Our culture of Active Inclusion means that we all take personal responsibility for creating an inclusive organisation, supporting and enabling our colleagues to be their real selves at work. A huge part of that is having our employees share their own experiences, to help others understand their world a bit better.
Here, one of our employees speaks about their experiences at work before and after their diagnosis of Asperger’s. It takes a great deal of courage to write something like this, and it makes an enormous difference to the understanding of everyone reading, so we all owe a huge thanks to this brave individual for sharing their experiences – you are inspirational, and you have made a huge difference.
Tricia Driver, UK Talent Diversity and Inclusion Lead
Living with the label of "difficult"
I have always been considered difficult or hard work, or rude or aggressive. This year (being the first year that both work and I became aware I had Asperger's), was one of few I can remember when I left an annual review feeling positively recognised for trying to do my job well. The reason this had never been as positive in the past was not to do with my reviewers and the way they delivered the information, rather in the conflict between my perception of a situation and the way others see things.
Autistic people (not people with autism, please) have a vast myriad of traits that make each one an individual. Just like everyone else. It just happens however that some of those traits can leave us vulnerable when they go against the majority.
I consider myself to be honest and hard working. Others see the same thing as rude and aggressive. But, who is right? Social norms are set by society. They are not rules cast in stone and I am, and wish to feel part of that society. So, if I am, that means my views count and are just as relevant as others.
But what else is it like to be Autistic? Well for me, my brain is never quiet, and often feels overfull. I find it extremely difficult to not have something to do when at work. That doesn’t mean I need to be given tasks. I can manage my own time with complete autonomy, but I do need to have a material target or objective to work towards. When I'm at work I am very much ON. I do not have a power save mode, and that can be very, very tiring. I never feel rested, and MY sofa has a permanent bum mark on MY seat, where I collapse each day after work, buried under MY blanket.
The analogy I like is Spoon Theory. Every activity costs me spoons. The more intense the activity. The more spoons. The more sensory invasions, more spoons, the more concentrating on not saying the wrong thing, more spoons, more stress, more spoons. As I don’t have a power save mode I usually run out of spoons well before the end of the day. Oh and just for added mystery, I don’t know how many spoons I will get to spend each day but once I've spent my spoons I have nothing left to give to anyone. Not my children my spouse or my job.
Long term constantly running out of spoons has a detrimental impact on your health. As you get older, the amount of spoons you get to play with seems to deplete and the constant pressure of acting "normal" that comes with being high functioning can then result in Autistic Burnout. This is similar to occupational burnout and has similar symptoms to depression. Unfortunately it’s not well recognised in the medical community as a real "thing" so can be treated incorrectly or dismissed. It is also not well recognised in the workplace, where it is hard for people to see that there is an issue. For me, reflective self-management and making sure my line management are aware works well, along with planning my life in a way that gives me as much down time as possible
So aside from spoons, there are other things where I differ from your average Joe.
You know how when someone is having a conversation around you or next to you, or even in the general vicinity, you can tune it out? Nope, I can't do that. That self-defence trigger that warns you to stop talking, when somebody's facial expression say you really should? Or helps you pick your battles when someone is telling you black is pink, and they are wrong? Nope, don’t have one of those. That "skill" you have to be more politic with the truth, to butter people up, and tell them what you think they want to hear even when you don’t agree with them? Not only do I not have that skill, I don’t want to learn it and find it very hard to deal with hearing other people do it.
But it’s not all bad, and I hope I bring some key skills to the business. I have a great eye for spotting things other people miss, and I am hugely empathetic for the people around me and the general mood (go me, I am autistic and I can still "feel"). I pick up new things quickly and can turn my hand to most things that need doing. I’m also good at identifying WHAT needs doing. Despite some well -known Asperger's traits, believe it or not I can hold a conversation, I can make eye contact, I'm even relatively safe in front of the customer. Oh and I can't count matchsticks and I don’t collect train parts either :)
This post is anonymous for a reason. I, as a very logical honest person simply didn’t understand why someone who was different from the considered norm felt the need to either hide it, or for that matter, declare it. Now I understand. I do not feel comfortable in giving my differences a name in public (which is an interesting juxtaposition given that actually the label brings me a lot of personal relief).
This comes down to not wanting to be judged. I do not want people to say "You don’t look Autistic" or "everyone is on the autism spectrum" (no they aren't by the way), "We all find that hard" etc. I don’t want people who don’t know me, to assume what I am like, and what I can and can’t do. As a piece of advice, if someone tells you they are Autistic treat the response you make the same way you would when talking to a pregnant woman. It’s not ok to comment on her size just like it’s not ok to comment on a person’s Autism. I would however encourage you to understand their particular traits and triggers to better support them. Maybe even take some targeted training with an Autism advocate.
Capgemini are making a big push to see that diversity is recognised and for everybody to be and feel actively included. This is a really positive step, as I am beginning to learn that I am one amongst many of people declared in the company. For Capgemini it will help us get the best out of the people we employ, and ensure that they employ the right mix of people and skills to get the best results.
My path to diagnosis has been a somewhat rocky road, but now I’m working really well with my manager and my HR rep to work through what support is available, which has had a really positive impact on my ability to stay in work and contribute effectively.To do that the environment in which we work needs to be suitable to all. This includes the accommodation, the technology, company policies and staff training. Great big strides have been made in recent years like making it easier to work from home, and allowing more flexible working patterns.
If I was to advise any organisations thinking about their work environment, I’d also strongly encourage those involved in the building design to really think about the needs of all their employees. For example, for autistic people, that includes reducing sensory input like strong lighting, noise and foot traffic, and giving people the comfort of knowing where they’ll sit on a day to day basis.
Capgemini is a good place to work. My diagnosis has made a huge difference, and I’m lucky to have a manager who was willing to support me, even before my “label”. I am hopeful that the our Active Inclusion culture change will accelerate our understanding as an organisation, and will keep pushing us forwards on the journey to ensure that our environment is one where every employee feels completely included, and able to contribute, flourish and develop to their full potential