Firm urges others to harness ‘unique skills’ of employees with autism

Lucy Hilary

BARBOUR ABI has marked tomorrow’s National Autism Acceptance Day by sharing its thoughts on what businesses can do to harness the ‘unique skills’ people with the condition can bring to the workplace.

The construction intelligence firm’s campaign is being led by Lucy Hilary, who has spearheaded a week of events. Lucy has autism and is described by the firm as one of its ‘top’ researchers.

Lucy explained that, despite being very sociable and outgoing, she finds noise, crowded spaces and small talk difficult – this, she said, has been a barrier to her succeeding in previous workplaces.

She continued, “I was being treated like a child and not being listened to. The thing with working in an office was I had a massive issue with the noise of typing on a keyboard; it would paralyse me and invoke internalised rage that I would have to manage to appear calm on the outside but on the inside, I was exploding.”

Despite doing ‘extremely well’ at school and university, Lucy was told by one employer that she wouldn’t be suitable for their graduate trainee programmes – despite having a degree.

“I had big ambitions I wanted to be a manager and do well and be successful,” she explained. “Throughout my 20s I realised this was never going to happen for me and by the end of my 20s I had stopped applying for higher paid positions with more responsibility because I had always been told I wasn’t good enough.”

However, things changed for Lucy when she started work at Barbour ABI as a researcher. The firm explained that her manager, its HR team and senior leadership took the time to try to understand her condition and what she needed to flourish in her role.

“It was decided I would create my own timetable on returning to work (after lockdown) and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. There was also no pressure to keep to the timetable. It gave me a sense of control,” Lucy added. “I was sat in the corner by the window but still on a bank of researchers, so I felt part of the team and I was facing the door and allowed to use my own headphones.

“With this newfound support I am now the top researcher in the department and am often asked for input on different elements of the job to see my take on it. Sometimes I will be asked to look at projects to see if I can find out new information because I have a knack at looking at something and knowing if something isn’t quite right or finding out something new to point us in a better direction.”

Jamie Cullen, head of research at Barbour ABI, commented, “Lucy is a fantastic and valued member of the team. By listening to her and trying to understand her needs we were able to make a number of very minor adjustments from our side that made the world of difference to her. She is now thriving, and we are able to benefit from her unique insights that come from a slightly different way of looking at things. If we didn’t support Lucy properly those insights would be lost, and the company and our clients would be worse off.”

Lucy said, “I can’t be cured, nor would I want to be. Autism is not a disability it is the wrong environment. If you took away my noise cancelling headphones, made me sit in the middle of people and treated me like everyone else, I would not be able to succeed in my job.”