• Helen Needham
  • Published: 14 September 2020

I have always been a fighter. Growing up, I was a young carer to my younger brother and mum, a widow who struggled with mental health issues. We did not have the money for me to go to university, so I had to find a way to pay my way through university, which I did by working three jobs on the side.

Getting a job at Capco was beyond anything I could have imagined for my future. There is a perception that the archetypal profile of a consultant is a sociable, networking machine. I tried to be that, but it was not me. I always found socializing to be difficult, and still do. After a certain point, I felt this was holding me back from progressing further in the workplace.

Meanwhile, after he started school, my son was struggling in the classroom and on the verge of expulsion. My husband and I didn’t understand what was going on, and so we took him to see a child psychologist who diagnosed him with autism.

The more I read about autism and other forms of neurodiversity, the more I realized that I might also be autistic, so I decided to get tested too.

"It was a relief when I received the results – having autism was confirmation that there was a reason why I had been struggling. I did not have to change; I just needed to work differently, as I process things in another way."

I started to understand my son and myself better, and with that I started to fly. 

As things got better at work, I knew I needed to lead by example. When my son eventually leaves education and looks for a job, he, along with other neurodivergent people, must have opportunities to thrive in the workplace. One in seven people are neurodivergent, after all.1

That is why I helped form the Neurodiversity Employee Network at Capco, a group of neurodivergent employees, parent-carers of neurodivergent individuals and allies who are committed to educating people about and supporting neurodivergent employees.

At our firm, I believe we not only have a wonderful ‘Be Yourself at Work’ culture, but as employees we are in a unique position because the company is truly ours to shape. When I decided to try to start the new employee network, I went to the UK leadership team, and they were keen to support this new initiative. That gave me the courage to reveal my neurodivergent status.

As our UK Managing Partner Mike Ethelston says, “Neurodiversity is not just about the neurodivergent; everyone stands to benefit and many of the key considerations that companies should put in place for neurodivergent employees are just good business practice.”

I must admit that I was unsure how my colleagues would react to me disclosing myself as autistic, but I am so glad that I did. The response from colleagues, clients and my professional network have been overwhelmingly positive. Some other colleagues have now felt comfortable enough to ‘come out’ as neurodivergent themselves, and our Capco Neurodivergent Employee Network has continued to grow.

Our initiatives are helping people to find the courage to speak up about their unique perspectives, and to discuss what they need to be successful at work and in life, whether they are neurodivergent or not.

Since setting up the network, I’ve done a TedX talk,2 and Capco UK have committed to the
Valuable 500, a business initiative to drive disability inclusion through targets, including a firm-wide disability roadmap for 2021. In addition to the great progress that the network has made at work, my son is also thriving at home and in school. We’ll continue to fight the good fight, and it feels great to have Capco by my side.

1 https://archive.acas.org.uk/neurodiversity

2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTgq_SOmP5A