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Navigating Success: Martin Burke’s Neurodivergent Journey in the Workplace

In our ongoing series spotlighting the diverse talents and experiences that shape our team, we have the pleasure of introducing Martin Burke, Programme Director at Xalient. With a wealth of expertise in IT consulting and managed services, Martin’s journey is a testament to the power of embracing neurodiversity in the workplace. In this open interview, Martin shares how he’s turned what some might see as a challenge into a superpower, and how organizations can foster environments where every individual’s strengths are celebrated. Join us as we explore Martin’s story of achievement, innovation, and the importance of diverse workplaces.

Martin Burke, Programme Director at Xalient
Martin Burke, Programme Director at Xalient

Hi Martin, could you start by telling us about your role at Xalient and your journey to where you are today?

Hello! I’m Martin Burke, Programme Director at Xalient. My journey here has been filled with opportunities to learn, grow, and contribute to our digital transformation services. It’s been a rewarding experience. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of leading the delivery of complex solutions to our diverse range of clients, helping them achieve their business objectives through innovative IT consulting and managed services.

That’s great to hear. Can you explain what ‘Neurodiversity’ means and how it’s been a part of your journey?

Neurodiversity covers a range of neurological differences such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). Often, these conditions co-occur, and their symptoms overlap. It is estimated that more than 15% of people in the UK, roughly one in seven, are neurodivergent. These conditions can bring unique strengths and perspectives to the workplace. For instance, individuals with Dyslexia often possess exceptional problem-solving skills, creativity in thinking, and a keen ability to recognize complex patterns.

Can you share your personal experience with neurodivergence, specifically Dyslexia?

Dyslexia was quite challenging, especially in the pre-spellchecker era. I used to take extra steps to ensure it didn’t hinder my work. However, over time, I realized that Dyslexia wasn’t a limitation but a unique way of thinking. It encouraged me to approach tasks with creativity and out-of-the-box solutions, which proved to be a valuable asset in problem-solving and innovative thinking.

Can you share an example of how Dyslexia has actually benefited you in the workplace?

Certainly. Dyslexia encourages creative thinking, spatial awareness, problem-solving, and seeing the bigger picture. These strengths have been invaluable, especially in client engagements where holistic thinking and pattern recognition are crucial. For instance, in a recent project, my ability to recognize complex patterns allowed us to identify a streamlined approach, ultimately saving time and resources for both us and our client.

How do you think organizations can better support neurodivergent individuals?

It starts with understanding and making reasonable adjustments in recruitment processes. Recognizing the strengths that neurodivergent individuals bring to the table can lead to a more diverse and innovative workforce. Additionally, providing ongoing training and awareness programs can foster an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and understood.

Can you tell us about your experience in overcoming challenges related to neurodivergence, specifically dyslexia, throughout your career?

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more confident in discussing my neurodivergence, particularly my experience with dyslexia, with prospective employers, line managers, and leadership teams. This journey has been met with varying responses. Some have been incredibly supportive, such as here, at Xalient. However, there have been instances where managers and leaders didn’t grasp or didn’t want to understand, viewing it as a weakness or excuse. These experiences had a significant impact on my mental well-being and, for a period, affected my confidence in performing my role.

For those who know me well, it’s clear how much I relish presenting, engaging with customers, mapping out technical project timelines, and leading teams to successful outcomes. Through this, I’ve come to realize that my inner confidence and my ability to lead programs stem not from my spelling proficiency, but from my capacity to connect with people.

Yet, it’s no secret that, as with anyone, I make errors, especially in the rapid pace of communication via teams and email. Sometimes, I don’t immediately notice these mistakes. More often than not, I catch them and take the necessary steps to rectify them. What I’ve found at Xalient is a perfect balance of respect and understanding. The team here occasionally points out my errors in a polite and supportive manner, which, I believe, is the right approach. It allows me to correct my mistakes without feeling diminished. After all, I’m reasonably sure that I wasn’t hired for my spelling and punctuation skills.

Could you share some practical tips that have been particularly helpful in navigating the workplace with neurodivergence, specifically dyslexia?

Absolutely. Here are some practical tips that have made a significant difference for me:

  • Utilize Spell Checkers and Grammar Tools: These tools are invaluable for catching and correcting spelling and grammar errors, providing a safety net in written communications.
  • Embrace Dictation Functionality: Taking advantage of dictation features in word processing software can be a game changer. It allows for smoother and more accurate creation of written content.
  • Explore Read-Aloud Features: Opt for read-aloud functionality when reviewing written material. Hearing the content can often reveal mistakes that may have been missed visually.
  • Leverage Digital Note-Taking Tools: Digital pens or note-taking applications can streamline the process and improve the legibility of notes, an essential aspect in a professional setting.
  • Seek Support in Document Preparation: Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance from colleagues when it comes to writing minutes or preparing documents. Teamwork can lead to more polished and error-free outputs.
  • Engage Proofreaders or Peers: Having a second set of eyes can be immensely beneficial. Collaborate with peers or utilize proofreaders who are willing to review documents before finalizing them.
  • Pause Before Sending Emails: Introduce a short delay before hitting the ‘send’ button. This provides an opportunity for a final review, reducing the likelihood of oversight.
  • Foster an Understanding Organizational Culture: Seek environments that value diversity, including neurodiversity. A workplace that embraces differences can provide the support and accommodations needed to thrive.

These practical strategies have played a crucial role in my journey, allowing me to focus on leveraging my strengths and contributing meaningfully to the workplace. Remember, embracing neurodiversity not only benefits individuals but also enriches the collective strength of the organization.

“Embrace your unique strengths. Neurodivergence isn’t a limitation; it’s a benefit. Seek out mentors and organizations that appreciate the diverse perspectives neurodivergent individuals bring to the table. Remember, your contributions are invaluable and have the potential to drive innovation and positive change in any workplace.”

Can you elaborate on the concept of neurodivergent “superpowers” and how they contribute to both individual and organizational success?

Absolutely. Neurodivergent individuals, including those with conditions like dyslexia, often possess unique strengths or “superpowers” that can be incredibly valuable in a professional setting. These strengths arise from the distinct ways in which neurodivergent brains process information.

For instance, individuals with dyslexia may exhibit:

Creative Thinking: Dyslexic individuals often have a knack for thinking outside the box, generating innovative ideas, and approaching challenges from unconventional angles.

Spatial Awareness: This is the ability to visualize and understand spatial relationships. While not a universal trait, some dyslexic individuals excel in this area, which can be particularly advantageous in fields that require visual-spatial skills.

Seeing the Bigger Picture: Dyslexic individuals may possess a keen ability to grasp overarching concepts and understand how various elements fit into a larger framework or strategy.

Problem Solving: Many neurodivergent individuals, including those with dyslexia, excel at problem-solving. They often exhibit tenacity in finding solutions and a capacity to navigate complex issues.

Recognizing Complex Patterns in Images: This is a cognitive strength that can be particularly beneficial in fields that involve pattern recognition or analysis, such as design or data analysis.

Entrepreneurship: While not exclusive to dyslexia, some individuals with this condition may demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit. This trait encompasses a willingness to take calculated risks and explore new approaches, traits that are often found in successful entrepreneurs.

It’s worth noting that while not every individual with dyslexia possesses all of these superpowers, many can identify with some of these strengths. Personally, in customer engagements, I find that my combination of creative thinking, big-picture understanding, and problem-solving skills serve as valuable assets. These traits allow me to translate client requirements into innovative solutions and strategies.

In recognizing and leveraging these superpowers, individuals and organizations can create a more diverse, dynamic, and ultimately stronger professional environment. Embracing neurodiversity fosters a culture that celebrates individual strengths and collectively drives success.

What message would you like to share with individuals who might be starting their careers and dealing with neurodivergence?

Embrace your unique strengths. Neurodivergence isn’t a limitation; it’s a benefit. Seek out mentors and organizations that appreciate the diverse perspectives neurodivergent individuals bring to the table. Remember, your contributions are invaluable and have the potential to drive innovation and positive change in any workplace. And to any young professionals out there, I’m happy to offer my time as a mentor to help you navigate your career journey.

Thank you, Martin. Your journey is inspiring, and your insights are incredibly valuable.

You’re welcome! I hope my story encourages others to embrace their neurodivergence and thrive in their careers. Let’s continue this conversation.

To learn more about Neuro diversity visit: Neurodiversity at work | CIPD

To read more about Xalient’s culture visit:

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Portrait of Mark Foulsham, Board Advisor, NED, COO/CIO, Fractional Support, Digital Leadership Coach

Mark Foulsham

Board Advisor, NED, COO/CIO, Fractional Support, Digital Leadership Coach

With a broad background as a COO/CIO/CDO, C-Suite Advisor, NED, Senior Transformation Leader and Coach, Mark tackles multiple fronts from the advantage of diverse experience in business operations, technology, procurement, delivery and risk. With a deep knowledge of business models from multiple sectors and extensive experience in fast-paced digital start-ups.

Mark’s work across extensive business types, functions and countries empowers him with experience to bear across silos. Mark has built a reputation for advocating cross-business collaboration, taking a pragmatic approach and championing transformative change.