Nancy Doyle

Nancy Doyle is an occupational psychologist and the CEO of Genius Within, specialising in the workplace support of adults with neuro-differences. 

She is featured in the BBC’s series Employable Me, the first episode of which aired on Monday 27 November.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My first real job was working with young people who had learning disabilities and mental health needs. Whilst studying for my bachelor’s degree in Psychology I moved into recruitment, initially providing emergency back-up support for bank care workers and home helps. My first real crack at sales management was when I opened a new branch for the company and we turned over a million in our first year! However corporate life was not for me. I find it very constricting, so I became self-employed in 2003 whilst completing my Master’s in Occupational Psychology. I have delivered welfare-to-work projects, both client-facing and with recruitment and training leadership roles. I have delivered cultural change projects and became a neurodiversity assessor, workplace disability coach, as well as training coaches. I became a parent to twin boys in 2006 and kept my consultancy alive with the support of a long time collaborator and mentor, Caitlin Walker, with whom I was a co-director of Training Attention Ltd for 6 years. In 2011, both my children started school and I thought I would have more time on my hands! (Ha ha). I realised that doing 2-3 day consultancy projects away from home wouldn’t work anymore, so I started Genius Within, the aim being to do the projects near home and subcontract those that were farther away. By 2012 we had 25 associates delivering for us, in 2013 we had 52, 2014 we had 75, 2015 we had over 100! We now have over 100 associates and also 35 members of staff.

We provide full UK coverage for disability assessment and coaching in the workplace, focused on neurodiversity and hidden disability, including the impact that long-term conditions such as MS have on our thinking ability. We also provide personal development and vocational counselling to people who are in prison and unemployed. As the company has grown, so has my role. I went from being a practitioner psychologist, to a team leader of associates, to a head of service to a managing director and now a CEO in 6 years. It’s been one hell of a ride and I have had to learn whilst delivering constantly. In my current role, I supervise a team of Directors and Heads of Department. However my passion is campaigning, service innovation and building relationships and partnerships. I think what we do is vital for social inclusion and economic progress and equality.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, but it has had the same theme running throughout it. I believe that human communities work best when they embrace difference, and that people are happiest when they are valued and able to be productive, in whatever form that takes. We need to move towards a society that places human value as equal to economic value. I feel as passionate about social injustice and reduced opportunity now as I did when I was a teenager but I’ve used my work to get better at creating a clear, operational and valuable alternative.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?

I face challenges every day. I love challenges. Problem solving is my favourite activity – how to adapt to market changes, looking for new ways to bring practical support in disability inclusion for businesses, finding the right delivery model for tight government budgets that produces long-term results without compromising integrity – it’s a challenging world I thrive on that. My main difficulty day to day is ensuring that as Genius Within grows we address the pitfalls of small to medium growth – cashflow, systems failures – whilst avoiding becoming too labour intensive, too admin focused and losing our cool.

Our internal company value is to practice what we preach, to walk our own talk and stay transparent, listening. We have associates and front-line employees on our board, we are planning an employee shareholder scheme, we regularly seek feedback and try to operate as coordinating hubs rather than a pyramid management structure. It’s really hard and sometimes I get it wrong. But staying congruent to our values is the only way to ensure that Genius Within is a company that I am proud to work for.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

I am often blessed with mentors from different places. Debbie Beavis mentored my first management career and I thank her daily for the lessons she taught me. Likewise, my Chartership supervisor Malcolm Ballantie gave me the direction and confidence to practise as a psychologist. I seek supervision from talents, world class coaches Penny Tompkins and James Lawley and my PhD supervisor, Almuth McDowall has taught me how to write, think and evaluate at a master level. I have mentored several psychologists in their early career, and hope that I have instilled a strong value of placing client needs first and having professional integrity. Mentoring is learning at its best, we thrive when we are exposed to role models who we can learn from vicariously and who can support us while we practise and develop.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Be bossy. Own it. I’m not bossy, I’m the boss. State what you want to have happen clearly and loudly and to hell with anyone that tells you off for being direct. Let’s take back the control and stop waiting for people to give us the space to talk – ain’t never gonna happen. A study of the language used in appraisal feedback in Big 4 accounting firms revealed that the word bossy did not appear once in men’s feedback, though it was present in women’s. My first ever school report said “Nancy is a sociable child, but can be a bit bossy”. Would that be written if I were a boy? Or would I have trainee leadership skills?

I’ve been blessed with almost exclusively female mentors who weren’t afraid to speak up, I stand proudly among them and use my innate bossiness to advocate for my employees, my associates and our clients.

How would you encourage more women and young girls to choose a career in STEM?

Get rid of pink lego. Lego is just lego. The pink and blue social conditioning starts early and it is far worse now than in was when I was a child, though some things have changed for the better. Watching 80’s movies with my kids is eye opening. Do you realise that the opening scene of Ghostbusters is the older Physics professor trying to seduce the very young blond student? It’s outrageous. The Bechtel test revealed the terrible lack of female role modelling in movies, the Symon’s test revealed the same in Business Management schools. We need to see people like us doing things we want to do – these subtle messages affect girls and boys from a very young age. I was so good at maths in primary school that I completed the course work for Key stage 2 when I was 9 and I was sat in the corridor by myself to work on problems while the rest of my class were taught. However by the time I was 16, maths was my only C at GCSE. How did that happen? No one told me to stop doing maths, but I received more praise for writing and drama than I ever did for maths. I have recovered my maths ability through scientific research and learning to drive a set of management accounts, but how could we have prevented this? On the plus side, we really do have some amazing role models now. In my boys’ primary school one of the governors is an engineer – she used to take the maths brain kids out for stretch lessons, thereby engaging their skills and role modelling being a competent maths female. Things like this make all the difference.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Last year my husband and I took our children out of school for a year and we went to live in Vermont, USA, where I am a dual US citizen. We wanted to travel, enjoy the kids and stop the treadmill for a while. We saved enough to live on for a year, rented the house and cats and just left with one suitcase and a bicycle each. It was very hard to plan, arrange and let go of the business reins (even though I did stay in touch quite regularly) but it was, without doubt, the right for us to do. We spent the year skiing, hiking, we took a 12,000 mile road trip and learned more about each other than we ever would have done with protected ‘family time’ at weekends. We challenged ourselves to let go of our safety net and head off into the great unknown and met a lot of amazing people along the way.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I have two marathons to finish – one literal and one metaphorical. I am running the London Marathon to raise money for Tourette Syndrome research, a very difficult conditions as shown in the amazing story of Ryan in this year’s BBC Series, Employable Me. I wrote a literature review paper for the British Psychological Society this year and discovered that despite a similar prevalence to autism, Tourettes receives about 1% of the same research funding. I am also in the last year of my PhD at City University of London and the write up will be a marathon. However, this will bring me to my next challenge, which is to continue researching and closing the evidence gap that we have around disability inclusion. For neurodiverse conditions, most research is about diagnosis and brain scanning – all very interesting but doesn’t help line managers, employees, or businesses decide how to help neurodiverse people achieve their potential.

My role on BBC’s Employable Me

I took part in the BBC2 Documentary series, Employable Me, to highlight the hurdles people with disabilities face and the amazing talents that can be overlooked if assessment is based on what is not working well, what people can’t do, what needs fixing. My company runs in-work coaching and assessment support as well as employability-focused groups for people with neurodiversity and mental health needs. Our positive assessment techniques draw out the sometimes exceptional qualities of our clients. To overlook these talents is frustrating for the individuals and detrimental to any future employer who is missing out on available skills and dedication.