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Cathy Brown

CEO at Initiative for Social Entrepreneurs

Cathy Brown - She/Her

CEO at Initiative for Social Entrepreneurs


How has being Neurodivergent shaped the direction of your career?

When people ask me about my career path, I usually say "less career path, more crazy paving". Newly diagnosed with severe ADHD at the age of 53, I can look back at my working life with the benefit of hindsight now and it all makes sense! My curiosity has been the defining driver throughout.


Which industry do you work in and what do you love and/or loathe about it?

My professional focus for over 10 years now has been on engagement and leadership. A highlight for me was setting up and then leading the UK’s social movement for employee engagement, a role that took me from a dull middle management auditing job in BT, to launching a task force in No 10 Downing Street and working with organisations all over the UK to develop workplace cultures that encourage everyone to flourish. I didn’t appreciate how much I would flourish, getting away from the rigid corporate world and into a space where my creativity, empathy and spontaneity were real strengths.


How did you get into your job/industry?

I moved from there into the world of alternative models of business ownership, working to develop employee owned businesses, co-ops and social enterprises and raise awareness of the economic and social benefits of looking beyond normal corporate set ups, along with running my own business for a while as Capability Brown. During the pandemic, I had my belief in good work and good management sorely tested by taking work in a warehouse to make ends meet. Shifts, minimum wage, zero hours. Boring repetitive work, no autonomy, no purpose. I clung for 9 months to the shreds of my belief that I could (and should) be a role model of leadership from any level in any organisation, even as a casual agency worker.


Have you always wanted to work in your industry?

These days I lead a busy social enterprise support agency in the fabulous city of Birmingham. As a  social enterprise ourselves, we help social entrepreneurs to realise their visions and start-up socially purposeful companies that are rooted in the communities they are helping. We help them to start, to grow, and we connect them together to strengthen the social economy in Birmingham, the West Midlands and beyond. Some 40% of entrepreneurs are neurodivergent, depending on what report you read, now I really feel like I’ve found my tribe.


Does it feel like a good 'fit' for you as a neurodivergent woman?

My ADHD diagnosis last year, at the age of 53, has made sense of a lot of my past for me. My drive towards purposeful work (I find it impossible to summon up motivation otherwise), my ability to see the big picture and patterns, but lose interest at the detail level, my love of the new and novel,  my near total inability to fill out a tax return or expenses form unless it’s nearly midnight on the day it’s due in… The fact that I didn’t want to get married again, but was one-half of one of the first mixed sex couples in the UK to have a civil partnership on the first day it was legal (and went on the BBC to talk about it). I have every book on procrastination ever published, but I haven’t read them yet. I own 5 musical instruments that I can’t play because that would involve regular practice.  I’m on a medication and counselling journey, to unpick some of my less wonderful, decades strong coping strategies and to nurture the ones that do work. I now rejoice in my green hair, my Star Trek obsession and my many strange hobbies (basket weaving, anyone?) and I can laugh and give myself a hug when I’m 10 minutes late for a meeting because I forgot to set a reminder and got distracted at precisely the wrong moment.



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