Lee Corless | JP Morgan | Global Technology Diversity and Inclusion
Welcome to Episode Four of the natural Mama's autism podcast. I'm Lola data Ali. This is the second part of a two part conversation I had with Lee Corliss, Vice President at JPMorgan Chase, and one of the banks diversity and inclusion leaders based in the UK. While the previous episode focused on work, in this episode, you will hear a bit more about Lee, the man, the husband and the father, both from his own account and through the perspective of his wife, gender. Jeanette is neurotypical, and Lee is on the autism spectrum. As mentioned in the previous episode, Lee's son is also on the autism spectrum. Lee credit his wife for helping him be a better parent, and being better at his job. I appreciate their candor and discussing Lee's autism diagnosis later on in life, and what they've learned about each other, and themselves individually. While this is just one neuro diverse family's perspective on marriage and life, it is one that still carries some very universal themes. So with that in mind, let's get started. Tell us a little bit about how you first met and how long you've been married.
We've been married for 14 years, together for 15. And we met on a night out where Lee was down from Blackpool to meet his friends. And I didn't want to go out that night. But my friends quite literally dragged me. And we got talking to three men who were extremely drunk. And it went from there.
I have discovered that the drinking does to my brain a little bit more neuro typical. So alcohol does have an effect of making me a little bit more sociable, but still with huge anxiety. So that was a it was an interesting evening, I think, I think we met or we we sort of saw each other over a bit of a joke. And then a lot of the interaction that night was kind of led by my friends. But then because we lived quite a distance apart 300 miles, I think the reason it started to work really well was because a lot of it was done over the phone from the start. So for the first two or three weeks, four weeks, or maybe even a month before we saw each other again, was all over the phone. So that kind of made getting to know each other a bit easier, because study in front of it. So yeah, and it was it was kind of what you would say if there is such a thing as a normal spa.
So Lee mentioned previously that your wife was instrumental and helping you learn more about yourself, and helping you eventually get that diagnosis. Can you both kind of talk to us about that
Genesis story that I can I think for me, it was it was almost, I had to learn how to deal with him a little differently. Because of the way Jason was I it Yeah, for me, it was learning how to deal with with Jason as the way he was because he was completely different to assistance. So I needed to find a way of helping me communicate with Jason
that the know a different way to communicate with Jason, he would really make time with him, he came to a slightly trouble he was always getting in trouble and and unfortunately, the way that was dealt with in his home was to be shouted out. And she quickly learned that actually one of his conditions being oppositional defiance disorder, that actually if she, she took the time sat next to him, just spoke to him pretty much like he was an adult. And even though at the time he was you know, he was six or seven, five. It just took that time and and then she started to go to me, you're really not seeing any of this in yourself. You're really not understanding that. This is how you are on time. And I think the more that she researched and the more that she kept pointing out to me, the more that we kind of had that that aha moment that perhaps I need to do something.
So, on the list as I was going down, I could take things off that totally what tower Lee would react. So I saw a lot
of similarity. How did that go from there to talking to him about getting a more formal diagnosis. The lightbulb moment for me was,
he was coming home from work. And he, every time there was something to do about promotion, or, or work things, it was always his behaviors that were holding him down. So he would sit there and and he would, you know, rage about how he couldn't get any further how people were, uh, he thought were holding him down. But his behaviors were such, and the way he would talk to people, the way he would deal with people is in the way that they wanted to be dealt with wanted to be spoken to. So he is quite blunt he is he can come across as rude. And so those behaviors was were seen as a negative for him. So we had to find a way of exploring that and finding how he could go forward. And so that's when I suggested that perhaps he should look at getting a diagnosis, because it was holding him back in his work life.
So what happened once you got once you both received this formal diagnosis? What went through both of your minds?
For me, it was seeing the relief on Lee's face, that he knew then, that all his past struggles were not because of him. As and his personality, it was because he was different. Or as we put it, his brain is wired differently. So the interactions that he was having, he thought he was perfectly fine. But when you hear those interactions, from my perspective, you would almost cringe at the way it came out of his mouth. So when that diagnosis came through, for me, it was a relief, because a lot of things then made sense for your childhood, I think didn't lay and and how you were?
Yeah, it was, it was one of them. For me. Getting the diagnosis was Yes, a relief. I think for the first month, it hit me a little bit hard, because while it's a relief, it's still a bit of a, I don't know, I don't it was very difficult to describe it just suddenly, that realization that the past 30 years could have been so different. But as you can probably tell now, as Jeanette says, You know, I was probably really blunt back then, I've learned to how to learn how to temper that how to how to speak to people better. My first reaction is always probably to be what people would call rude or blunt. But you know, genets helped me to to take that little bit of time, think about what I want to say, and how I'm going to say it. It's kind of learning the filter that probably most people have. But for me, and I know my son is exactly the same. So I would say, you know, there isn't a filter in autistic people. I think I've learned how to how to put one there when I think there's a need for one. It's not always there because I still have moments when I don't have a filter and I just blurt it out. Luckily, Jeanette sometimes is there as my area my support.
Lee what aspects of your life because Jeanette mentioned that there was a relief, she saw a relief on your face, what aspects of your life do you think would be different had you known earlier?
We spoke about this actually at the weekend if I if I'm being truthful. If I go back I mean pretty much every aspect of my life would have probably been different. Depending when I was diagnosed, I was diagnosed as a child, then my school life would have been completely different and I may have taken a different path. I may have been you know gone into finance earlier because you know, numbers and facts and figures I've always been good at but I tried to drive a different path. It's a really, really bad thing to say. But it's the truth, I wouldn't have gotten married the first time. Because I look back now I conformed, I was creating a life that I think people expected of me. And that are expected of people, you know, you meet somebody, you have that relationship, you you, you get married. I didn't have many relationships when I was young. So I probably looking back, conform. So what would have been different? Probably a huge, huge amount. But right now, I wouldn't change it. Because would I have gotten to this point? Would I have imagined that would I have the life that I have now? Now, so I'm not going to change it? I'm not going to ever change who I am. I've adapted and made a better version of me. But I've done that. Not for everybody else. I've done it for myself. And I've done it for Jeanette. And that's, that's it, I wouldn't change. I wouldn't change me for anybody else. I'm not going to change myself to get a promotion at work. I'm just going to make the better version of myself. And if that scene, and I get promoted, great. If I don't, I'm not going to worry about it. I've got I'm acting in the better version of myself. Yeah, definitely, definitely.
And you don't have to be somebody that you're not. I think you've spent most of your life doing that. And you didn't have friends, and a lot of the things you did were quite solitary. So I think you've just accepted who you are,
which we can't live here. Well, that is
you mentioned to me previously, that Jeanette has also been instrumental with coping mechanisms when you had to deal with change, like rapid change. So could you give us an example of what you were referring to when you first said that and how you successfully implemented dealing with change over time,
Jeanette always helps me find a spot, that that's what I what I need to know, when change happens. You just need guidance. Most people, when they change it, it comes natural, to them figure out a way to that doesn't come naturally. To me, my, my initial reaction, and my son is probably even a worse version of me is, is to act like the world has ended. You know, you're making a change. And, and, and that is it, you know, I can go off at the deep end, how dare they make that change for me, you know, everybody else is at fault. Not me, not not the situation. It's, I push the blame somewhere else. And, and Jeanette has always sort of said, right, stop, let's take this in what's happened, what needs to change? And it's, it's that thought process that she's helped me to find, and and then helps me to talk through golf. Okay, well, I'm thinking about doing it this way. And she'll go, Well, yeah, that makes sense. So so why not? And and we spoke earlier about when COVID here and having to work from home and the rapid change. And I said to Jeanette early on, you know, I'm struggling with this doesn't feel like my home anymore. But equally to know that Jeanette was feeling the same because as I said to you, suddenly it became we might as well have spoken to JP Morgan above our front door. And it it, it's how do you make that danger in Jeanette, when, right? We got to stop, we got to make this better. So making this room, the office as such, and and creating one room that became the office and that routine. So she helped establish that now. I still have a booming voice. And she still hears me through the floor. So every now and again, my my phone will go off and she will send me a text message that basically says, gosh, I'm varying varying degrees of politeness, depending on how loud are being. But you know, it's that frankness as well from her that helps. She doesn't, he doesn't sugarcoat things, she will be very direct. And it stops me in my tracks and makes me think whereas people who spend a lot of time trying to explain things do me, I lose interest very quickly, and then that's where I'll struggle even further. So, knowing To be blunt, when I know she's not a blonde person, she's not that way with anybody else except my son. So all of those things that she does that she's changed her approach to me and to Jason of men. It makes my life easier. It still doesn't make her life easier because she still got to live with me and that you know, that is difficult and as an autistic person, sorry to say I am exceptionally selfish. I am very self absorbed, and I work hard not to be. And she will tell me at times when I'm succeeding, but she will equally be blunt and tell me when I'm not succeeding. And that what really works is the plan that other people might go, Oh, you know, how do you get away with speaking to, you know each other like that we we know what works for us. And, you know, we argue exceptionally rarely, because I know when she's being blunt that she's actually doing it for a reason.
I was actually gonna ask you this later on, but you brought it up earlier about your communication styles. And you said, You each know, you said something really important. You each know what the other one mean. So maybe an outsider may look at it and say, oh, that might be too harsh of language. But how did you develop that overtime?
Think it was like an organic thing, wasn't it? Where I mean, if you've, if you've ever been chopping wood leave who has a list, and you go off piece on that list. He quite literally has a meltdown. And I'm like, deal with it. But if anybody else outside powered the way that we sometimes speak to each other, I think they'd be horrified. But I think it works for us, doesn't it? And I think that's develop this this is developed over years, hasn't it? Yeah. Whereas I used to try and temper things down. I used to try and approach him as I would anybody else. But that doesn't work. It doesn't calm him down. It doesn't make him feel bad. So I think the way it's developed is I've had to be and with Jason, I've had to be direct, honest and direct.
So as I've been, I've been married for around the same time, you all have been I've been married for 13 years. And what I tell people who are not yet married is you don't only learn about your partner, you learn a lot about yourself. Yeah. So what have each of you learned about yourselves being married for as long as you have?
Think I think I said it earlier. I, I know, I'm very selfish. I know, I can be very self absorbed, I know, things have always had to be done my way. Because they make me comfortable. I found it at my routine, and how dare you paint it? And MDF? How dare you buy something kind of one out of order in the shop or to not even on the list? heavens above, on. So now, you know, and I even knew, you know, I know my way around that a supermarket. So I know my list is planned by on the way we would walk around the shop so. So if she would even dare walk down a different aisle in the room. I know all of those things. But, you know, being married to Jeanette as pointed that out to me more and I know then what? What do I need to soften the edges off because I know I'm never going to completely change I know that that's not going to happen but what needs to change to make it work. And, and that that has been a big learning curve for me is having that self awareness now that is stretched into work, you know, is stretched into having a more self awareness of when I might be being over direct. And taking a step back and and rounding that off. But that comes from, from Jeannette, really pointing these things out to me. If you actually knew her and me as people we are polar opposites, when when we met she was an ex. She's exceptionally has quite a lot of friends. She's really was outgoing was bubbly. I say what she still is but she's a little bit more withdrawn. And I wouldn't say that's because of me. She's been through a serious illness. But, you know, some of mine has worn off on her and sometimes I think National Fair. But she never complains.
I always think, to me is what I've learned. It's okay to stand up for myself. Okay. Not the emotional blackmail almost that's being aimed at you. I'm trying to get you to work to how they want to, you know, for you to work to is I think it's okay to to, for me to say no. For me to say no, I'm not going to do it that way. And this is how it's going to be done today. But I can, I can stand up for myself and not be bent to his will all the time.
No, go my way on my feet. But she'll stand the ground. What he does is makes me look at what I've just had my feet out and go. Yeah, maybe I reacted a little bit too quickly.
But it's not always at the time is it sometimes you go away, and then come back and, and see that, you know, it doesn't have to be through his eyes all the time.
Jeannette, when I first spoke to Li, he also sang your praises about him being a better father, as a result as a direct result of being with you. Let's dig a little deeper there. How so? How so
I think it's, again, to use the words it soften the edges of his fatherhood. So he would deal with problems. That's how you deal with it, bam. And of them that there was no compassion behind it, there was no softness that went with it, I will solve your problems, don't ask me for anything emotional. Whereas now he sees that he can give to his children without taking away from him. So he can, he can deal with the situation, not just on the not practical. That's the word not just not just on a practical level, but he can also deal with it emotionally, albeit in a different manner than I would deal with it. So I would have always dealt with his eldest daughter if she was having a problem. And even Jason, even Jason, if it was an emotional problem, whereas now I say, No, no, that they're, they're your children as well. You have to deal with both sides. So he will have a conversation now he will, he will deal with something and deal with it softer, I think then he used to, definitely.
So Lee was that like other things, just with practice over time? How did you feel those first initial times that you tried to delve into the more emotional end of father?
I still now will say to Jeanette, how will you? How would you deal with it? What would you do? And, and then I find from that my own version of, of Jeanette, if you like, I know. Because I know she's taken that emotional point in, sort of onboard the children and trying to get across. And I won't see that emotional side, I am the person who will solve the problem. I'm not the person that's going to put my arm around you and, and cure the emotion. In our in our relationship, if it's an emotional problem, please go to Jeanette, it's a lot easier. She'll put an arm around you she knows the right word to say at the right time. But what is still difficult, it's really difficult. And do I want to do it? Hell now, I don't, but genets not gonna let that that's not an answer to do. That is where you're going to do it. And you're going to try it. And if it backfires, I'll step in and help. But you've got to try. So I I feel sorry for Jeanette at times. Because you know, I'm like an extra child. That's how you grow children, isn't it? No, I'm not doing that for you try it. And if you fail, then I will help you. So yeah, at times I'm an extra child. But you know what, I think most husbands feel that way sometimes
saying in this family of the baby what I'm that's how they deal with situations. And because I have a way of approaching things that I will ask and I will think and I think about things before I say them Lee does not
how do you think Lee you being on the spectrum affects the dynamic with your son, either positive Lee or in a challenging way?
Which to me when he was younger, he was challenging when he was younger. So you know he was he's obviously a son from my first marriage is he lived with his mother for a lot of the time and now I saw him monthly because I live 300 miles away from him. So it was it was a challenging relationship yet. I think with him, he came around when I moved into the children's nursery. So he spent a lot of his not to two years with me. And he, he had a kind of bond. So although he's on the spectrum, he is a very loving child, he loves hugs. I hate hugs. The only person I can hug is Jeanette, when my children trying to hug me it's it's very, very uncomfortable. And, and so it was a challenge. But yet he has always for some unknown reason I've never understood it always looked up to me. So the relationship has thrived because of Jason just constantly looking at me, like, putting me on a pedestal even I don't I've never understood why. And, you know, I, he now looks at me. And when he's thinking about a career, he says, Well, I just want to be like you I want to achieve like you. And whilst that's great, I still say, but I haven't achieved. I'm not where I want to be. So I don't I don't see myself as in the same vein that I think he sees me. And yeah, I mean, Jeanette sees it a lot more than me, I still struggle to think, why, why? Why is he you know, this close? Why does he look at me that way? I still don't understand it.
I realize it's really not me.
He's got time to grow out of that.
Is there any advice you would give a newlywed neurodiverse couple. Any advice you'd want to give home?
I said, Take the time to find your own level four in and find, find what works with you. And that's it doesn't matter what other people think from from outside looking in. I think you have to find what works on your level. But I don't take advice from anybody else. How I should run my marriage. I know how Lee works. I know what he's thinking. And when he's thinking. So if other people see him as rude, I defend that because until you get to know him, and you know why he does the things and the way he does them. Then I you know, I I know what works in our marriage. So and then that's, that's fine by me. That's fine by me. Yeah, he's
the one piece of advice I would give perhaps to any neurodiverse person is find your luck. Oh. You know, find somebody who's gonna drive you and support you. You know, she's laughing she probably think that's easy, but I thrive because of our relationship. So yeah, it's tough. But what she said is, right, you've got to find what works for you and not listen to outside influences too many people prime B and we spoke about this earlier, what other people expect them to be and, and if you're gonna do that, then you know, you're not being yourself, and then they're not you end up drifting apart because you're trying to become a different person. And it's not the person that you met. Jeanette has never changed. She's the same person. 15 years old, just things in the same way, tells me off every day in the same way. calls me all kinds of names that are unrepeatable. But you know that they're they're very much men that that works for us when other people see it. You know, again, we don't care. We just don't care because it works for us.
What do you after all this time? What do you both like about each other? No thing.
He's so driven. His his mind is very clever, very sharp. It doesn't always matter that the emotional side of things aren't a priority. I know. I know where I am on the pile. But his his work ethic and his his attitude of wanting to do better for us. I think is amazing because he's driven to make our lives better. And that's and that's something I admire greatly. What you admire about me
I can't repeat the answer have nothing. No. No, seriously, I've been carrying that emotional side that bit. You know that I missing that tip if you like that's missing in my personality. On is the greatest thing that Jeanette Has she cares about everything can everybody and really is very emotional about it and I don't have that. I have that with her, but I don't have that about anybody out there, unfortunately, is my kryptonite. If things go wrong, it's because somebody has done wrong to Jeanette, somebody upset her. You can call me what you want. You can say what you want, do what you want, that's not gonna hurt me. But if it affects Jeanette, that's what I loved about
what he's missing. I have what I'm missing here.
Thank you for listening. As we move beyond the employment space into dealing with everyday life on the spectrum, our next episode touches upon intersectionality particularly the intersectionality of race, and disability. We hope you can join us. If you like what you're hearing, please subscribe if you haven't already done so. And leave a review on Apple podcasts or any other podcasts. You may be listening to this episode. If you were interested in listening to more episodes and understanding how this podcast came to be, please check out not your mom has autism calm and follow us on Instagram at not air mom was offered to you in two weeks.
Not your mama's autism podcast is hosted and written by my mom, Lola Dada Ali. And it's also co written and produced by me, fellow. My dad, Lego Sister alero and I are all occasional contributors. My dad tosun Ali also helps produce sometimes they thanks to my aunt, alumna William zali, who did our graphic design. See you guys soon.