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Interview with Charlie Chan: Creating a More Inclusive Workplace for Autistic Individuals

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Charlie Chan, Head of Community Engagement at United Learning, who is autistic.

She gave us her perspective on how workplaces can be more inclusive and accommodating for autistic individuals, how she navigated the challenges of being new to a workplace, and the accommodations and strategies that have been particularly helpful for her. 

When asked about how workplaces can be more inclusive for autistic people, Charlie emphasised the importance of a supportive and inclusive culture. She said: “I believe that workplaces should have increased understanding of autism and its common traits, while also getting to know individuals - including line managers and team members. A focus on well-being and inclusivity can be beneficial for all employees, not just those who are neurodivergent.” 

Starting a new role can be difficult and can be particularly challenging for individuals with autism. Charlie said: “Being new to the workplace was a significant challenge for me. I found it difficult to navigate the unwritten rules, social contracts, and work culture. However, I was fortunate to have an amazing line manager who provided weekly check-ins and support, making the transition as easy as possible.” 

Charlie's experience highlights the importance of supportive colleagues and a culture that prioritises inclusivity and well-being. As well as this, it is important to consider other accommodations and strategies that may be helpful. Charlie said: “I have sensory sensitivities that impact how I dress, and I appreciate the ability to have open conversations about reasonable adjustments. These include being able to wear clothes that suit my sensory needs, as well as things such as blocking out time in my diary for downtime after a busy day and communicating my work through diagrams which I find helpful as a visual thinker.” 

At United Learning, we are proud to have various initiatives to support colleagues with different needs and keep the conversation going about how we can continually improve in these areas, such as in our dedicated Diversity & Inclusion working group. Charlie said: “There is definitely more of a focus now at United Learning that everyone be able to bring themselves to work. For example, the lived experience sessions that we are running with the D&I group are really useful. We've already had one autistic colleague doing a lived experience session talking about how their autism affects them, as well as other sessions and topics around other D&I focuses.  

“I just think these types of initiatives are really, really important, because having a real focus on creating an inclusive culture, whether it's specific to autism or not, helps all employees. Even being asked to speak to you today about this topic is a step in the right direction." 

Charlie's experience highlights the importance of creating an inclusive workplace culture, having supportive colleagues, and making accommodations that meet the individual needs of each employee. 

Thank you to Charlie for sharing her experiences with us.    

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