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  • Writer's pictureWomen in Planning

Minds of all kinds

Keeley Mitchell

We can’t talk about women, without talking about neurodiverse women. We humans have always attempted to categorise our brains, we love to find out more about ourselves and where we fit into the puzzle; from in depth personality testing right up to multiple choice “what cheese am i?” quizzes on social media. If you haven’t heard of Neurodiversity yet, it literally means many kinds of brain. The term is now broadly used to describe people (who are said to be neurodivergent), with conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism spectrum, dyspraxia and a range of others. Neurodiversity above anything else is a concept where different brains are respected as a normal and natural part of our variation as individuals, as opposed to deficits or impairments caused by brain damage or disease.  We should probably cover why I enjoy talking about neurodiversity so much first. I’m Keeley and I have Dyspraxia. I’m incredibly clumsy and accident-prone. I usually have spilt coffee rings all over my desk and I leave a trail of paper and mess wherever I go. I also work full time in Dacorum’s strategic planning team, and I’m in my 2nd year of my Urban Planning Degree. Entering the big bad world of work was a culture shock to say the least – I spent the first few months feeling like a square brick trying to fit into a round hole. I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia within these first months– aged 19. My largest issue with being neurodivergent is trying to fit in as a neurodiverse professional woman. It has long been held that neurodiversity largely affects men, and the ratio of men to women with conditions was put as high as 16:1. However, neurodiversity is increasingly being recognised in women. It is a fact that women and girls are far less likely to be correctly diagnosed than men are. The ratio is now put at around 3:1 (M: F). Specific workplace based issues as a neurodiverse woman truly stem from the dusty old stereotypes of how women are supposed to act professionally. I was told succeeding as a corporate woman is “about what you say and how you say it” – A confident and authoritative style of communication is not something neurodivergent people are famous for having. I stammer and words get stuck in my brain without coming out of my mouth. I struggle to know when to cut into the conversation so I either over talk people or stay silent to avoid it. I was also told I would succeed if I learn to have good eye contact, good posture and dress elegantly. Again not the neurodivergent forte. It has always truly ground my gears that my inability to act like a “real lady” will stop me from becoming the glittering corporate director I’ve always wanted to be. Positive attributes commonly associated with neurodivergent employees include: creativity and innovation, lateral thinking, strategic analysis, bringing a 'different perspective', development of highly specialised skills and consistency in tasks once mastered. Of course all neurodivergent people are different this is just to name a few. Neurodivergence is common (as many as one in ten people), and I can guarantee your workplace is neurodiverse – however there is a huge lack of understanding. Planning workplaces should make neurodivergent staff feel safe and empowered to disclose their condition, and commit to treating staff fairly despite their differences. A tolerant workplace improves the health and wellbeing across the whole organisation. It’s time to change the perspective that employees must be able to be boxed in. Since I disclosed my neurodiversity I have presented about neurodiversity celebration to my department, and the team are going on a Health and Wellbeing away day focusing on building diverse healthy teams with people with a range of personalities and differences. It has made me feel very valued and confident as an employee and I’d thoroughly recommend taking part in similar activities as it would truly make your neurodiverse staff feel valued. I feel very passionately that when we consider diversity that we consider neurodiversity. We must all celebrate neurodiversity and promote its acceptance and celebration.

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