How has being Black, female and Neurodivergent shaped your career?
I work in Health and Safety which means I make decisions and give advice that affects people’s lives on a daily basis. I assess H&S management systems for a wide range of contractors – from 1 to 50000 employees – ensuring that their policy and procedure are representative of their stakeholders and that they are keeping their operation practices, employees and customers safe.
Being a Black, Female/Non-Binary person with ADHD meant that I often felt as though my needs were not considered and I was often overlooked. It cultivated a deep empathy within me for others, as well as a need to leave the world a better place than when I found it – that is what led me to Health and Safety.
I received a late diagnosis for my ADHD. Looking back, I think the key indicator was that the typical procedures put in place for my colleagues were not allowing me to thrive. Work was causing me extreme distress and I got very unwell, mentally and physically – ironic as I worked in health and safety.
There was a lack of flexibility and it meant that I suffered. Through understanding myself better and personal development, I was able to find work patterns that suited me. I accepted that I am different, let go of the ‘one size fits all mentality and now advocate for the same approach in my current role.
While it’s easy to go around with a tick box, passing and failing contractors based on black and white metrics, a more effective and safer alternative is to consider the individual circumstances around that company or employee. I wholeheartedly believe that this understanding has shaped my career.
I now work with over 20 contractors at any given time helping them to meet legislation requirements in a way that takes into account multiple factors to ensure the outcome is the best outcome for everyone.
Which industry do you work in and what do you love and/or loathe about it?
I think what I loathe about health and safety is the common stereotypes associated with it. When you think about health and safety, a Black person with ADHD is almost the last thing that comes to mind. I would say at least twice a day I’m assumed to be a man, and it's not uncommon for someone to express their amazement at the idea of me working in the sector.
The industry is dominated by older white men, which means that standards and legislation we work against lack variation and are not always inclusive of the entire workforce, as they come from one point of view. This can be pretty exhausting at times, trying to get your opinions heard, as you are often the only ‘diversity’ in the room.
What I love about health and safety is connecting with people. I get to work with people every day; understand what motivates them, and ultimately help them.
Every day is different, a few months ago I worked with a Crime Scene Investigation company and this week I’ve got a Tree Surgeon. It’s fascinating learning about the different jobs people do, hearing someone’s great stories and then in turn getting to be a part of that development. Lots of people are very passionate about their trade and it’s a pleasure to be able to share that with them.
Does the work that you do feel like a good 'fit' for you as a neurodivergent woman?
I think when people think of ADHD they imagine someone bouncing off the walls, not paying attention and not following instructions, which is not ideal for someone working in Health and Safety, as the role requires visiting high-risk environments that require focus.
I would challenge this by saying that I do think my line of work is perfect for someone like me. People with ADHD do not ‘lack focus’ we actually focus on several things at once meaning we can cover many details in a short space of time. While this can be incredibly exhausting, when channelled correctly, we can foster incredible attention to detail, which is a great asset in my role. I pick up on risks and non-conformities a neurotypical person may have missed.
We have always been ‘different’ and this makes us incredibly compassionate and empathetic. This has allowed me to find ways to connect with clients, engage them and find solutions that are both safe and convenient with minimal confrontation, something very important in my line of work.
Our brains are wired differently, so we can see solutions to problems in ways a neurotypical person may not have considered. Innovative thinking comes naturally to us and is a perfect tool for finding creative solutions to workspace risks.
We’re often labelled as ‘lazy’ as the condition is still widely misunderstood. However, most of us with ADHD are working twice as hard as our neurotypical peers. With the right accommodations, this strong work ethic is an asset to any profession.
Our real superpower, however, is our inherent hyper-focus, which allows us to accomplish much more, much faster than our peers. We can spend endless amounts of time and energy on projects we feel passionate about and I often find projects I am passionate about within health and Safety.
My current role is also very flexible which allows all my reasonable adjustments to be accommodated. I can have a windowed start time, removing the added stress of getting to work on time and I also work from home, meaning I can control my environment and limit distractions when needed.
In general, people who gravitate towards a Health and Safety role do tend to be more compassionate and empathetic. This has helped me feel comfortable advocating for my adjustments. I am fortunate enough to have a manager who is very open minded and keen to have regular check-ins to ensure my adjustments are still beneficial for me.
I would say the only thing I am missing in my current role would be a creativity element. As someone with ADHD, I thrive in creative environments and currently, there are minimal opportunities. I have offset this within my personal life and voluntary work, however, it is something I hope to introduce to my role this year with my work towards becoming a Principal Designer.
What advice would you give to another neurodivergent woman in work or life?
FORGIVE YOURSELF. I spent a lot of time shaming myself and hating myself for not being able to function the same way everyone else did, or for making mistakes. This took so much of my time and energy trying to overcompensate and kept me in a never-ending shaming cycle. I feel like when you are in this space, so much energy is used on punishing yourself, you lose sight of reality. You know, this world was not built for neurodivergent people and the fact that we are here, showing up for ourselves is incredible.
If we can forgive ourselves for not managing things the way everyone else does, we can move to acceptance and with acceptance, we can start to work with our ADHD, rather than against it. You’re absolutely enough completely as you are, you do not need to ‘change’ yourself or your ADHD, you need to adjust your life to accommodate your ADHD however that may look.
GET TO KNOW YOURSELF. It’s so cliché but really, the more you know about yourself the better you can communicate that with the people in your life. You can understand what works for you and what doesn’t. It allows you to put things in place to make your life easier as well as show others how to show up for you and support you.
CLUE UP ON THE LAW. In regards to work, as a neurodivergent person, you are protected under the Equality Act 2010. This means that your employer has to make accommodations for you – ‘reasonable adjustments’ – by law, to ensure the job is accessible for you. Reasonable adjustments can look like having a window of time to get to work, having regular catch-ups with your manager, performance plans and even an ADHD coach. You can work with your manager to figure out the best work pattern for you. Reasonable adjustments have allowed me to absolutely thrive and show up with my ADHD as an asset rather than something I’m trying to hide.
FIND YOUR TRIBE. I found ADHD Babes nearly 2 years ago and have been volunteering with them for about as long. Finding a group of people that understand what you are going through is so empowering and validating. It’s given me the confidence to share my story and communicate what I need. I’d recommend to anyone, to find a safe space for yourself, to share your frustrations, your pain and struggles with people that just get it, so you don’t feel so alone.