20 MAR 2022
This week marks Neurodiversity Celebration Week — a worldwide initiative that challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurodiverse conditions and learning disabilities. Increasingly, neurodiversity is spoken about in the context of the professional world, with the hope of increasing awareness of the positive aspects of diverse ways of thinking.
William Kirkpatrick MRICS, Partner and Head of Hotels and Extended Stay, and Andrew Heath MRICS, an Associate at Gerald Eve share their insights with us.
We’re celebrating neurodiversity in every form this week. Tell us a bit about your journey with neurodiversity.
Andrew: I always found I struggled at school and in subjects that I wasn't passionate about. However, as soon as I started learning about real estate and specifically hotels, I didn't/still don't want to stop learning. I have been fortunate to work at a firm like Gerald Eve, which has recognised and welcomed my dyslexia. From my first assessment day, graduate rotations to work up to Associate, the firm has supported me and given me every opportunity to thrive. Having mentors and senior leadership to look up to know they have dyslexia and are open about it is a great advantage.
William: I left school at 16 as I struggled with what I call ‘brain fog’. I exceled when I could learn by listening but suffered when extensive reading was required. I studied Land Administration BTEC in college, which was a mix of planning, architecture and estate management. The ‘brain fog’ started to lift. I finally ‘got it’. This gave me the entry requirements to attend university.
As a graduate I nearly quit surveying in my second graduate rotation. My first rotation was in Leisure and Hotels which I ‘got’ and loved it. My second rotation was in lease consultancy writing lots of reports in retail and offices, in which I was not interested. My manager had extremely high standards for written work, so my reports came back with more red ink than black ink. It was soul destroying. I then moved to my third rotation back into Operational Real Estate and had an amazing supervisor, James Orr, who took time to mentor and accept me. James and I now work today as Partners in Operational Real Estate.
As awareness grows, it can be said that neurodiversity is a competitive advantage. Why do you think that is and have you found that in your own career and life?
Andrew: At school, you’re often taught to answer questions a certain way. But due to being dyslexic, I process information differently from others. This means I usually go about problem-solving differently. I consider diversity of thought a positive advantage within the workplace and a competitive advantage in someone's career.
William: I wholeheartedly agree. Diversity of thought and an alternative thought process compliments any team, especially in a sector which requires strong numeric, modelling and interrogation of data skills. To add, typically people from neurodiverse backgrounds tend to have worked harder to get to the same position. Once they find their place and understand themselves, they often are passionate about their career as the ‘brain fog’ has disappeared.
What tips would you give to an employer who wants to support their neurodivergent employees but doesn’t know where to start?
Andrew: Being open to the neurodiversity of the employee is critical: neurodivergent people can bring many strengths to a team/business. Treating each employee as an individual and allowing them to thrive through support is critical to business success. As a result of this support, people will feel empowered and enjoy the working environment.
William: We need more senior leaders to be open about neurodiversity; to support, encourage, mentor and demonstrate that you can achieve your career aspirations. Neurodivergent people can excel in certain areas but may face challenges in others, so by mixing your team profile you can create a dynamic, market leading business with a mix of skill sets to create value and problem-solve for clients.
What would be your advice to someone who is neurodivergent starting off their career right now?
Andrew: Don't be shy of being different. It might not show like other forms of diversity but be open and own your strengths and weaknesses. Accept and seek support — this will allow you to focus and grow in the early stages of your career.
William: Don’t give in. It gets a lot easier as you progress through your career. Understand your strengths and play to those. Understand your challenges, be open with your manager and check in with HR about what support is available.
Graduate rotations can be challenging. Trying to pick up a new skill set in a short period of time, to then rotate and learn another skill set can be hard work but great fun. You will be amazed how many neurodivergent people there are in the industry at all levels, so you are most certainly not alone and there is no limit to what you can and will achieve.
What do you think the industry has gotten right over the past 10 years when it comes to celebrating neurodiversity?
Andrew: There are many neurodivergent people in real estate. Many have succeeded and are now senior leaders. I believe that the people who have successfully navigated that path now recognise the younger generation and support them to grow and thrive in a diverse industry.
William: When I started my career 22 years ago, there was a stigma attached to being labelled neurodivergent. Dyslexia was seen as being a bit ‘special’ or ‘thick’ especially for those seeking a career in Professional Services. The industry has moved on with partnerships like Gerald Eve providing the extra tools to create a level playing field. This has changed and created a material shift in the industry.
However, when I talk about Neurodiversity Celebration Week to clients, friends and colleagues who are dyslexic themselves, the majority would not join an open forum such as this, especially those starting off their career. I understand why. So, whilst we have come a long way, work stills needs to be done to get us to a place where people can openly talk about neurodiversity and feel proud, not hide away.