Sr Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Business Partner, EMEA – Amazon Web Services
Nigel is an Inclusion strategist and currently works with Amazon Web Services(AWS) as a Global ID&E leader. He is well known for his passion in supporting and guiding organizations to create spaces where everyone can access opportunities, chances, and tools to thrive and where people can bring their authentic, unique selves to work. He is an active role model for LGBTQ+ and Neurodiversity inclusion and received several accolades for his professional and volunteering work.
Nigel’s career journey
Summing up my career in a nutshell is like someone asking me what I have done with my life so far! I look at this like a process of connecting the dots, identifying what the common points of relevance are and also looking straight on at my goals and how I can create more impact. It’s also about reflecting on my past: it has been a long journey to reach here where I am. Coming from an underprivileged background , being mixed race, being neuro-queer – I’m a neurodiverse, gay man – looking at those elements through an intersectional lens adds up to a lot of hurdles and a lot of hard work to overcome them. I recently read a quote by John Amaechi which said, “Success is relative and not everybody starts their climb at the base of the mountain. Some people swim an ocean first.” This really resonated with me – everybody experiences a different journey to get to where they are.
Education has by far been the biggest weapon for me to use to my advantage. No one else in my family was university educated, so that element of social mobility has always been critical for me in my life. After university, I started as a graduate in HR for a retailer and now I am a global ID&E leader for Amazon Web Services (AWS), which has certainly taught me to be a good human being and to do my best in difficult times sometimes.
I love my role as an ID&E leader – it means I can bring my passion, my experiences, my ever-growing knowledge that I’ve gained from all these experiences and support people. Some of them are in a similar space to me, some want to be in my space, some are struggling, some are successful. What I aim to do is use those stories to ensure we create advocacy platforms for others.
On their Role Models
There is a lack of neuro-queer role models out there who are like me, so there hasn’t been someone I can aspire to, and therefore, I’ve never really had a role model at work. I try instead to focus on becoming that role model for others, and for myself. Though if I have to give credit to someone who has been my mentor, strength and that ‘pinky finger’ that I can hold on to and rely on at every moment of my life, that would be my husband. He has been with me for 12 years, through the challenges of coming out as a gay man, coming out as neurodiverse, being an immigrant living in a country which never belonged to me. He has always been there as a pillar and is my personal role model.
“I try to focus on becoming that role model for others, and for myself.”
Risks and achievements
I’ve taken many risks in my career, though the biggest one for me, or for anyone who is neuro-queer, has been entering a space which I didn’t think belonged to me. I work in projects and teams which may have never before had someone like me on the team, let alone someone who has been able to be successful in driving changes more widely. Of course, working with a global organization also comes with pros and cons. I have had to work with countries where I wouldn’t be accepted for who I am and have engaged external communities where my identity as neuro-queer is still a taboo. I consider these challenges as an opportunity to learn, however, and I want to use these experiences to support my colleagues at work.
My biggest recent career achievement has been building a global neurodiversity strategy for AWS – PRISM (People Representing in Spectrum and More). Building a strategy, working with senior stakeholders and creating a robust plan to engage the community is something I’m really proud of. With my experience with my own personal journey, it was something I wanted to drive and build. The strategy will create opportunities to assess our systems, workplace and processes, identify the ways that we can improve the capability of our leaders, and leverage our amazing inclusion ambassadors to engage and spread awareness across the globe. Most importantly, we will also be giving back to the community as part of the strategy, with the help of our community services and projects. This is AWS’ first ever Neurodiversity strategy, and I cannot wait to see how we move forward, and what we can achieve as one team.
Advice to their 18-year-old self
If I could give any piece of advice to my 18-year-old self, it would be to take every opportunity to get to know and love yourself. Loving yourself is magical—it’s a divine relationship. So go on, drop those worries, and embrace having a deep, loving relationship with YOU!
Navigating their career
My personal journey has shaped the way I navigate my career because of the experiences it’s afforded me. Being an immigrant, mixed-race, and neuro-queer, I’ve had the privilege to learn a lot from my own experiences in society, and in the workplace. As a neuro-queer, I am keenly aware of the parallels between neurodiversity and sexuality: the fear, the ignorance, the desire to be out in private but closeted in public. I see every hurdle as an opportunity to explore, challenge and enter into spaces where I never belonged before.
I navigate my career with some inhibitions but also a willingness to gather all my strength to overcome those challenges. I have learned to have an open conversation with my leaders, colleagues and peers about my needs. It is imperative that they understand my situation and fully support me so that I am in the right space to deliver results.
The benefits of connecting globally
The beauty of working in a global team is diversity of thought and experiences. With any project or program I launch, I have a privilege of bringing together these different voices and areas of knowledge into the plan. As the AWS Global Inclusion Ambassador Program Leader, I’m proud to have an amazing team of people driving inclusion across the globe by engaging customers, communities and builders at AWS. These ambassadors are feeding their experiences, challenges and learnings into all the projects and programs that are launched through the ID&E teams. They also help us in creating new programs, amplifying support tools and resources for our employees, but most importantly support in creating safe spaces for our diverse employees to share their stories and create a culture of inclusion for ALL.
On debunking myths and misconceptions
There are so many myths and misconceptions surrounding neurodiversity, and the one that I’d really like to debunk is that neurodiversity is a term people use to make others feel better about their disability. This is among the most harmful and inaccurate of neurodiversity myths. Those who don’t know much about neurodiversity, or have difficulty understanding it, might perceive it as a “way of thinking” or a preference of people with neurological conditions to voice their viewpoints. Others believe it’s a euphemism for disabilities, created to make others feel better. But neurodiversity is neither. Instead, it’s about the human mind’s diversity and standing up for the rights, values, and needs of neurodiverse individuals. We’re beginning to understand the fluidity of gender, and so too do we need to start to understand the fluidity of different abilities – whether that is neurodiversity or any other form.
“We’re beginning to understand the fluidity of gender, and so too do we need to start to understand the fluidity of different abilities – whether that is neurodiversity or any other form.”
Unique challenges and opportunities of driving inclusion
Inclusion is a journey and not a destination. With a global organization comes a global perspective in everything we do. With the work we do, we are always cognizant of the local culture, politics, and challenges to navigate any policies and programs to support our employees. We run programs across the business aimed at attracting, retaining and developing talent fairly. These are based on a global framework and tailored to meet the needs of individual countries and regions. The ultimate goal is breaking down the barriers of inclusion by creating equitable practices to help our employees thrive in everything they do.
Practical advice for business leaders and allies
Business leaders and allies in privileged positions can help to drive inclusion for their neurodivergent employees in several ways. Allyship helps people feel welcome and accepted as themselves. The leaders can use their power as a ‘sponsor’ to drive inclusion, but also to create a culture where they can break down the barriers for the community to thrive.
My first piece of advice would be Learn, and Be curious, If you’re working in a global team, and you’re meeting people from different cultures, backgrounds and abilities, it’s important to understand who they are first, before you ask them to deliver on any work. If you don’t know them, you won’t be able to support them and their needs on a daily basis. You won’t know what would really work for them – the same tool won’t be effective for everyone. This is really where the difference between equality and equity comes into play.
My second piece of advice for business leaders would be to avoid labelling neurodiverse people as ‘different’. One mistake made my business leaders is wanting to categorize individuals and put them into boxes. Neurodiversity can sometimes overlap with ADHD, autism, and many other syndrome. While that’s true, it’s important not to ‘out’ or label neurodivergent people as different or as having ‘different needs’. As leaders, we have to walk a fine line between supplying workers with what they need to do their jobs while making sure they don’t feel exposed or embarrassed by making personal requests for their work and wellbeing.