Changing the game for candidates with a disability
Looking through a laptop screen and meeting the eyes of Jay Munro is an easy feat that everyone should have the pleasure of experiencing. As we speak, most of Australia is in lockdown, and talking with Jay makes things just feel better.
This isn’t your average story. This is a story about someone completely embracing their uniqueness and being ‘unapologetic’ about who they are.
This time, we’re not going to tell you what Jay has achieved or done, what job he holds and why he deserves it…not until later, at least. You’re about to understand the raw and vulnerable nature behind an extraordinary human and why he’s the person to radically change the perceptions and labels of minority people and groups. Revolutionaries, often fly under the radar, but then one day they seemingly appear from nowhere.
Wearing a red knitted sweater, he rubbed his eyes from fatigue and said, “It’s too early”, and for him it absolutely was. By 10am, he was at the end of his day after working through the night speaking with counterparts in Europe and the US, but he still made time to be interviewed by The Brief.
When asked if he had a mantra in life, Jay laughed, surprised by the question and then earnestly replied, “We can do it; whether it can be done or not”.
“With every team I’ve ever managed and even just worked with, I’ve always tried to push as hard as possible. I’ve always taken the approach when seeing something fantastic, of then asking what else could be done to further it,” Jay said. “Similarly, where I saw challenge, I acknowledged it but was always wanting to know what more could be done to address it.
“I’ve taken that with me throughout my life and career – it’s how we develop within ourselves and the business.”
Talking with Jay is effortless; he has natural charisma, a curious glean in his personality and he seems to look at you as if to say, “I really see you”. He’s always listening.
Growing up on the Central Coast, about an hour north of Sydney, was challenging for Jay. Born with autism, he always felt out of step, and the world at times was a confusing place.
As a child, he often experienced meltdowns which were usually misunderstood to be childlike tantrums. These episodes were his way of processing, of speaking out when unsure and scared. His different way of thinking and reacting meant others found it hard to know how to respond to him.
He was a gifted child, who accelerated through school with lightspeed. He completed all his math units ahead of curriculum milestones, and to keep him challenged, his school placed him in regular competitions with older students from across the seaboard. At 16, Jay became the first person in his family to go to university.
“I got a scholarship to study law at Bond and was getting top marks and being noted on the Vice Chancellor’s list of excellence, but I was struggling in my new environment. I was struggling to make new friends and I felt like an outcast. Soon after, I quit,” he said.
“I haven’t been afraid of failure since because I always knew that if I’d failed, I’d tried. “And soon after I was introduced to someone in recruitment who said they needed someone in admin as a temp.”
Twenty years later, Jay is no longer that young man afraid of being misunderstood or not fitting in and it has paid dividends. Today, Jay is unapologetically himself and embraces his big ways of thinking and understands that not everyone can see the journey in the same way.
There’s a reason why people living with autism are said to be highly functioning. On average, they use 20 per cent more of their brain – that’s 20 per cent more than most of us ever will, each day. Take a moment to let that reality sink in. Every day, Jay runs 20 per cent harder, juggles multiple thoughts at any given time, and is always looking at improvements in the big picture vision.
“People like me look at the big-space stuff and we expect others to do the same and when they can’t, we find it frustrating. We’re often tired cause we’re always on, and sometimes we can come across as blunt, brash, less emotionally connected or even rude. But we’re really not,” Jay said.
It’s hard to fathom that someone so motivated could be labelled as minority, ‘a-typical’ or living with a disability or condition.
It’s even harder to come to terms with this when you understand that Jay has experienced such extraordinary pain in finding himself after battling decades of self-doubt due to the perceptions of others, and yet he seems as genuinely interested in you as a stranger, as you are in him. His faith and genuine curiosity in learning about others, completely unshakeable.
“For now, labels around autism are necessary in helping others to understand how we think, and maybe one day after enough work is done on a national scale to know us, we can move past the label and celebrate the possibilities,” Jay said.
“My call is simple – this is my personal and professional plea for the labour and recruitment industry to put more effort into advocating for diversity and inclusion; this means understanding this commitment extends beyond responsibility and being able to see commercial opportunities.
“This will never be a waste of time or money and your candidate pool will increase exponentially and attract more amazing skills that can lead to new places.
“There has never been a time in my life where I’ve been able to secure a job on my own. I’ve always needed my contacts to advocate for me. Today, I show my gratitude in campaigning for others in the same way my contacts did for me in landing those roles.”
Transferable skills and unique empathetic skills are two things Jay has in spades, though he might not agree with the sentiment on the latter, but the anecdotal proof is in his background and how he interacts with others.
With a master’s in nursing, Jay is a registered clinician and trained in anesthetics.
“Though these studies, I developed a knowledge base on empathy and touch which was interesting to me. Being autistic, touch isn’t comfortable for me. I wanted to try and understand empathy from a therapeutic touch perspective – to see what it gives to others and how it helps them to deal with trauma,” he said.
“One of the challenges I have with autism is that it comes with little understanding on my part of what empathy is, but the way my brain works lets me learn about people and the ways they behave and speak, and combined with sociology, I built a database of these experiences in my mind.
“When I meet new people or have a new experience, I don’t often know what will be said or how to interpret the words – it’s foreign and can feel like a different language. My answers are mostly logical and unemotional and that doesn’t usually work with people, but nursing helped to enhance my ability to read these things more quickly.
“From this memory database, I am able to replay past interactions and predict how we might both respond in certain situations. I can only offer my version of empathy based on my drawn experience.”
Jay has literally been studying people his whole life; listening, seeing, knowing others, perhaps even better than they might know themselves. He predicts how they’ll react to situations by drawing up his whole life experience.
How can someone with this level of self-awareness feel they have little empathy skills to offer? Perhaps we need to learn a little more from Jay rather than the other way around.
For 22 years, Jay has worked in large firms specialising in professional services, HR and recruitment. He has enjoyed life behind the scenes, advocating for those that didn’t know how to land a job and placing candidates in rewarding careers.
As his experience grew, so too did his interest areas. Today, Jay is the Senior Country Marketing Manager for Indeed (Australia and New Zealand) and is driven by consumer behaviour and insights.
In one of the most catastrophic years the world has faced collectively, Indeed ran a piece of research for the first time centered on understanding the candidate experience; in the past, research mostly focused on companies and determining their views and understanding of requirements.
“We wanted to get insights into how safe people felt in Australian workplaces and their ability to be themselves,” Jay said. “During COVID, the sample size was doubled making it one of the most comprehensive studies into the topic in Australia.
“The biggest outtake was that 62 per cent of people surveyed said they didn’t feel safe to be who they are at work, and that was really disappointing to read.
“It tells us there’s a mis-match in perception. As an example, you might have an employee say they feel that people with disabilities are treated well within the workplace, but when you’d ask the person with the disability, they’d say they weren’t.”
For now, Jay maintains that labelling disabilities and conditions needs to remain until stronger systems and cultures are fostered across the country.
“Being a diverse and inclusive workplace means more than having a balance of these people and groups on the payroll. It means the business needs to understand their unique needs and not be afraid to find out what they are,” he said.
“This needs to happen before an employee walks in the door. Systems and AI don’t currently do much to help candidates living with autism and other conditions. The way questions are setup, the way they are positioned – both currently do the industry and candidates, an injustice.”
During Jay’s career, he faced regular stereotyping in that recruiters and HR teams felt he was better suited to numbers and data roles rather than more creative aspects which he naturally gravitated towards.
“Technology will always evolve and make life easier but it’s also risky when it comes to diversity and inclusion because some minorities won’t know how to answer the questions in the right way, or in shaping a strong resume,” he said.
“I will continuously fail a psychometric test, and my answers will be a mess around how I would work with colleagues. It’s concerning we take this technology as truth when it’s just screens and could be literally screening out some of the best candidates.
“When I read, I read the words on the page quite literally; I can only see the true meaning of them and not what might be implied. This means I don’t often answer questions posed by AI effectively. I want to solve this problem for others.”
The marketing gun said that if recruiters continued to set expectations in what candidates should look like, they’d never realise the full cultural and commercial opportunities before them.
“My call is simple – this is my personal and professional plea for the labour and recruitment industry to put more effort into advocating for diversity and inclusion; this means understanding this commitment extends beyond responsibility and seeing the fullest opportunities,” Jay said.
“A lot of my life I didn’t understand my condition and realised that while I could (and did) change to assimilate in many ways, I am confident in who I am, my skills and characteristics and don’t need to change those things to accommodate others.
“We need a collective change in the discourse. We need to set a national agenda on changing our systems and culture to fully recognise the people and opportunities before us, but I need others to take up the challenge with me.”
If you are interested in speaking with Jay about these issues and opportunities or would like to learn more about the research being undertaken by Indeed, visit go.indeed.com/Diversity2021 or reach out to Jay directly, firstname.lastname@example.org.