Diversity in engineering is a topic that we all talk and hear a lot about within the industry. The focus is often around encouraging more women into the industry, or considering diversity from a race or economic background perspective. But, what about autism? To mark 2020’s Autism Awareness Week, we chatted with Anna Preston, our Development Team Leader, who was diagnosed with autism 2 years ago.
Tell us a bit more about your role at Mabey Hire.
I’m a chartered civil engineer and, as a Development Team Leader, work on developing new and updating existing products within Mabey Hire’s extensive portfolio of temporary works. It’s a really hands-on and data-driven role, allowing me to get creative and experimental, which is perfect for me.
In your view, how do you think people currently perceive autism within engineering? How would you like this to change in the future?
Honestly, I’d have to say that there is currently very little awareness of autism within the engineering industry. Even I wasn’t truly aware of it until I was diagnosed, which was partly why I initially felt so confused. I believe the two key issues are a lack of understanding and a lack of acceptance, both within engineering and society as a whole. This can only be solved through educating people on what autism actually is and the different ways in which it can affect people. All too often, there is this awful perception of autism within society as being something negative or a disability, which is no doubt stopping people from coming forwards and seeking support.
Awareness of autism is the first stage; then, I think there needs to be a move towards acceptance. Employers, and society, need to start looking at the positive sides of autism. I view myself as enthusiastic and straight-talking, with an ability to focus on one task for long periods of time – none of which are bad qualities. Ultimately, autism is just a new, different way of looking at the world. With respect to my career in engineering, I think it actually benefits me in many ways, allowing me to come up with alternative engineered solutions that some of my other colleagues may not be able to see.
Most of the ‘negatives’ or differences, if you wanted to call them that, can be easily supported if the right accommodations are put in place.
How should employers support their people who have autism?
As well as showing certain levels of understanding and acceptance, as mentioned before, I feel that it’s also important for employers to demonstrate willingness to adjust or adapt the work space or work routine, where necessary.
Fortunately, since my diagnosis, Mabey Hire has provided me with the support I need. From a practical level, such as dimming the lights above my desk, to showing an understanding of the certain situations that could cause me stress, such as large group meetings, and allowing me the flexibility to work from home if I need some quiet time away from the office.