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INN Conversation - Tom Bowskill, Head of Business Systems, Technology

The Inclusive Numis Network (INN) is an employee-led, board-sponsored initiative focused on building a diverse and inclusive workplace. It focuses on professional networking, community support, career development and charitable causes and is vital to our businesses succeeding in its ambitions.

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It is our aspiration that the INN conversation series gives a chance for our employees, clients, stakeholders, and anyone who wants to know a bit more about our business, to understand the people that make Numis the place it is today.
We kicked off the series by speaking with Mica Ross, which you can read here. Today we talk to Tom Bowskill, Head of Business Systems, Technology, who has been with the business for four years.

Hi Tom, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’ve been a business analyst, working as a go-between for business and IT teams for the last 15 years. This means my career ultimately involves me translating the thoughts and needs of others, challenging assumptions and fostering understanding between areas that can often be worlds apart. A life spent in translation has found me a career path where I am a fish to water; where my neurodivergent mind adds value and, thankfully, where I have been so lucky to work with enough autonomy and trust to flourish.

This matters because I’m autistic.

How do people tend to react?

This statement gets a wide range of replies: from genuine interest, to being told "no you're not", and to the beautifully, bittersweet reply from my mother of "that makes me feel so much better" (parenting a child that is dislocated from conventional thought is emotionally heavy – sorry mum!)

My diagnosis was last year – and I broke down in tears of joy when I got it.

Since then I've been seeking out more and more information. And it's surprising that, the more I connect with the neurodivergent community, the more I realise how commonplace it is for us "high-functioning" or "Aspies" to be met with a wall of misunderstanding, and sometimes hostility because we are able to adapt (to mask) well within society. For myself, I've always struggled most when I cannot be the true version of me.

There are sceptics out there, because Autism is not well understood, but the pain and struggle is real. I researched and found that Autistic adults are 9x more likely to die of suicide, and autistic children are 28x more likely to think or attempt suicide (source: Autistica).

Can you tell us about your childhood?

My early childhood through to the end of secondary school was acutely painful. I always existed on the fringes, watching as others could engage socially with ease, while I was on the side-lines trying to understand the rules of how they did that. Invariably, there would always be a point (pretty early into things) where the rest would clock on to the fact that I wasn't 'normal'.

I wasn't without friends, but rarely were they in my peer group -- older and younger children tolerated me much more. It wasn't just my peers, either. I routinely would get into trouble for being "flippant", "pedantic", "obtuse" or "stupid" when answering teachers' questions: the way I answered questions was not "correct" (I still get it now!)

The way my brain needed to work through thought patterns would get my teachers lost -- and I was even accused of cheating because I would put down answers with seemingly incomprehensible leaps of logic. Needless to say, I was consigned to the bottom set in most areas. I scraped though with five GCSEs and an overwhelming feeling that I was stupid.

Looking back, I feel sad that the patterns were not seen earlier. In junior school, there were literal jaw-drops when I scored the highest grade in the Science paper for SATS; in secondary school, people couldn't believe I got an A in IT. At 6th form I remember being predicted U, U, U and how that really took me to a low point: I nearly gave up there and sabotaged myself significantly, but even in disengaged mode I got my B (IT), C (Business) and D (Drama -- A in acting, Unqualified in coursework). I always defied predictions, but people just assumed I was lazy.

Was there a moment of breakthrough?

When I went to university things changed.

Part one of my neurodivergency journey was to discover I was dyslexic and get the required support. The most significant part, though, was the fantastic lecturers at my university who would take the time to explain things to me and talk through the logic. I was finally able to work through my thought processes with someone, and that was such a helpful part of my development of my internal translation service (understanding how other people approach and need to see logic). I consistently hit the top grades and suddenly became the person people went to for help.

Through explaining things to my peers, I furthered my own strengths and capabilities at communication (while also working on this in a retail job in a subject I love: video games). I gradually developed the skill of translation, which was the start of my journey as a business analyst. I got my 1st at university (and cried) and finally found my groove in life.

How do you feel about reflecting on this journey?

It was painful to get here. It is a daily exercise for me to suppress my triggers as well as communicate in a way that others can understand me (and for me to be able to understand others).

It still causes me issues, and there are often moments where people don’t get me, or I miss the subtext, but overall, my autism is a positive force in my life. It’s slightly scary to be so publicly open about it, but my hopes are that this contributes to the wider awareness of the subject.

Can you share your thoughts about perceptions of autism?

Sure. Having said the above, there clearly are levels of autism that are more acute, and I am fortunate to be in the bracket (level one) where adapting to society doesn’t tax me beyond my limits. So it’s worth saying I don't seek to represent those whose life is tougher, nor do I feel my pain is anywhere near theirs.

I think there’s also a lot of confusion about what autism is and these levels, versus some of the dated concepts like Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism. I avoid the association with "Asperger’s" (an Aspie) because it is named after a doctor linked to eugenics. Moreover, "high-functioning" is frankly patronising. Imagine adding "high functioning" in front of any other group under the diversity banner. I resonate with "neurodivergent": quite simply, my mind and thought processes are divergent.

I’m accutely aware of, and always try hard not to "other" anybody. The neurodivergent community doesn’t fit into a single viewpoint. I in no way am seeking to diminish the pain of others who find adjusting harder, nor do I wish to trivialise their experiences. This is about trying to bring autism and neurodivergencies into the conversation so that they are better understood.

I’d love to bust the stereotypes, drop the “disorder” from our labels, and understand that, in a world where we always seek to “think outside the box” that there is large community of us who have never had that box to begin with!

I feel that as understanding grows we will discover how this potential can be unlocked in our school system and workplaces so that others have less pain in adjusting. The numbers relating to suicide are sobering and we need to open the conversation to address this reality.

There are those that struggle to reconcile me as an autistic: I see the attempted compliment when they do that, but I find it damaging to me and the wider point of awareness. Every day is an exercise of channelling the positives and toning down / translating my mind to appear normal, but my best value comes from me being me.

And for anyone interested in the subject, I'll gladly talk about it – I'm a very open person and am quite fixated on my topics of interest!

We are so grateful that Tom wanted to tell his story and share his experiences. This is a fundamental part of why INN is so important – raising awareness. Numis offers a variety of different support streams for our employees, including BUPA+Babylon, InsideOut and WeCare – To learn more visit the Benefits Platform.

If you’re interested in being involved with INN, or would like to take part in an INN Conversation on a topic of your choice, please contact

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