Investment20/20 Newsletter - Autumn 2021
Our autumn newsletter explores neurodiversity with a focus on autism and the many advantages autistic talent brings to the workplace.
Thinking Outside the Box
A glimpse of the future from BNP Paribas Sercurities Services
When looking for new perspectives, particularly around innovation and improvement, we are often challenged to ‘think outside the box.’ I’ve often wondered where that box came from, who put it there and why? In short, it’s of our own making. The box is a weak shorthand for the ‘way things have always been done’ or, worse, ‘the way we think about things around here.’
What if there was no box? What if we approached our challenges with true diversity of thought, valuing different opinions and experiences equally, and learning from each other along the way?
This is a glimpse of the future that I see for our industry. Alongside other forms of diversity, there is a growing understanding of the benefits that neurodiversity can bring to an organisation.
Simon Olenka, Regional Head UK and Middle East, BNP Paribas Securities Services
That’s why I am so excited about the partnership between BNP Paribas, Investment20/20 and Ambitious About Autism. I am delighted that we have been able to offer a trainee position to a super-bright autistic candidate for whom the investment industry might have appeared a daunting prospect. However, the real value I have seen is the perspective that she has given when embarking on her journey with BNP Paribas. Things that we just never considered as anything other than normal: psychometric tests for candidates, unclear job descriptions which used jargon and ‘industry-speak’ and general ambiguity in our recruitment process. Things that were inside our ‘box.’ In just a matter of weeks, I’ve seen a positive change in our corporate culture, where our teams are more aware – and appreciative - of others’ perspectives. It’s making our organisation a better place to work. It’s early days, but I have nothing but optimism for the future.
My son is autistic, and we have lived the challenge of getting the right diagnosis and suitable support at school. All too often it can feel like he has been written off. I really hope our industry plays its part, working with schools and universities to give these talented individuals inspiration and future career prospects. In turn, as we have experienced already at BNP Paribas, we will develop richer and more diverse talent pools. Everybody wins.
I’d like to thank Investment20/20, Ambitious About Autism, my team – and our new intern – for bringing this programme to life. Like all the best ideas, it’s simple, but it works. It is thinking outside of the box at its best. I encourage anyone reading this to take the same step at their organisation.
To hear directly from those involved, watch this recording of July’s Investment20/20 Autism Awareness webinar.
Investment20/20 Autism Webinar
Learn about autism from Jade Fuller, Programme Manager from Ambitious About Autism
Jade Fuller, Programme Manager - Employ Autism, Ambitious About Autism
Ambitious About Autism has been working with Investment20/20 to help investment management firms be more confident in recruiting autistic talent. We are the national charity for children and young people with autism.
We define autism as a lifelong neurodevelopmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and how they experience the world around them.
The condition is unique, and each individual will have their preferred way of describing themselves. There are many autistic people who will choose not to describe themselves as having a disability or being disabled, but this word does highlight that autism is covered within the Equality Act and is a protected characteristic. For individuals, this brings potential access to support, funding and employment rights, which some employers may not realise.
Did you know….
- In the UK it is reported that 1 in 100 people are autistic, however this number is likely to be much higher as the process for getting a diagnosis can be difficult, lengthy and sometimes expensive. In comparison, the US work on the statistic of 1 in 54. (The NHS Information Centre, Community and Mental Health Team, Brugha, T. et al (2012). Estimating the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions in adults: extending the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Leeds: NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care)
- Autism is three times more prevalent in boys than girls. This doesn’t mean girls can’t be or aren’t autistic. It is recognised that girls have an ability to mask and even suppress some of their behaviours in certain situations as they can be more aware of a need to ‘fit in’ at a young age. (The NHS, Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, (2017))
- Autism can sometimes co-occur alongside other conditions. Someone who receives a diagnosis of autism may also have other neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD, Dyslexia or OCD, giving them a truly unique experience of the world.
Why Autism Is A Gift To The Industry
Courtesy of Ambitious About Autism based on research by York St John University
Recruiting Autistic Candidates
How small changes to recruitment practices can have big results
Recruiting for potential, the Investment20/20 ethos, is about forgetting a tick box approach to recruitment and understanding that talent can appear in ways that may not always fit a standardised selection checklist.
Identifying hidden talent requires a shake-up of the tried-and-tested recruitment process and recognising that a formulaic approach may not always enable candidates to be their authentic selves. Organisations that fully commit to this ethos benefit from recruiting untapped talent whose strengths may not have been evidenced using traditional selection methods.
According to the Office for National Statistics, only 21.7% of autistic people are in any kind of paid employment. (Office for National Statistics (2021), Outcomes for disabled people in the UK: 2020). That means that the talents of almost 80% of autistic people are not being tapped into by employers.
Yet people with autism bring many strengths to the workplace as shown in this research from York St John University (as discussed in our section about autism). All firms benefit from a workforce with these strengths making a strong business case for reforming recruitment processes.
However, recruiters can face challenges when it comes to changing processes. If an organisation has historically found great talent using a well-tested process, why change it? We have to ask ourselves whether the sector is providing equity in the recruitment process for all candidates. There has been an increased narrative on the attraction of diverse talent, but has the recruitment infrastructure shifted significantly enough to enable broader pools of talent to shine?
According to the Office for National Statistics, only 21.7% of autistic people are in any kind of paid employment."
Investment20/20 has been driving change in the recruitment infrastructure for eight years, with over 2,000 people beginning their career in the sector through the trainee programme. All our member firms sign up to our principles of recruiting for potential, and consequently have recruited some awe-inspiring individuals who have the potential to go on to be empathetic change makers in the sector. But these individuals may not have been selected using a standardised recruitment approach because they may not have ‘fit.’
There has been an increased narrative on the attraction of diverse talent, but has the recruitment infrastructure shifted significantly enough to enable broader pools of talent to shine?"
Over recent years we have seen employers (Does it matter what degree grade you get? - BBC News) and universities (Contextualised admissions – how it works in practice | Undergraduate | UCAS) adopt contextualised recruitment, recognising the impact of socio-economic status on achievement. We’ve seen large global employers remove grade requirements for graduate programmes. These are important and much needed strides that begin to address entry requirements, but not necessarily the holistic process of recruitment.
For candidates with autism, it’s the culture of recruitment that has to change. We risk letting down a diverse pool of talented people by rigidly sticking to a process that benefits the few rather than the many. The recruitment process has to enable equity for all at each stage. All employers offer adaptions and support for those who declare a need for it – but remember the statistic on diagnosis of autism, (refer back to ‘Understanding Autism’ section). By not adjusting the recruitment process, a status quo is maintained, rather than taking steps to proactively diversify the workforce.
Adapting The Process And Culture Of Recruitment
Adapting the process and culture of recruitment benefits ALL candidates, allowing them to be their authentic selves. Small tweaks that aren’t expensive nor time-intense can achieve amazing results.
1. Job Descriptions
Job descriptions are meant to engage and provide insight but can be confusing and filled with industry jargon and ambiguity.
By not adjusting the recruitment process a status quo is maintained, rather than taking steps to proactively diversify the workforce."
For autistic candidates, language can at times be a barrier to communication. Terms such as ‘candidates need to be able to collaborate and have excellent communication skills’ are common on job descriptions. Jade Fuller, Programme Manager - Employ Autism, Ambitious About Autism, suggests that employers should write using clear language and literal sentences, being specific about the tasks that need to be undertaken. All candidates benefit from more specificity and the use of examples. Instead of using ‘excellent written communication skills’ say:
- You can write reports using the correct grammar and spellings
- You can write emails that are properly structured
Making language on job descriptions more accessible is simple and can make a substantial difference to all candidates. Ultimately, it will help to drive more inclusive recruitment and a more diverse workforce.
2. Assessment Centres
Navigating assessment centres can be anxiety inducing especially so for those with autism. Having as much information as possible in advance about the process, the venue and the tasks can help reduce anxiety and ultimately improve performance during this stage of recruitment. This is particularly the case for people with autism who can at times experience heightened levels of anxiety in unfamiliar situations. Here are a few tips on making the candidate experience easier:
Provide a timed agenda for the day with details of the process and exercises using clear precise language.
Use a film to introduce the assessment centre facilitators with a visual of the venue and overview of what to expect.
Have a quiet space for candidates to arrive early and adjust to the venue surroundings. The journey to the venue may have been overloaded with sensory stimuli such as being on the tube or bus.
Provide sufficient scheduled breaks allowing candidates time to themselves.
Consider alternatives to an assessment centre such as a job trial or work experience.
Most of us feel slightly nervous in the lead up to an interview. Making simple adjustments to the interview process can make a huge difference to candidates such as:
- Provide a map with visual landmarks such as a picture of the outside of the building and the reception area.
- Be clear on what the dress code is and provide the names of the people who will be interviewing them.
- Avoid using recruitment or industry jargon.
- Use questions that are concise and specific and avoid hypothetical or abstract questions.
- Provide fidget spinners, stress balls or other inexpensive sensory gadgets. These tools can help reduce anxiety.
- Share a copy of the interview questions in advance to allow for a considered response.
Jade Fuller from Ambitious About Autism suggests asking the applicants to complete a task that showcases their skills as part of the selection process. If you decide to interview then consider sharing the questions in advance to allow for proper preparation, resulting in a more effective discussion. Jade also recommends that during an interview make sure to allow time for candidates to process information, “many autistic people will benefit from a pause, giving them time to consider the question and their response. The tendency to want to fill the silence can have a detrimental effect on the autistic person. Instead try leaving at least a 5 second gap before speaking again to avoid ‘information overload.”
The messages are clear: adapting recruitment and selection processes increases inclusivity and leads to a more diverse workforce with broader skills and experiences.
In early 2021, Investment20/20 delivered a virtual work experience project for an autistic school in London. We learnt a lot about approaches and how to make the experience impactful. As a result, the students provided new insights, new perspectives and new strengths. Ultimately, differentiating our approach to be more inclusive brought results.
Helpful Links And Further Information
Hear from an Investment20/20 Trainee at BNP Paribas Securities Services about her experience of the recruitment process as a person with autism
After studying philosophy and Japanese at Bristol, I become an Investment20/20 trainee at BNP Paribas Securities Services. The role offers the opportunity to enhance my understanding of project management methodologies, and a better understanding of the investment process.
As someone with autism, I’ve experienced many challenges when applying for jobs in the past. Generic online tests, opaque application processes, zero contact with employers until interview and no post-interview feedback are just some examples. They highlight the impersonal nature of many application processes, which don’t truly realise a candidate’s capacity to perform in a given role, nor how she/he might develop over time.
Isabella Mangan, Client Implementation Trainee, BNP Paribas Securities Services
In contrast, the application for my current role was very straightforward, thanks to BNP Paribas (BNPP) and Ambitious About Autism (AAA), providing a great way to showcase my skills. It was extremely clear, which lessened my anxiety of the unknown- often experienced by those with autism. I wrote a cover letter and CV with support from AAA. It is sometimes difficult for me to translate thoughts into words, so this was a great help. I received introductory emails from the interviewers, and interview questions, in advance. This allowed me to focus on the quality of my answers, rather than the pressures of an interview setting. I was asked to give a pre-prepared presentation on a topic of my choice. This was a great way to highlight the special interests that many with autism have, and was a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate my presentation skills. Afterwards, I was given comprehensive feedback, which was both personal and constructive for my future development.
I am very much enjoying my role so far and, whilst I am only one particular representation of autism, my experience suggests that- with a little thought- any firm could make small changes to attract more neurodiverse candidates.
Careers & Talent Update
Programme for new academic year
Attracting Diverse Talent
There has never been a more important time to connect with young people and demonstrate the brilliant career opportunities in investment management. Over the last 8 years, Investment20/20 has supported over 2,000 people to begin their career in the sector, and for many of them our outreach service is an important part of their journey.
Working with schools, colleges, universities, charitable and community organisations, our Careers and Talent Outreach Service helps people to explore careers in investment management. From delivering workshops and seminars, leading events and in-depth programmes, and hosting Instagram Q&A’s, the outreach service connects young people, teachers and careers advisers to employers in the sector.
Investing to Improve Climate Change
With COP26 on the horizon and an increased focus on environmental issues, now is the time to demonstrate to young people the role of investment management in making a positive impact on climate change. Volunteers from Investment20/20 member firms have been delivering our ‘investing to improve climate change’ over the summer term with great success, and as we head into the new academic term we are delighted to roll these out further. If you are interested in getting in involved in these workshops please contact Sue Allen.
Investment20/20 has become the investment industry’s gateway for the government’s Kickstart programme which creates six-month’s work placements for young people who are on Universal Credit. Over 30 young people recruited from Job Centre Plus are starting their careers with 16 investment management firms. We are the only industry body to play this role without taking public money as members are self-funding. Working with Job Centre Plus has been another way for our sector to diversify recruitment and access a broader talent pool. We are looking forward to welcoming new young people onto the Kickstart programme in the coming months. To find out more about Kickstart please contact Jenny Barber, Director of Careers and Talent.
This academic year, more students will be able to access Think Investments, our award-winning careers programme. Embedding Think Investments into lectures and classrooms takes the programme directly into schools, colleges and universities and becomes an integral part of their sixth form experience. Following a successful pilot with Westminster Kingsway College and Edinburgh College earlier this year, we are delighted to adding another 14 schools, colleges and universities to our Think Investments partnership for this academic year. We have two Think Investments pathways – Business and Technology, each with three modules.
Think Investments is delivered in conjunction with industry volunteers. To find out more about how to get involved please contact Jenny Barber, Director of Careers and Talent.