I’m Marianna Corbett, Executive Director at Nomura International Plc in London. I’m responsible for Regulatory Change in the Front Office within the Wholesale Control Office. I’m autistic, identifying with the PDA profile of autism. I have combined type ADHD, OCD traits, DCD (dyspraxia), dyscalculia, sensory modulation differences, anxiety, hypermobility, verbal and motor tics and body-focussed repetitive behaviours.
I did not identify my differences until I was 44 years old, despite having 2 autistic/PDA/ADHD children. I sought an ADHD diagnosis due to a lifelong challenge with anxiety and eating disorders, especially binge eating, which I came to learn was closely correlated to ADHD. My diagnosing psychiatrist felt that I had clear autistic traits, and I was surprised to read the Samantha Craft list of female autistic traits and realise that so many resonated, probably greater than 90% of them. So I undertook a separate evaluation and was subsequently identified as autistic.
I began my career in banking in 1999 after graduating university with a degree in History, commencing on the Merrill Lynch Global Markets Analyst programme. After a brief career break in Geneva, Switzerland, I joined Nomura, working for the same Equity Derivatives team I had worked with at Merrill Lynch. I have worked at Nomura for 17 years, 11 of those spent in Equity Derivatives Business Management roles, before moving into the Front Office Supervision team in 2016. I am now leading the Wholesale Regulatory implementation team within that function.
Being open about your disability
I wasn’t aware that I had a disability when I was first recruited at either of my firms, so there was nothing to be open about. However, most assuredly I would have told them had I known, as I feel that being neurodivergent confers strengths that I would not otherwise have, strengths that have fared me well in the roles in which I have worked.
Once I was “diagnosed” I was unsure at first whether I should tell HR that I had received multiple neurodevelopmental “diagnoses”, as to read all of these things in black and white could suggest to others that I was incapable of functioning in my job. However, in a moment of clarity in which I realised that I was perpetuating chronic diversity, equity and inclusion issues within society by even considering sweeping this under the carpet and failing to ask for the additional support I needed to function effectively, I made the decision to tell HR and my line managers.
Nomura’s approach to disability in the workplace
I was blown away by the firm’s response to me sharing my diagnoses. I was asked what accommodations could be made for me in the workplace, and HR and my line managers granted the suggestions made by my doctor through the Occupational Health team without hesitation. HR went further and sought a specialist provider to deliver training to my team so that my colleagues could understand how autism and ADHD is best supported in the workplace. The trainer did a fantastic job of describing neurodiversity in an extremely progressive, inclusive and positive manner. I cannot begin to stress how much hope this gives me for the future of the workplace that this type of training is available to and is used by firms, an important point for my autistic children’s futures. I felt like the trainer spoke my language, and I felt seen, heard and completely understood, which is a rarity for autistic people when dealing with autism professionals who claim to be experts but actually have very little understanding of the social model of autism, and are focussed on ‘curing’ or ‘fixing’ us.
In my view, Nomura has taken a huge step forward in diversity, equity and inclusion with their response and the impact of this is that it makes a lasting difference to how others and I experience life as autistic people in the world.
I have had many challenges in my career that were very much rooted in executive function and social and communication differences, leading me to feeling chronically overwhelmed. It just feels like I have always found life hard. Every aspect of it. I lived in a constant state of anxiety, a state exacerbated by puberty and perimenopause, and from a young age I suffered with mental health challenges. Depression and eating disorders plagued me in my teenage years, and the fear of not being able to outperform my peers or be a high achiever, based on my own intrinsic motivators, became a relentless uphill battle. I was Sisyphus, in that my need to sustain my ‘crown of achievement’ without allowing my mental health to completely deteriorate was that immense boulder that I pushed up the hill of my life, only for it to roll straight back down again with each new challenge with which life presented me.
I’ve been at Nomura for 17 years, and I can’t recall a single day that I didn’t find challenging and anxiety-inducing because of my own need to do my entire job perfectly. I cannot tolerate approximations, and nothing is ever just ‘good enough’.
Taking ADHD stimulant medication, and a medication that helps me to manage my OCD and anxiety traits, has been important in helping me overcome these challenges. I cried the day I took my first pill. I took that stimulant pill and my brain suddenly became so clear, and I felt a sense of calm, and of happiness, something that had eluded me for the best part of 30 years. I could cope with the demands of my job, with being a parent, I no longer had urges to overeat in the absence of hunger. At the same time, I felt an immense sense of grief knowing that I could have been diagnosed as a child and avoided the chronic struggle that had been my experience to that point. Stimulant and anxiety medication has literally transformed my life, and the relief is tangible.
Putting a ‘label’ on my traits was so immensely important in the process of understanding my chronic feelings of inadequacy, of perfectionism, of why I had felt so broken and could not fit in my whole life. It was like coming home to finally understanding myself and my place in the world. I cannot stress enough the importance of identifying our neurdivergent children and adults as a means of providing key insights into our strengths, in understanding how our differences and operating in this world can lead to challenges, so that we can be supported, understood, and accommodated.
What support and adjustments do you benefit from at Nomura?
I have a very flexible working arrangement with Nomura, and have the ability to work from home or in our London Offices. Some days I’m more ‘cat-like’ and when my autistic traits are more dominant, and I will choose to work at home as I know I’ll find the office and other people challenging. Other days I’m more ‘dog-like’, when my ADHD brain is firing, and I’ll want to be around others, be social, be creative, and will relish in the noise and activity of the trading floor.
I also have a standing desk, have had extensive HR training and coaching to help me manage a team, and have been given a role that allows me to leverage my hyperfocus traits and central coherence differences. Yes, I actually love regulations and rules, building control frameworks, and getting into the details of hundreds of lines of regulation!
I go to choir practice at lunchtime once a week and am about to start music lessons at work also, all provisions offered by the firm to all employees, allowing us to have some work–life balance during the working day, and to access our interests and bring some joy to our lives.
How did you access this support?
My psychiatrist shared details of accommodations that could be made in the workplace with me, and I passed those to HR who then arranged for an occupational health assessment, the results of which were shared with my line managers.
What support have you had from your line manager and colleagues?
I’ve been made to feel like I matter by Nomura, by my managers who are extremely progressive, by my department, and by my colleagues, and that feeling like I belong even a little has come with some basic adjustments rooted in acceptance and tolerance of my differences by others. I learnt from the autistic community online that it’s so critical to change the autistic person’s environment, not the autistic person, to allow us to have a chance to thrive and not just survive. This is something I have always done with my own children as a parent, one of whom is home-schooled in order to change his environment for the better, but I never expected this to occur for me in the workplace. Yet Nomura has fully embraced changing my environment and not me as an individual.
Are there any disability networks available at Nomura?
Our firm has a LIFE inclusion network, and neurodiversity is newly emerging on the agenda as I and some others at the firm have established a network for parents and carers of neurodiverse children, to which neurodivergent adults are also invited. We are in the process of determining a series of speakers and initiatives on neurodiversity. We are also exploring ideas like sensory rooms and some alternative methods to aid with stress and anxiety.
What unique skills and strengths has your disability given you that have been an asset in the workplace?
I always find it interesting that many autistic and ADHD traits are pathologised and referred to as deficits in us, when in fact they absolutely have been assets for me in the workplace. Take central coherence differences being suggested as ‘weakness’, as it can mean being so details-oriented that you can’t see the big picture. Yet when trying to build a control framework around extensive regulations, this and hyperfocus enables me to identify details that appear to be irrelevant at first, but which are nuance that may make a difference to how a control operates.
My need for completeness in all that I do means that I am diligent and thorough in my work, and my need for routine, structure and to be able to master a subject, means that I will always prefer to stay with the same firm and be in a consistent role. That’s surely an asset to any firm to be able to retain their staff in this way!
Synaesthesia traits enable me to mirror others, so I learn well from others and tend to be able to adapt myself to different personality types without realising I’m even doing it.
A core trait of PDA is that we are true autodidacts, and will always want to continue learning as long as we’re given autonomy to do so. It also makes me determined (could be read as stubborn J) and tenacious, and I will not let things go until I know that I have an answer that makes sense, or until I have fully understood what I need to. This has served me so well at work and in many areas of my life.
What advice would you give to disabled students applying for graduate positions?
The advice I would give to neurdivergent students applying for graduate positions or going through the recruitment process would be to figure out what you’re truly passionate about, what excites and interests you, what makes you want to continue learning and makes you feel joy, and then to apply only for careers and roles that fit that criteria.
It seems so obvious, but so few people do this, and just follow the path that we’ve all been conditioned to follow, a path that is paved by neuronormative standards and agendas, and that may not make neurodivergent people happy.
As Sir Ken Robinson said, “Human communities depend on a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability”.
Workplaces are communities that depend on this too, so tell prospective employers about your disability. It’s important. We all have something to bring to the workplace.