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The Autism Advantage at work

Category: testimonial, Neurodiversity, Aon, Hidden Disabilities, Autism, Work Life Balance, Insurance, Staff Testimonial, autistic, hidden disability, Home and Work Life Balance, Neurodivergent, Neurodiversity Network, Neurodiverse colleagues, Neurodiversity research


Haywood Drake

I’m Haywood Drake and I have worked at Aon since 1999. In that time, the way we all work has changed enormously. When I started working for Aon, I was in an office full of people in Farnborough, but now I work with people all over the world, especially in India and the US. We have moved to mostly remote working but even if I am in the office, I still work with people in different countries.

My role is senior application analyst – this means I help oversee the relationship Aon has with Accenture, the company to which we outsource our IT support. It is important to make sure Accenture meets Aon’s needs, the required level of service is met and the business keeps running smoothly. Auditing and security are critical because we handle a lot of sensitive data, such as life assurance details and employee information.

Working at Aon as an autistic person

I only told my manager last year that I am autistic. I did it by email as it is not an easy thing to just bring up in conversation. There are a lot of perceptions about what autistic people are capable of, so there needs to be trust to be able to talk about this, especially in a work environment.

This sort of conversation does not always go well because it is quite a difficult subject. But I sent an email and we had a discussion. I was more interested in telling my manager that this was just a part of my life, rather than asking for help. He has been my manager since 2012 – we already had a good relationship and he knew how I worked, so he didn’t need to change.

Looking back to 1999, people were only starting to become aware about high-functioning people with autism. I look at my work at Aon as an opportunity. Before I started here, I struggled to get a job with proper career prospects, so I ended up in a lot of dead-end jobs. But with Aon, I saw a career path and the opportunity to develop as a person.

Aon is big on diversity and inclusion and has been able to identify talent in neurodiverse people. There are so many benefits to hiring neurodiverse people – studies have shown that hiring a greater diversity of people leads to a better working environment. When people whose minds work in different ways, it helps innovation. There’s a competitive advantage to tapping into a diverse range of talents.

No more one-size-fits-all approach to autism

Every autistic person is different and needs different levels of support. There are some negative perceptions of autism in some parts of society. It doesn’t affect me personally, but a lot of autistic people have experienced mental health issues because of this. Environmental factors and a lack of life opportunities for many autistic people makes these problems worse.

It is a challenge to make real progress – it is not just about raising awareness or the government releasing a strategy or someone doing autism awareness training. There needs to be cultural change. It is important to understand the individual. People can be quick to judge and some autistic people may not have the social skills to be able to explain their situation.

The importance of work/life balance

As a large organisation, Aon offers employees a lot of flexibility, especially with working from home – this is really important for a lot of people. There are a lot of roles available to fit different people with different skills. Of course, when it comes to flexibility, it works both ways. Everyone has to be flexible to make things work. I like to have a plan, but sometimes plans change and when that happens, you have to accept that the plan has to change too.

Ever since the pandemic, the way we communicate has changed so much. When I started at Aon, if you needed to talk to someone, you’d just walk over to their desk and talk to them. Now most communication is done by messaging or meetings in Webex. There are pros and cons. Work used to be more social, there were more trips to the pub and there was always a social element, but this has obviously changed. We are mostly working from home, but I still go into the office once a week – it’s nice to get out and about.

At Aon, I have been accepted as a neurodiverse person and management is very supportive. It is so important to have a good work/life balance. Outside of work, I watch a lot of sports, especially ice hockey. I love going to ice hockey matches here in the UK. As well as my love of pretty much all sports, I am involved in my local autistic community with the launch of the Surrey Autism Strategy, which will take some time for the differences to be realised.

I met one of my good friends through working at Aon – she has left the company, but we still catch up every week. Last week, she asked me what day we’d be meeting up and I told her it was Thursday. She said I am good at remembering dates and that’s one reason why we’re best friends. There are so many positives that I find from being autistic – I am logical, and I offer loyalty, reliability, honesty and integrity.

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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