Overlooked? Neurodiverse Women in the Workplace
Neurodiversity is an umbrella term covering conditions that may impact an individual’s ability to learn, process sensory information and understand social expectations (amongst numerous other traits) to varying degrees. Some examples of neurodiverse conditions include Autism, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome and Dyslexia. It is also possible for overlap to occur and for individuals to have more than one, again being placed on a spectrum of severity.
Whilst support and understanding of these conditions has developed significantly in recent years, women still fall behind in terms of receiving a diagnosis. This is something that appears to originate during childhood years. It’s believed that the primary factor behind this is traits and symptoms showing differently between genders. For instance, males often display more ‘classic’ aspects that are easier for teachers and guardians to detect, whereas females may internalise or show more subtle characteristics that are not as well known to the general public. The situation is even bleaker amongst BAME women. Autistic social worker and clinical supervisor Catina Burkett has shared her thoughts on this topic and you can read them here. It is important to note however that her experiences are not absolute; something that should always be considered when looking at neurodiverse individuals.
A lack of diagnosis can often leave women suffering in the workplace as a result of not receiving the correct support. Struggling to manage workloads, difficulty to communicate with peers and feeling overwhelmed in an office environment are but a few examples of barriers that may hinder neurodiverse individuals within the world of work. A lack of awareness about neurodiversity, coupled with stress caused by aforementioned challenges can be instrumental in creating both poor mental wellbeing and work performance. Some neurodiverse women may also find themselves ‘masking’, a process that could also be a contribution towards a later or completely missed diagnosis. Masking is the act of hiding certain traits or attempting to act in a way that could be deemed as being ‘neurotypical’. Forced eye contact or not expressing sensory overload are only two examples. This social camouflage often comes at the cost of burnout and exhaustion, which can also lead to mental health issues.
However, a greater awareness of how conditions can present themselves along with a formal diagnosis and businesses making reasonable adjustments, neurodiverse women will be much more likely to reach their full potential without running the risk of burnout or being held back by hindrances beyond their control. Another way to improve the problem is for organisations to provide support for everyone, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. This will help to level the playing field for individuals who are either unaware they have a neurodiverse condition, or those who are uncomfortable disclosing the fact. Additionally, staff members may benefit from partaking in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion training to gain an insight into neurodiversity in the workplace, and how best to support neurodiverse colleagues.
Our Implementing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion course takes a deep dive into the topic of disability, and is available to purchase here.
Written by Emily Midwinter