Interview with Jonathan Ellwood, IASME’s Chief Knowledge Officer

What was the route that led you into your current job?

When I was at school, I usually came bottom of the class and grew up thinking I was a bit stupid. However, at the age of 49, I received a diagnosis of Aspergers and realised I am also a bit dyslexic. At the time, I had no job as I had been seriously ill and was in recovery. The NHS referred me to the UK Cyber Security Forum’s neurodiverse training scheme developed by IASME.

Previous to this, I had worked for more than twenty years as a Project Manager and Production Director in design and sub-contract precision engineering across a range of different sector. I specialised in complex safety-critical applications for Aerospace and Oilfield guidance systems.

When the cyber security training finished, I was given the opportunity to work for IASME as a Cyber Security Analyst, initially working just one day a week. I increased my hours as we became busier, and then became Manager of the Special Operations Centre (SOC). With the support of IASME, I transitioned my skill sets from engineering to cyber security. I graduated from a post graduate programme for business leadership with distinction and the award for best performance on a post graduate programme .

In the last year, I have also become a Visiting Fellow at the University of Gloucestershire where I am a diversity champion for them with a focus on Cyber Knowledge Management.

During the pandemic, IASME was forced to wind up the SOC and I changed roles to deliver knowledge management for the organisation. In my job, I have certain specialist areas including the development of new processes, services, business analysis and approved techniques. My Aspergers makes my thinking very systemised, critical, detailed and logical. I am able to look at human interactions and see the systems that lie within. In standardising these and working closely with people I am able to turn tacit knowledge into re-usable knowledge across teams which adds value. I am privileged because a lot of my role is about supporting others which is incredibly rewarding. I have developed an empowered, diverse team at IASME to deliver knowledge management for our range of cyber security services.

A portion of my time is also available to e2e where I am available to support some of their neurodiverse team members if they wish. Having received such a late diagnosis myself enables me to understand some of the challenges neurodiverse people might experience in the workplace and to discuss possible practical solutions with lots of empathy. e2e always fully supported the training initiative from UKCSF from day one, and as an organisation, they understand the kind of individual support neurodiverse employees need in order to thrive in the work place.

What are some of the things you find difficult at work?

Some of the challenges I face can be made harder because I mask my difficulties, this can be quite common with some people on the spectrum. My sensory differences mean that I can become very fatigued in social situations,  I need a lot of recovery time as a result because ironically I like to socialise. I sometimes find it hard to put myself in other peoples shoes and I therefore over compensate for this. I care about others and therefore I ruminate on social interactions to ensure I am getting things right and that I am understanding things correctly. I have struggled with task management which has, in fact, made me an expert at it by being systematic. IASME and e2e understand challenges like this and provide adjustments, on-going support and mentorship for all staff working at an individual level. In a supportive organisation, it is okay not to be okay and there is no such thing as a silly question.

What kind of support is available in your work-place ?

There is loads of support at IASME.  Most importantly, they understand neurodiversity which is half of the battle and they engage with individuals, to find out what works for them. IASME is happy to put in appropriate reasonable adjustments which can vary from person to person and very often those adjustments help everyone, regardless of diagnoses. I am allowed to spend time organising myself, which in turn means I help others and I have always been allowed to work flexibly in terms of hours and location. Adjustments for neurodiversity are very easy and cost little if you keep an open mind and engage with individuals.

What are your ambitions?

My ambition for the future is to keep helping others, this is very simple and sustainable. I can use my skills and experience to provide solutions, be that for an individual to take their first steps into employment or deliver something for the business.

What advice would you give to your past self?

When I was a kid there was no such thing as Aspergers. I would simply say, you are not stupid you are neurodiverse.  In some ways you are very clever and you have a different perspective than most people, just keep using that and play to your strengths. It is okay to ask for help and adjustments if you need them.

What do you think prevents more neurodiverse talent from joining the work force?

Lack of understanding and lack of opportunities. A lot of organisations don’t understand neurodiversity and so get things wrong which can damage the individual. Other organisations are simply scared of getting things wrong, so don’t give the opportunities. It is a complete chicken and egg situation in my opinion, the only way out of this, is to educate and beat the ignorance. There is an enormous pool of un-utilised specialist talent which is going to waste as a result.

How do you think that could that change in the future?

I feel there is a lack of knowledge and understanding around mental health and invisible disabilities. And yet, there is a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to support these individuals. The first step is to remove the stigma around the whole subject matter and talk. Engage with individuals to find out what works for them, and remove the obstacles that prevent them from excelling. One size does not fit all, but if you make adjustments available for everyone, everyone will benefit by selecting what works for them.

A great example of this at IASME is that we all have noise cancelling headphone. Who does not benefit occasionally from being able to concentrate on a task?