World Autism Awareness Day

The 2nd of April is World Autism Awareness Day and Charlie Hunt, Director of UK, has shared his wholly positive experience of having a daughter with autism. 

It has also allowed him to reflect on neurodiversity and the impact that it can have on the private equity and venture capital industry.

World Autism Awareness Day

Autism awareness

The day my daughter was confirmed as autistic was, with the benefit of hindsight, one of the best of my life. Having gone into a spiral of depression over the preceding eighteen months, she finally understood why the world was a little different to her and a massive weight was lifted off our shoulders. We went from a time of huge worry to a bright new future, and from that day onwards she has thrived. Now seventeen years old, my daughter is happy, succeeding academically, is actively involved in all aspects of school life, and has a group of friends who now understand why she is the way that she is. She has discovered art, is exceptionally gifted at it, and is regularly receiving commissions for her paintings. Rather than holding her back, autism seems to be her super-power.

Before my daughter had her diagnosis, I shared my worries with a number of private markets professionals in my network. Without exception, they were incredibly supportive and kind. What amazed me was how many of them had similar experiences, and the fact that neurodiversity is more common than I had first thought. The private equity and venture capital industry is quite rightly tackling diversity in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation, and to some degree socio-economic background, and I wholeheartedly support this. However, I have not yet seen a conscious move towards hiring more neurodiverse people into the industry.

What does this mean for private equity?

Why does this matter? The alternative assets industry can benefit from hiring neurodiverse people for similar reasons to hiring other diverse parts of society. Diversity encourages unique perspectives and skills that are invaluable when assessing an investment opportunity, portfolio company, and the inner workings of a fund. A neurodiverse workforce enhances problem-solving and encourages innovative thinking across all positions in a fund. Put simply, they can do certain tasks better than those who aren’t neurodiverse. Misconceptions of what neurodiversity is, and by failing to nurture a culture of inclusivity, means the world of finance is missing out on a large talent pool it should be benefiting from.

I don’t claim to be an expert on neurodiversity, far from it, but I am able to see the barriers that private equity faces in hiring from this talent pool. This starts with the interview process itself, which can benefit from a levelling of the playing field. Tailoring an interview to a neurodiverse individual can be as simple as avoiding holding interviews in places of excess noise or stimulation. Other ways to ensure fairness in the process would include giving advance notice of what to expect from the process, the timeline, clarity on what the interview will focus on, and a move away from relying on social “fit”, enabling individuals to best demonstrate what skills they can offer. Hiring managers can make reasonable adjustment requests to fit the needs of an individual and improve the candidate's experience throughout. In short, treat each person as an individual and be mindful of their needs.

As businesses increasingly acknowledge the advantages of neurodiversity in gaining a competitive edge, I predict that the private markets hiring process will begin to shift towards more inclusive practices over the coming years. At PER, we believe that private markets can be for everyone. By trying new approaches, sharing our experiences with our clients and opening up the conversation, we can make a difference.

I personally salute the neurodiverse community and their families. Autism can be a positive, it doesn’t need to be hidden, certainly shouldn’t be ignored, and ought to be celebrated.

Charlie's profile