Changing Perspectives - The workplace reality for employees who are neurodivergent

By AdNews | 26 July 2023
Pawena Kaniah.

The MFA DE&I Council would like to see an industry where everyone can thrive, feel heard, supported, and safe to do their best work. Let’s meet the Changers who are sharing their own lived experiencesto inspire us all to change for the better.

Hi, I’m Pawena. Apart from my day job at iPro, I volunteer my time at the MFA DE&I Advisory Council, I record a social justice podcast, and I’ve self-published a critical thinking essay writing textbook for teenagers. I was a TEDx Speaker in 2019. I won the L’Oréal Brandstorm 2018 as an exchange student in France, when I was meant to just be in Europe for some solo backpacking.

At the age of 24, I self-diagnosed with neurodivergence.

Despite all my visible achievements, I failed my driving test three times, still don’t know how to swim despite being an Indian Ocean islander, and I’m not great at being a non-animated speaker when it comes to my objects of fondness: my brother, mythology, and self-improvement books. I speak quickly, because I think quickly. With my muddled French-Indian-Creole accent when speaking English, my lack of articulation can prove to be a hassle, although I’m often told I’m a good public speaker.

Am I neurodivergent enough? I guess most people can’t tell. The nuances on the neurodivergent spectrum are often blurred.

But first and foremost, I’m human. I just happen to have these unique qualities – I don’t like calling them quirks – and some of them are disabilities that I can’t mask entirely.

Yes, mask.

Most neurodivergents (NDs) like me mask to show up in the world and play a part in it. Masking is when NDs learn to mimic neurotypical ways of emoting, body language and reactions to social cues in order to navigate the social jungle of interactions.

Showing up as a minority is always a performance.

I realise that not just as an ND, but also as a person of colour and an expat.

How my neurodivergence shows up in the workplace
My colleagues don’t know about my neurodivergence. I haven’t needed them to know. I mask, subconsciously and actively at times, in such a way that my neurodivergence is invisible – you wouldn’t know unless I told you.

My ND is absolutely my superpower. I realise that’s a privilege as an ND – not all NDs get to make their neurodivergence a superpower. For me, it allows me to hyperfocus on projects and deliver outstanding outputs, it gives me creativity and innovative thinking, it means I’m responsive and very flexible.

It also means that I “procrastress” and can feel unmotivated to complete specific tasks. However, I take accountability in managing these and regulating expectations around me. Active communication with my direct reports is my biggest tool – after all, it’s not about good or bad news, it’s about no surprises.

A safe environment allows a neurodivergent person to unmask and in creating such an environment, organisations can create wellbeing and safety that will absolutely deliver performance.

Neurodivergence isn’t a label
Like most identities, neurodivergence isn’t a label. It’s an awareness of one’s state of being and tapping into it – if you can and wish to. It’s a spectrum, after all, and employees on the spectrum each have different ways of managing their divergences.

Here are the two things I’d like you to take away from this article:

1. Diversity can be invisible. If anything, remember that the smallest of all minorities is the individual, so if you want to do your part as an ally and advocate, simply do this: be kind.

2. For inclusion to be achieved, we need to put in the effort of embracing it and the differences it brings. There’ll be hiccups along the way, so patience with others and ourselves is a key part of the journey.

Pawena Kaniah is Strategist at iProspect.

To broaden your understanding of DE&I, complete the SBS Core Inclusion course – Australia’s leading online DE&I training course – available for free to MFA member employees. Access ends December 2023.

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