A perennial celebration: how Odgers supports neurodiversity
Four of our employees reveal how neurodiversity affects their lives and why it matters so much that Odgers’ supportive and inclusive culture encourages them to be their true selves.
Neurodiversity Celebration Week (13-19 March 2023) was created to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes about neurological differences. We are delighted to champion this laudable worldwide initiative because we are strong believers in an equitable organisational environment that supports neurodivergent talent.
While a week of raising awareness is an excellent idea, in Odgers we are proud to say that empowerment of neurodiverse colleagues is a year-round commitment. It’s hardwired into our culture. We know it makes us a better business – both ethically and commercially – with more to offer to our employees, our candidates and our clients.
Empowering colleagues is one of three main strands to our approach. A good example of this is our Neurodiversity Allies Group which promotes fairness and strives to improve inclusion in all areas. The Allies programme was created to ensure our unique ‘Unlimited’ culture is upheld and resonates across our geographic locations.
The second strand is our Parent Support Group, set up to help the parents of neurodiverse children by sharing useful information, experiences and provide mutual support. And thirdly, there is the work we are doing with clients and candidates to celebrate neurodiverse executive talent and ensure it is not overlooked or disadvantaged.
Becky Mackarel, Lead at the Odgers Interim Investment & Professional Services Practice is dyslexic – and has a neurodiverse child. Growing up, her difficulty with writing meant she struggled with certain aspects of school and university. On starting work she encountered employees who did not understand dyslexia and made her feel uncomfortable. In Odgers the picture was thankfully very different.
“It's a very open culture,” says Becky. “The Allies Group shows how interested the business is in neurodiversity and that makes me feel comfortable. I’ve been working for nearly 20 years, and this is the first place where I'm actually confident telling people I'm dyslexic. I had to hide it for so long because, to be quite blunt it was frowned upon.”
In 2020, in the early stages of the pandemic Richard Love’s son was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Richard, who is Managing Director of Berwick Partners and has been with the business for 19 years, was subsequently told by a psychiatrist working with his son that he too should be assessed for ADHD. When he was duly diagnosed in early 2022, a number of things began to make sense. At times, Richard finds it difficult to stay on task; he doesn’t enjoy, but has to have structure in order to be productive and often has a plethora of ideas and priorities occupying his attention and causing distraction.
When Richard started at Odgers almost two decades ago it was a different era and not an environment that encouraged people to bring their authentic selves to work. There has been a sea change in the business since then. “You really can be who you are,” says Richard. “You can ask for support, you can be open about it. In our world, I cannot imagine the other firms are as accepting and supportive of neurodiversity as we are.”
From a client perspective, Odgers/Berwick have forged a partnership with auticon, an international IT consulting firm that employs adults on the autism spectrum and has great neuro-inclusion expertise. Moreover, through James Foley – who works across the Berwick and Odgers businesses and is himself neurodiverse – a new Inclusive Recruitment Diagnostic tool has been developed and is now being piloted.
“Accessibility for neurodiverse people is an underacknowledged and under-resourced area of recruitment,” says Richard. “Many organisations simply don’t realise how inaccessible a huge amount of their materials and processes are for people with a neurodiverse condition.”
Charlotte Smith, Bid Coordinator, Odgers Berndtson currently heads Neurodiversity Allies. She was delighted to join a company that already had a group of this kind in place as with previous employers she felt like she “lived in one country and went to work in another one”. At home, her wife and much of her family are neurodiverse, which made it an isolating experience to go into an office where no one else was neurodiverse and it was not really spoken about.
Charlotte is keen to highlight the Purple Passport scheme run by HR in Odgers under which neurodiverse and disabled employees are asked to set out the accommodations they need to make their working lives easier. “I haven't worked anywhere with anything like that. And I found it really, really helpful.”
For parents of neurodiverse children it can be a struggle to get an accurate diagnosis. That was certainly the case for Odgers Berndtson Executive Assistant Kelly Harding, who joined the business in July 2022 and finally received two diagnoses for her daughter of ADHD and autism with sensory processing issues in September 2022 after a two-year fight. Kelly recalls reeling from the shock of two diagnoses, but also remembers the incredible support she received from her Head of Practice and colleagues.
“The firm has something that’s tangible that you don't see in other corporate settings,” says Kelly. “It's a cultural thing and I feel as though I've hit the jackpot. I'm not worried that my openness and honesty that I have a neurodiverse child will be seen as a negative in terms of whether I can carry out my job. Having a child that is ‘different’ can at times be a cause for segregation as a parent in the school playground but at Odgers there is acceptance and a sense of belonging you don’t easily find which is quite amazing.”