So, as we start 2018 I have had the luxury of almost two weeks away from work. I always find this time of year a time for reflections on the year that is concluding, and at the same time a chance to look ahead to the New Year just beginning. This is especially so for me this year, as I am very soon to leave Network Rail after working here for nearly six years. During that time I have spent most of the time leading the HR function, and I have been fortunate to work with so many fantastic colleagues, both in the HR team, and across the rest of the business. I will miss many of these colleagues.
Whilst I am proud of so many achievements from the HR team at Network Rail, I would argue that we have made the biggest impact on peoples lives through the progress we have made in the area of Diversity and Inclusion.
This has had many elements, including the creation and sharing of a comprehensive Diversity strategy by Loraine Martins, and her central team. It has also involved the wide range of generalist HR Business Partners pursuing so many local iniatives. And of stand out impact have been the fantastic achievements of the staff networks across Network Rail. These six groups, each creating a safe space for people with shared interests to talk, meet, collaborate and learn has had a huge impact across the business – and very definitely changed lives for the better. One of the important features has been very passionate executive sponsorship of each of these groups by a member of the Executive Committee. Probably of most importance though has been the untiring effort of the volunteers who run these groups, over and above their day jobs, and who have created such a vibrant community of support. The level of success of these volunteers has been recognised by a number of them receiving MBE’s in the recent New Years Honours list – an incredible mark of achievement. Well done Babak Efxxx and .
In leaving Network Rail probably my only regret is the unfinished business feeling I have regarding the Neurodiversity working group I had set up and led over the last year. This period coincided with me focusing my own Doctoral research into Autism in the workplace. During the last year we have certainly made some early progress in this area, which was reflected in a very successful conference we ran during the October 2017 Diversity week, where we had speakers from Autism friendly employers, our CanDo (Disability staff network) and an NR employee who themselves is on the Autism spectrum. (see link to video).
Thanks to this working group, and people becoming aware of my research, I have had a number of conversations with existing NR employees who are on the Autism spectrum, most of whom have only had formal diagnoses late in their careers. This for me has led to some very fascinating conversations, where these colleagues have highlighted the challenges they have faced, and the difficulties their own line managers have had in coping with their specific requirements. These conversations have certainly been a huge motivator for me to progress my own research, in the hope that I can help others in a similar situation have an easier time than my existing colleagues have had! In every case these amazing individuals have succeeded despite the way we look after them, and yet just think how much more we as employers would have benefited from their undoubted talents if only we had trained our managers and HR team to recognise these cases and help provide the necessary support.
A number of enlightened organisations are thinking hard about these issues, I aim to investigate them further, and hopefully report on the lessons learnt in future blogs. If you are an adult with ASD and have experiences from the workplace that you would like to share with me please do get in touch.
Thankfully, as I plan to more on from NR I know that the Neurodiversity working group is in good hands, and the good work will continue to progress after I have moved on.