Interview: Mike Tozer | Founder & CEO of Xceptional

In this edition, we have the honour to include an interview with someone who is making a difference to the working lives of those with neuro-diverse conditions such as autism, OCD and Tourette syndrome.

Mike Tozer | Founder & CEO Xceptional

I first became aware of Mike and his company Xceptional through the 2018 ABC TV series Employable Me – a truly inspiring and insightful series.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Mike Tozer, Founder and CEO of Xceptional. I’ve spent 20 years working at the interface between technology and social impact. Originally from the UK, I moved to Hong Kong after graduating from Oxford, spending 12 years working at a HK non-profit, building software to connect businesses to non-profit partners. Then I worked on a similar system for the United Nations, connecting 23 UN agencies to businesses across 70+ countries.

During that time, I spent 2 years in Boston, USA, where I gained a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard. It was here that my young son was diagnosed with Fragile X, the leading gene cause of autism. Thinking about his future and the skills he has to offer inspired me to build Xceptional to help others with autism into data and IT roles.

How and when did Xceptional get started?

My wife is from Australia, and when we moved back here I went through the job hunting process. When you move countries, it can be hard to communicate your experience and expertise to potential employers. They probably won’t have heard of your previous organisation, and won’t always understand what you did for them.

I found it challenging and I thought, if I find this tough with degrees from both Harvard and Oxford, how much more challenging must it be for my sister, Sarah? She is highly intelligent yet also has autism.

This led me to consider the 125 million people globally who have autism, like Sarah. Despite their capabilities, they’re 12 times less likely to get a job than a person who is neurotypical. This led me to start Xceptional to lead change and inspire others to focus on the strengths – rather than the challenges – of employing workers with autism.

What is the size of your team?

We have a team of ten, including five software testers with autism. In addition, we have a stellar advisory board of four.

What are the benefits for companies of neurodiverse hiring?

It’s easy to assume this is all about political correctness, or simply doing a good deed – but hiring a more diverse staff team is good for your company. People with autism, for example, often have skills which are perfect for the work of software testing, like the ability to cope with repetitive tasks, concentrate for a long period of time, and maintain strong attention to detail.

More widely, ensuring your staff team is neurodiverse encourages empathy, builds resilience, develops social skills and strengthens the knowledge of all your employees, which can only be a good thing for team-building and, ultimately, working together for your company’s profit and reputation.

McKinsey and Co have recently released a report that shows that companies that have a diverse workforce actually perform better financially. Employing people with disabilities is actually good for the bottom line! We see this often in practice so it’s encouraging to hear McKinsey backing us up

Our software testers have had outstanding feedback from their employers – and, of course, getting this all-important first job has made a massive difference to their lives too. It’s genuinely a win-win situation!

What services do you offer?

Firstly, we provide release testing. If you’re launching an app or updating your website, you want to know that, come launch day, it will work well for your users. No one likes a glitch! Our software testers help you ensure that you have a high-quality product that works correctly and consistently across a range of browsers and devices.

We also provide accessibility training for companies who are launching a website or digital product specifically for disabled users.  We assess for WCAG 2.0 A, AA or AAA compliance, identifying potential issues and then conducting further testing to ensure your product is accessible by its target audience.

Finally, we’ve developed our own innovative training course to determine which candidates are best suited for software testing. We offer this training to companies who realise the benefits of hiring a more diverse team. Job interviews are particularly challenging for those with autism, so we use a series of online activities to test suitability for the role, and remove some of the obstacles, such as having to travel to a new location, or make small talk with strangers.

Tell us about your strange hobby, and how it’s linked to Xceptional.

I started running when we lived in Boston. We were waiting for my son’s diagnosis, and it was a difficult time. When he was diagnosed, I heard about the idea of running in a suit, and it seemed to fit for me. Just like my son’s brain development is affected by the absence of a particular protein, so my brain is affected by the suit, which gets heavier as the race goes on, and yet my brain is telling me to keep it on. This hobby also seemed to mirror the things my son wants to do, but can’t – as I run, I want to remove the jacket, but I can’t!

These days, I run in a suit to raise awareness of people with autism and other conditions which make employment near-impossible. I raise awareness of the work that Xceptional is doing. The fact I’m running in a suit leads to conversations about the workplace, and I can use it to promote the good work my team is doing. (I also now hold the world record for fastest half-marathon in a suit!)

Xceptional recently won $1 million in funding from the Google.org Impact Challenge. How did this feel, and how will this money benefit Xceptional?

I’m glad there were photos at the event, otherwise, I might have thought it was all a dream: we were blown away! This funding will fast-track the development of an anxiety-reducing recruitment app that can be used by people with autism, meaning more people can be assisted to find employment.

What are your hopes for the future?

In the short-term, we are developing this app, and are looking to expand our current team of five employees with autism. Long-term, by the time my son enters the workplace in about ten years’ time, my aim is that workplaces will be far more accessible, with a secure knowledge of how to recruit and retain people who are neurodiverse. My hope is that he won’t have to suffer the hardships of the generation before him but instead, he will have his strengths understood and utilised by his employer.

Mike Tozer was interviewed by Lucy Rycroft

If you would like your firm to be profiled in a future edition, or have a suggestion for an article that you think will be of interest to our readers, please send me an email to malcolme@feesynergy.com.au

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