it publicly. It certainly didn't come up in conversation. People don't ask. It was partly a result of a leadership program I went on at Pictet that gave me the confidence to start looking at the experiences I had and how they can add value around diversity of thought and what it brings. I started to think that what I had been through can help others.

What was it like in those 20 years? Did you ever consider telling people you were neurodiverse?

I didn't want to be thought of in that way, and I think that's especially true in investment, perhaps more so than in other parts of financial services like insurance, where there is a bigger population and a wider variety of roles. My educational journey was unconventional, but I had learned how to succeed despite it and arrived at a good destination.

Can you share any specific workplace or childhood memories of what it was like being neurodiverse?

I think the only thing it really stopped me from doing in the workplace was putting myself forward. I'd be less willing to self-promote and make a lot of noise about myself, more likely to just put my head down and get on. I think it was just trying to avoid the limelight and I didn't want to draw attention to myself. Another childhood memory I remember was very shortly after I was diagnosed so my parents told me I had to tell my teacher that I've been diagnosed as dyslexic. Only ‘dyslexic’ is a very hard word for any six or seven-year-old, let alone a dyslexic one. So, I described myself as "delicious," and that sort of stuck. So, for the rest of my school year, I was her "delicious" boy. That's not uncommon, that sort of word jumbling, but they knew what I meant.

What strengths do you think neurodiverse individuals bring to the workplace in terms of diversity from perspective, and what specifically does dyslexia bring to the workplace?

One of the key reasons we talk about diversity so much and inclusion is that we want a robust organization. You want to avoid the dangers of groupthink, a team full of people who think and act the same way is less robust than one where everybody thinks differently. I think it's a common experience for many neurodiverse individuals to try and hide their differences and blend in as much as possible. It's often seen as a coping mechanism, but it can also be exhausting and take a toll on mental health. It's important for organizations to create an environment where neurodiversity is valued and embraced, rather than something that needs to be hidden or masked. While I don’t want to generalise, often it is said that dyslexic people are known for general inventiveness and creativity – witness the famous artists from Da Vinci to Picasso and Warhol, their unique thinking style can be highly valuable – dyslexic people can excel at pattern-spotting, useful when working with complex datasets or within fastmoving markets. The dyslexic brain lends itself to a big picture view that can help see the wood for the trees, Dyslexic people can also known for powerful qualitative reasoning – what we tend to term ‘insight’ – very valuable where existing data is limited. 

What do you think employers can do to better support neurodiverse employees in the workplace?

I think there are several things that employers can do. First, they need to create a culture of acceptance and understanding around neurodiversity. This includes training for all employees to better understand neurodiversity and how to work effectively with colleagues who are neurodiverse. Second, line managers' support is particularly important. Third, they can provide accommodations and adjustments to support the needs of neurodiverse individuals, such as flexible working arrangements or assistive technology. Lastly, they can actively recruit and retain neurodiverse talent by creating inclusive recruitment processes and providing ongoing support and development opportunities.

What advice would you give to someone who has recently been diagnosed as neurodiverse and is struggling with their identity and how to navigate their career?

I would say that it's important to remember that being neurodiverse is just one aspect of who you are. It doesn't define you as a person and it doesn't have to limit your potential. It's important to seek out support from others who have had similar experiences, whether that's through support groups or mentoring. And don't be afraid to speak up and ask for accommodations or adjustments that will help you perform at your best. Remember that your neurodiversity can be a strength, and there are many successful people in all kinds of fields who are neurodiverse. You might find that someone will say something like, ‘really? That’s interesting! My son/daughter/nephew/niece/ best friend’s child – or even themself – is neurodivergent in some way.’ With around one in seven people being neurodivergent in one way or another, it’s not surprising. So don’t be at all worried about telling anyone. 

Have you noticed in those 20 years that people who are younger are more open about their neurodiversity? 

I haven't yet, no. I think the conversation is starting, but the journey of neurodiversity is still very early days. I think in investment, especially in financial services, there's a culture which is evolving now to recognize the spread of abilities and approaches. But 20 years ago, I didn't feel that was there.

And why do you think it's taken so long?

I think there's still a stigma to starting a discussion. I think that stigma hasn't been shaken yet. People haven't looked at neurodiversity as an opportunity and an ability, but as a disability. And it's about different abilities. The UK and USA are considerably ahead of other countries when discussing the subject, but there is still a way to go. I hope, in five years’ time, we are more advanced in the discussion and neurodiversity is better recognised. 

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