Anthony Woods, Quality and Operations Manager, joined the WiseTech team in 2016 with an objective to improve our developer and product processes. He’s now on secondment supporting our International Logistics team focusing on Dangerous Goods and geocompliance. We had an opportunity to speak to Anthony about his achievements, his experience living with Tourette Syndrome, and what diversity and inclusion mean for him.
What’s an achievement you’re most proud of?
Despite many, if not most people (other than my family), excluding me from pretty much everything when I was younger – I have managed to persevere and build a career and network where people reach out to me to help them. I feel pride in that accomplishment.
And honestly, I feel really good when someone I am helping, mentoring, coaching, or providing guidance to, achieves their personal goals. For me, it is not about me, it's about those who need help. And if I can, and if they are willing to accept it, I am going to help.
Anthony, you’re very passionate about raising awareness of Tourette Syndrome, why?
I have had tics and twitches since forever. All my life I've had uncontrollable body twitches, grunts, coughs, and hoots. I have palilalia (repeating myself, often one or more words at a time), echolalia (repeating sounds and words that I hear), I sometimes miss whole words when I am speaking, speak with an accent, or interchange foreign words.
In my experience many doctors didn’t understand the cause of Tourette’s, let alone how to treat it, and thus they were rather hesitant to diagnose someone as having Tourette Syndrome; except in the most obvious of cases. As a child and adolescent, I was diagnosed with every symptom, but not Tourette’s itself. I didn't get an official Tourette Syndrome diagnosis until I was an adult.
When I was growing up in the late 60s and through the 70s, anti-discrimination laws were in their infancy. Race and gender were a primary focus but discriminating against people like me was not an issue. Most people, students, teachers, and adults alike, had no qualms about making fun of, or excluding, people who were not "normal".
In my humble opinion, exclusion is the biggest impact to a person with any disability or visible affliction; at least it is for me. In my younger years, exclusion was a painful experience to endure, however in hindsight, it was likely the reason that I involved myself with people whom I might not have otherwise known; and people whom my parents definitely disapproved of. But just because I got a positive outcome from it, doesn't mean it’s okay to exclude people.
You’re involved with the Tourette’s Syndrome Association of Australia, what do you do as part of the TSAA?
The Association is primarily staffed by volunteers. Mainly by people who have a close relative with Tourette’s, often a child. However, some of us also have Tourette’s; I am one of those.
I am on the executive committee, and I bring my professional management, mentoring, leadership experience. As well as being a person with Tourette’s, I am able to be an example that there is still hope for people with Tourette’s to have a normal and successful life.
Tourette Syndrome usually starts between the ages of 2 and 21, what does a diagnosis mean for people?
I would say that a childhood/adolescent diagnosis is true for most people, but some people (like me) don't get an actual diagnosis until they are adults.
Diagnosis enables people with Tourette’s to access the right treatments, and to get the help and support they need. Some will need medication, where for others it could be Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, CBT, Psychology, NDIS assistance, Support Groups, and so on.
Often, people with Tourette’s (as well as their parents) need the weight of diagnosis to be able to advocate for themselves (or their children).
Diagnosis is also the first step to acceptance.
How has having Tourette Syndrome shaped your career choice?
For myself, having uncontrollable body tics long before any of the anti-discrimination laws existed, or the societal acceptance of people with disability, made staying employed somewhat difficult. Mentioning the condition upfront often resulted in not being hired, and discovery afterwards, when my tics would play up whilst working, the manager quickly found a reason to let me go. But I got to experience lots of different jobs.
Having tics in the army meant I spent a lot of time doing push-ups. My tics impeded my performance in working in both fire and police services. Computing, on the other hand, was not adversely affected by them. Except this one time where I was carrying a few boxes of punch cards and a tic caused me to throw them up into the air.
I suppose it didn’t hurt that back in the 80s only a certain demographic of people worked with computers. And, as many of them were already social outcasts, so long as I could program they had no issue with my tics and quirks.
What are the key things you’d like people to understand about Tourette Syndrome?
Tourette Syndrome is a neurological condition that affects body movements and speech, it is not an intellectual disability. We are just as capable as everyone else. Most of us live happy and productive lives.
Regarding tics, it’s a good idea to learn to ignore them where possible. If you notice someone ticcing in public, looking once or twice is reasonable and acceptable, continuing to watch is rude and will make the person feel uncomfortable and self-conscious.
No, we cannot just stop it. No more than you can stop yourself from blinking. Sure, you can hold off for a short time, but eventually your eyes blink. The same is true with Tourette’s, we can suppress them for a short period of time, but eventually our body tics.
What annoys me the most is when someone who knows I have Tourette’s – when my body tics, they still ask me if I am alright.
What can businesses do to support their team members with Tourette Syndrome?
Tourette Syndrome affects different people in different ways. There are many different symptoms and tics, and it is common for these to change and fluctuate over time.
The best thing we can do is to ask the employee about their needs and preferences. What can we do to set them up for success? Some people are very proactive at managing or masking their symptoms. For example, I lean on my left arm to suppress and hide the tics I often experience there. Others may need workplace adjustments to help them minimize the impact their tics may impose on the workplace.
But mostly, recognizing that everyone is different and will have their own distinctive mannerisms, behavioral patterns, and personality traits. Promote a culture of tolerance that recognizes and accepts that, at times, some people with Tourette’s may behave in ways that are different from other employees.
For more information on Tourette’s, please reach out to the TSAA or visit our website at tourette.org.au.
How has COVID-19 impacted people with Tourette’s?
I have learned from the Association that a research study has been done on this very topic, the conclusion of which was:
“Children with Neuro-developmental Disorders rely on systems of support, including families, services, and support workers. The results of this survey highlight the breakdown of these systems of support and the significant disruption to home, family and social support networks, and the associated impact on the mental health and well-being of both the children and their caregivers”.
You can actually read the full report online if you’re interested here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jpc.15285
What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?
Diversity is having a little bit of everything and everyone, but the key word for me in that question is Inclusion. We include people for what they might bring to the collective. Sometimes just being present, positively influences the behavior of the participants, and therefore the result of the activity.
When I joined WiseTech I didn’t know C# and I certainly didn’t know CargoWise, but I was still able to add value. For example, I brought in mid-rotation reviews, mentor improvement training programs, and mentored team leaders and other mentors on interpersonal communication and delivering feedback. These activities have elevated the level of engagement between mentors and rotators resulting in increased adoption of quality work practices and company culture, and increased new starter job satisfaction rate. Beyond the Rotation program for new starters, our teams are now investing more time in skills training, building teamship, and setting up everyone (including rotators) for success; this in turn results in higher team morale and work quality.
People with Tourette Syndrome, or any affliction for that matter, should not be excluded because they are different, rather they should be included because they are different. Being different enables us to see things from a different perspective, and enables you to produce better-quality outcomes.
How do you find WiseTech’s approach to diversity and inclusion?
In my interview as a candidate to join WiseTech, Richard seemed genuinely interested in investing in me to become the catalyst of quality within the organization. He spoke about how behavior and containment drive higher quality outcomes. He said where people come from isn’t important, rather it’s the value we add. And, he never once acknowledged or reacted to any of my tics.
When I started, I still did what I always did, I suppressed the tics as much as possible. I wanted to be recognized for my abilities, not my tics. However, I soon realized that people here couldn’t care less if I ticced, so long as I added value. For the first time, I felt completely comfortable to be me.
WiseTech is different.
That is probably the truest statement one can make about working here. You are not constrained by position or job description; here we encourage creativity, innovation, and experimentation. It’s a place where we learn from our mistakes – where everyone sets up and supports everyone in being or becoming their best versions of themselves. Working here is not about hierarchy, seniority, or empire building – rather it is about merit and the delivery of value.