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Award winning pharmaceutical company Roche embraces neurodiversity, and positively supports flexible working. Read on for one employees story.
Stephen Hamilton did not realise he was autistic until seven years ago when he went onto the National Autistic Society’s website and answered some questions which showed he was. His doctor confirmed this and said he could do some tests to get an official diagnosis. However, Stephen wasn’t sure a label would help him, particularly with work.
At the time he was not working for a supportive employer, but last year he started at the pharmaceutical company Roche as a project manager. The company has a progressive approach to neurodiversity and has held a neurodiversity conference and audit in the last year.
That approach was one of the factors that won the company the 2018 Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award for Talent Attraction.
Stephen was approached about the job via LinkedIn. He had a series of interviews and it was after that that he informed Roche that he was on the high performing end of the autistic spectrum. “Their approach is very open,” he says. “Much different to what I was used to. They treat you like a family member. Although it is a big company, it has a small family company feel. You are valued as an individual and there are opportunities to grow. You are encouraged to learn, develop and expand.”
Stephen says his previous employer was “close minded” and didn’t want to know about his diagnosis. Roche, however, was very different and was interested in his strengths as an individual. As a project manager, his job is to fix problems. He says: “If everyone looks at things the same way they will all come up with the same solutions. My brain is wired slightly differently. It gives me a unique perspective. Roche values how people who think differently can work together as a team and bounce ideas off each other. They allow everyone to be themselves and value their insights. Thinking differently about things is no longer seen by some employers as a negative and some are actively employing people on the spectrum.”
Stephen, who has been a project manager for over 10 years, says he tends to look at things very systemically. “By the time most people get to C I have got to Z,” he says. “I can use that ability to think about problems.”
In the past his autism – particularly his difficulty in picking up social signals – has caused him problems when he started work. “I knew I was making mistakes socially, but no-one told me what they were. On one secondment I asked my manager to ask people what I was doing wrong. One manager didn’t seem to want to be around me. I asked him what I was doing wrong and he told me. It took two hours. I was completely unaware of all the things he listed,” he says.
He learned coping mechanisms and changed job. “I have never been interested in office politics. I just want to get the job done and deliver results. Roche appreciates that. Much like a family, they accept people for who they are,” says Stephen.
He is very open about being on the autistic spectrum at Roche. A colleague’s son is also on the spectrum and Stephen has given her advice. “People are interested in learning about autism. I’ve had really good two-way conversations about it and people seem to understand it more now.”
Stephen spoke at Roche’s first neurodiversity conference in 2018. He admits speaking in front of 60 strangers was challenging, but he feels that he needs to challenge himself. It helped that he felt supported by Roche. He hopes his short talk showed that people on the autistic spectrum are valuable members of society. Stephen has also taken part in Roche’s neurodiversity audit where he was asked about his experience at the company.
He says understanding more about autism has also helped him at home. Stephen has a 10-year-old son by his ex-partner who is also autistic. By the age of eight, his son could talk about nuclear fusion, having worked it out himself through downloading TED talks. Stephen said he was very similar at that age. Having a dad on the autistic spectrum means he can get some tips on, for instance, communication with others, such as learning to look people in the eye. This is the kind of thing people do unconsciously, but which those on the autistic spectrum have to learn consciously.
Stephen says he has also benefited from Roche’s general culture, including its flexible working. His wife suffers from chronic arthritis and he sometimes accompanies her to hospital appointments. “It’s a win win as Roche’s flexibility encourages me to work harder,” he says.
Stephen can also work one or two days from home a week if he needs to. “Roche is more interested in you doing a good job than where you work. On my first day here a security guard told me I would love it here and that in 15 years I would still be here. When you get enlightened companies that talk about Diversity and Inclusion and practice it, when it is not just a tick box thing, it benefits everyone,” says Stephen.