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The intersection of being female and neurodivergent at Work

There continues to be an increasing and welcome awareness of neurodiversity and the unique challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals. Simultaneously, the discourse on gender equality in the workplace continues to evolve. However, the intersection of being female and neurodivergent presents a distinct set of challenges and experiences that often go unaddressed. This article explores these challenges and highlights the importance of fostering inclusive workplaces that accommodate and celebrate this intersectionality.

Neurodiversity is a concept that recognizes and respects neurological differences as any other human variation. These differences include conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other developmental and learning differences. Neurodivergent individuals often possess unique strengths and perspectives, but they also face significant barriers, particularly in professional environments.

For neurodivergent women, the workplace can be a complex landscape. Women already contend with systemic gender biases, and when neurodiversity is added to the equation, these biases can be amplified. Here are some key challenges faced by neurodivergent women at work:

Underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis: Neurodivergent women are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed as bipolar, anxiety and depression. This is because many diagnostic criteria were originally developed based on male presentations of neurodivergent conditions and these criteria are still in use today. This lack of recognition can lead to inadequate support and accommodations in the workplace.

Masking and burnout: Many neurodivergent women engage in "masking," or camouflaging their neurodivergent traits to fit in with societal norms. This effort to appear neurotypical can lead to significant stress, anxiety, and eventual burnout.

Gender stereotypes and bias: Gender stereotypes can exacerbate the challenges faced by neurodivergent women. For instance, women with ADHD may be unfairly labeled as disorganized or scatterbrained, while men with the same condition might be viewed as energetic and creative.

Lack of understanding and support: Workplaces often lack awareness and understanding of neurodiversity, and this is compounded for women who may already feel marginalized. Without adequate support systems, neurodivergent women may struggle to thrive professionally.

To support neurodivergent women effectively, workplaces can adopt inclusive practices that address both gender and neurodiversity. Here are some strategies to consider:

Education and training: Educating employees about neurodiversity and its intersection with gender can foster a more inclusive culture. Training programs should aim to dispel myths, reduce stigma, and promote understanding.

Flexible work arrangements: Offering flexible work arrangements can be particularly beneficial for neurodivergent women. Flexibility in hours, remote work options, and considered workspaces can help accommodate individual needs and reduce unnecessary stress.

Inclusive hiring practices: Adopting inclusive and objective hiring, development and promotion practices that recognize the strengths of candidates can help create a more diverse workforce. This includes providing clear communication, accommodating different interview styles, and focusing on skills rather than traditional qualifications.

Sponsorship and mentorship: Establishing effective sponsor networks and mentorship programs can provide neurodivergent women with the recognition and advice they need to navigate workplace challenges. Mentors and sponsors who understand neurodiversity and recognize talent objectively can offer valuable insights and support for good career health.

The intersection of being female and neurodivergent in the workplace presents unique challenges that require thoughtful and inclusive approaches. By understanding these challenges and implementing supportive strategies, organizations can ensure that neurodivergent women are accommodated with their contributions freely recognized without bias. Embracing neurodiversity and gender equality is not just a matter of fairness; it is a path to richer, more innovative workplaces where everyone can succeed.


diversity equity inclusion, leadership, wellbeing