John Levell is the Chief Technology Officer of the KPMG Deal Advisory business. He’s also a Fellow of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, which means he is a leader in his field of expertise and is recognised by the professional body for IT for his knowledge and influence. Previously, he was an independent board advisor; an Associate Partner in EY’s technology consulting business; a Director in Deloitte’s customer transformation practice and has held board level roles in industry.
Notably, he also held the position of joint non-executive Chair of the British Dyslexia Association and is passionate about raising awareness around neurodiversity. Here he explains why.
I have spent over twenty-five years working in the technology sector and it is clear to me there are a large number of highly skilled and often exceptional people in this field whose ‘different thinking’ is the X factor driving their success. That can be the same whether they are already diagnosed or, as is frequently the case, they are living unknowingly with neurodiversity.
After an unconventional start to life, both academically and professionally, I was eventually diagnosed as dyslexic at 42 – and all the pieces started to fit in to place. Dyslexic people tend to have patterns of strengths and weaknesses that don’t match the norm. In many ways this explains why neurodiversity is so common amongst the most successful technology leaders and entrepreneurs.
In my case, the highs and the lows are very polarised – so the impact of working to my strengths is huge. Once diagnosed, I was able to focus on building a career that maximised the use of the strengths dyslexia gave me (eg spatial reasoning – it lets me assemble complex information rapidly to solve problems or design solutions) as well as working to mitigate the practical challenges.
Neurodivergent individuals face different challenges when it comes to recruitment and career progression. Around 15% of people are neurodiverse so it is important that selection criteria and assessments embrace non-neurotypical traits.
Significantly, many organisations design job roles assuming there will be neurotypical candidates and accept that adjustments will be needed under the Equality Act to help the neurodiverse fit those roles. However, given the notable differentiation this community can bring to business, a better model might be to fully exploit the power of ‘different thinking’ by designing some roles specifically to harness the key strengths of neurodivergent candidates.
The main aim is that recruitment must be a positive experience for neurodiverse people and provide business value – so organisations need to embrace and understand difference.
On balance, I believe understanding and awareness has risen substantially over recent decades. Many high-profile individuals are now happy to speak positively about their neurodiversity on the public stage. Equally, leading corporations like Barclays, KPMG, EY, HSF, Lloyds, Oracle, HP are increasingly championing this cause. For instance, GCHQ is actively hiring neurodivergent people, and Microsoft has focussed its entire Office products strategy around digital inclusion.
Many organisations have also taken very positive steps to change their employee experience – far beyond the minimum action needed to meet their legal obligations, because they understand the value that neurodiversity brings.
There are some excellent examples of good practice out there, and the direction of travel is positive. However, there is still a long way to go until we become a neurodiverse-friendly world, including in the workplace.
For more information about the support available for companies to recruit neurodivergent talent, visit Skills Development Scotland’s employer dedicated site Our Skills Force where you will also find more case studies to inspire you.