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Alumni Stories: Jonathan Andrews

Jonathan Andrews graduated from King’s in 2015 with a BA in English Language and Literature, after which he received a training contract from leading law firm Reed Smith. Jonathan has been extensively involved in raising awareness of autism in employment and wider society, winning awards for his work and sitting on numerous autism councils and commissions. As part of our alumni Q&A feature, we talk to Jonathan about how his experiences at King’s have been a driving force in his career and campaign work.

Please describe your career to date.

I’m currently a future trainee solicitor undertaking the GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) at BPP University before I start working at Reed Smith full time. However, I juggle a number of different jobs alongside my studies: I’m heavily involved in raising awareness of autism in employment and wider society; as the Chair of leading charity Ambitious about Autism’s Youth Council, I have compiled a report on the workplace experiences of autistic people across the world and recently won an award for ‘outstanding achievement by an individual on the autism spectrum’. I also sit on the UK Parliament’s Autism Commission and work with the government’s ‘Disability Confident’ campaign to boost representation of disabled people in business.

I also volunteer with the Dyspraxia Foundation, am the Vice-Chair of the Elimination of Domestic Violence Youth Council (The UK’s only youth-led domestic violence organisation), work with disability consultancy company My Plus Consulting, and I am a founding member of the cross-industry ‘London Bisexual Network’, launching 2016.

What has been the most interesting or exciting experience in your work?

What’s great about my work is how often it takes you into uncharted territory. Take, for example, my work on autism and employment. When I first attended events for students with disabilities interested in law in 2013, there was nobody speaking about autism or asperger’s in law and no visibility – compared to other careers like academia, teaching, banking or consultancy where, though visibility wasn’t great, there were some role models. I decided to change that, volunteering with several consultancy companies so as to speak to firms about my experience and aiming to obtain a training contract being totally open about my autism.

As a result a lot of my work has been the first contact top firms have had with an autistic self-advocate, and it’s helped shape their attitude to employing people on the autistic spectrum – seeing applicants for the positive abilities they can bring, such as attention to detail, punctuality, loyalty to employers and a different way of looking at things – rather than purely a disadvantage. 

Similarly, the work I’m now doing raising awareness of bisexuality at work is highly original – it’s an area which is hugely overlooked within LGBT(Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community, to the extent that Stonewall’s latest Workplace Equality Index found people thought there were more positive transgender role models at work, at 19%, than bisexual people at 11%. That I’m part of one of the first groups to start shaping business’s response to this is incredibly exciting, because every aspect of our work is truly innovative.

In what ways did your time at King’s influence you?

I loved taking the AKC (Associate of King’s College) at King’s – I’m going into a career where depth of knowledge in your area of law is incredibly important, but equally important is breadth, as you never know what new area of law you might have to get to grips with (it’s a rapidly changing field) or what new spanner in the works might crop up. In this way, the AKC trained my brain really well for this – because throughout my three years at King’s I was thinking not just about English, but about philosophy, theology, history, law and politics.

Who or what has been most inspirational to you in your life?

It’s hard to pick one source of influence! Firstly, I’d have to say my parents were brilliant because they never tried to force me into doing things I didn’t want to, or take paths I wasn’t keen on – they were concerned, first and foremost, with me being happy, confident in myself, and that I felt able to aim for what I wanted to achieve. I’ve also been inspired by people who have fought similar campaigns and broken barriers, like fellow King's graduate Megan Beech; and Funke Abimbola, a legal trail-blazer on gender, race and social mobility issues.

I also draw strength from the memory of those who are sadly no longer here – such as my friend Christina Annesley, who sadly died last year aged 23. She was passionate about so many issues (many of which I campaign on), a great example of someone who wasn’t afraid to stand out and be different; but also someone who was incredibly kind and fair to people of all backgrounds. When she died she had applied to King’s for an MA; though she ultimately didn’t get the chance to set foot in this great university, I hope I can carry her memory on.

Is there anywhere on campus or in London that holds any special memories of your college days, or do you have a favourite memory from your time at King’s?

I absolutely loved my third year module ‘Reading Paradise Lost’ – from the creative writing and editing exercises where we were encouraged to step into the shoes of Milton, to the final essay. I’d also like to extend the same thanks to Ruth Padel, whose course ‘writing poetry’ gave me the chance to spend three months honing my poetic skills – and contributed to my winning a prize at ‘Create: Art for Autism’ with my poem ‘Creativity’.

What advice would you give to students or alumni for success in life after King’s?

Throw yourself into the experience of being a student at King’s on both the academic and social side – soak up as much information and experiences as you can because while they might not seem relevant at the time, the skills you’ll develop from this will help you in the future.

And don’t try to fit yourself into a box – learn to feel comfortable taking risks and trying new things, because this is the time to do it and the best way to learn who you really are, what you believe, and what you want to do in life.

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