Interview : Jonathan Andrews (Part2)
Jonathan Andrews is a Future Trainee at Reed Smith and is heavily involved in networks to raise awareness of autism. He sits on Parliament’s Autism Commission and the Law Society’s Equality Board. He has also co-founded the London Bisexual Network, launching later this year. In Part2 of our interview we chat all things growing up and role models…and more.
How would you describe yourself in five words?
Determined, reliable, innovative, energetic and considerate.
Did you have any role models growing up? How important do you think role models are to people growing up?
My mother was a great role model – she was born to a teenage mother on a council estate, and by no stretch of the imagination had an easy childhood. Despite that, she never let anything get in her way, and ensured that me and my brother had a better life; we were loved, supported, and taught that with hard work and determination, we could achieve whatever we set our mind to.
Role models are incredibly important because if you aren’t aware of a job, you can’t assess if you’d like it and plan for it – and if you can’t see anyone like yourself in that job, it’s less likely you’ll feel that aiming for it is a realistic prospect.
That said, I think role models don’t always have to come from the same background as the person – as long as you can respect something about their ability, dedication, personality and beliefs, and want to emulate this. In particular, when it comes to overcoming adversity, I see no reason why someone from one underrepresented group (e.g. disability) shouldn’t emulate someone from another group (e.g. women) who has broken down a different, but similar, barrier.
Did you always know what you wanted to do for a career?
I’d thought about being a lawyer when I was at school – but I didn’t really know the ins-and-outs of the job, or the solicitor/barrister difference. I enjoyed my time at school but careers advice was not really focused on – all the emphasis was on academic achievement and getting into the best university possible, which is obviously important but not the be-all and end-all.
As such, I decided to take an English degree, as it was by far my favourite subject at A level, and managed to reach King’s College London from my local comprehensive. It was only at university I properly thought about law – and found it was the best path for me, as I enjoy using intellectual ability to solve practical problems and help people.
“Role models are incredibly important because if you aren’t aware of a job, you can’t assess if you’d like it and plan for it – and if you can’t see anyone like yourself in that job, it’s less likely you’ll feel that aiming for it is a realistic prospect.”
Were you encouraged to follow your dreams and go for it by your family?
Absolutely. I was never made to feel anything was out of reach because of who I was. This no doubt helped my resilience when it came to getting a job in law – not to turn around because there was no-one else openly autistic in the profession but to prove it could be done and that barriers could be broken.
I was also not forced into doing things for the sake of appearances, but allowed to develop at my own pace, invest energy in the things I wanted to do, and to debate beliefs and world-views. This helped me decide what direction I wanted to take my life in, and to become self-driven – not to simply follow in others’ footsteps, but to take my own path.
If you could be teleported back to spend ten minutes with your 16 year-old self, are there any words of advice you’d give yourself?
Carry on ignoring the crowd – it’ll do you a world of good. But don’t expect people to just agree with you – if you want to persuade them to see things your way, you need to understand where they’re coming from too.
Don’t stress too much over things you can’t change. Don’t expect instant results or success. Don’t be so afraid of failure that you stop yourself trying anything. There’s more to life than being clever.
Never give up. Never be ashamed to be who you are.
What are you most proud of?
I try not to get too caught up thinking about my past achievements – there’s always more to be done!
However, one that sticks out is receiving a British Citizen Award from the House of Lords. It was a wonderful form of recognition and I also managed to be awarded only the second ever award for business achievement in the history of the awards, due to my work increasing autism employment. It made me realise the reach of my work, and has made me even more committed to do more.
Another proud moment was managing to be elected onto the Law Society’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (EDIC) last month. I was very surprised to be successful, not least because I believe I am the youngest person ever to serve on it by a long way, and because I’m not strictly a solicitor yet. Now I’m on the committee, I can really work to raise awareness of autism, bisexuality, social mobility, and other diversity strands.