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What’s it like being autistic at Atkins?

Posted by Abeera Alam
Posting date:5/6/2021 8:28 AM
Celebrating neurodiversity with Lucy and Luke

For us, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) isn't just about award-winning policies or a progressive strategy. It's about having a culture that celebrates different minds and is always open to being challenged and doing better. After all, we're known for our diversity of thought and expertise and the great work that comes from it. 

We asked Lucy and Luke, two autistic employees in Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group, for their perspective:

Lucy is a talented Lead Creative Project Manager. It's her responsibility to manage projects smoothly from start to finish. Her superpower is her consistent, impartial approach to reviewing, refining and creating processes. It keeps the Creative Design team running efficiently.

"For me, being as open and honest about my autism and my experiences, like contributing to this blog, is how I can best do my bit to help educate people and break the stigma. I want to demonstrate why I'm grateful for my autism rather than ashamed of it."
– Lucy

Luke, one of our rising stars, is a graduate civil engineer who currently maintains and upgrades existing structures on our transportation networks in South Wales. We value his way of thinking, which encourages a high level of integrity and understanding of our clients' challenges.

"Working in an open and diverse team at Atkins allows me to discuss solutions that may otherwise have not been considered by my neurotypical colleagues."
– Luke

Would you say your interview process was autism-friendly?

Lucy:  I joined Atkins through a recruitment agency. Although I was diagnosed with autism when I was 8, it was only when I joined Atkins that I really started to understand what it meant for me. So, whether the recruitment process was autism-friendly or not wasn't even a consideration at that time. I'm fortunate that I actually really enjoy interviews. But I think more can always be done to make the recruitment process more accessible, and our HR team is on board with that. 

Luke: I first started my career with Atkins on a week placement in Autumn 2015 when I was in sixth-form! Since then, I was lucky enough to gain summer placements in Essex and South Wales with Atkins, which helped me obtain my role as a graduate engineer. 

I didn't go through a typical recruitment process. I didn't have to fill out any forms or go on any graduate recruitment centre days. I just had mini-interviews at the end of each placement to see what my aspirations were. Fortunately, I was able to receive recommendations on each placement to move my career along with Atkins! 

What Challenges and opportunities has the pandemic thrown up for you?

Lucy: Working from home has brought me huge benefits and challenges. It's brilliant to tailor my environment to suit me, especially from a sensory perspective. I can sit with a blanket on my lap, with the heating on, in a really light and airy room without any distractions.

On the flip side, having a lack of face-to-face contact with my team has its downsides. Working remotely across video calls can take its toll on your mental wellbeing. I look forward to when restrictions ease, and we can have a really healthy balance of working partly in the office and partly from home. 

Luke: Many of the challenges that autistic people face are similar, if not the same, to what most young people starting new jobs are experiencing. The key opportunity with Atkins is that flexible and remote working has become the norm. As we leave the pandemic, I'll have the choice to work from home or the office, whichever best suits my needs.

How does Atkins support you with what you need in your demanding roles?

Lucy: I've been really fortunate to have such supportive managers. They've helped shape my role to one that plays to my strengths and gives me the confidence to be myself at work. 

"I'm a huge champion of mindfulness and meditation. My team actively encourages us to take regular breaks and prioritize our mental wellbeing."
– Lucy 

Luke: Atkins has the standard employee-line manager hierarchy. But I've developed a great relationship with mine, where I can talk about autism. We have a neurodiversity staff network that I have gone to for support and to support others with neurodiverse conditions. 

If you could get people to understand five things about autism and autistic people at work, what would they be?

Lucy & Luke:

You can't tell if someone is autistic just by looking at them. It's a hidden condition. For autistic people, this can be a blessing and a curse!

Autistic people think differently. This is a huge benefit, not a disadvantage, to any company or team. We're often logical, unbiased and take a different approach. This can provide solutions to problems that neurotypical people wouldn't otherwise think of.

Every autistic person is different and will behave differently. There are a lot of misconceptions around autistics. Yes, we can share common traits, such as sensory sensitivities. But as someone who worked in a busy student bar during uni, I can say that's enough evidence to show we are not all the same!

Autism should be seen as a condition and not a disability.

Autistic people have every chance, if not better than anyone else, at contributing to a project. We have strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else.

What would you like to say prospective autistic candidates who might be reading this?

Lucy: Since joining Atkins and disclosing my condition to my managers, I have had more support than I ever could have asked for. I feel empowered and comfortable being myself at work and respected for the skills and strengths my autism brings. We also have a company-wide Neurodiversity Network that raises awareness of neurodiverse conditions and helps to make Atkins even more accessible.

 "If you're looking to work for Atkins, know that everyone is ready to pitch in and help you grow, whether you're autistic or not."
– Luke

Luke:  Your colleagues will not treat you differently and will support your unique needs. I work with great people who are always happy to talk through anything that could cause me a great deal of stress. Suppose you find yourself in a position where you aren't happy with something at work or out of work. There are plenty of avenues in your team and in the organization to help you resolve these issues. 

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