Solène Anglaret - She/Her
Programme Manager - Disabled Innovators at Innovate UK, Founder, Speaker & Author at Be Beyond Borders
Please tell us about your career
I currently work as Programme Manager - Disabled Innovators at Innovate UK, the government agency for innovation. Alongside this, I also have two businesses: Be Beyond Borders & SoClouds, as well as several other projects. I love the positive impact I get to make by helping disabled and neurodivergent innovators, both at the individual and collective levels. They are changing the world by creating and growing organisations that make a difference on a social, environmental, and economic level. And I have the immense privilege to remove some of the barriers that unfortunately stand in their way. It is a joy to work alongside the wonderful team of colleagues I get to work with daily. We’re all optimistic and committed to the same vision of equity and inclusion. It also helps to have the flexibility that I get working compressed hours (5 days in 4) so that I also have the chance to work on my businesses and personal projects.
A very windy road led me here. I did a lot of soul searching, tried lots of different avenues, and learned so much along the way.
Key elements I look for in a role are the ability to:
This led me to transition towards diversity and inclusion in innovation. Practically speaking, I began my transition into this space by becoming a diversity & inclusion champion alongside my previous day job, doing a lot of self-learning, and creating a vision board and action plan.
Over the past 12 years, I’ve had many career changes. I embrace change as a learning opportunity and love having lots of variety. I went from being a Risk Manager in the environmental sector in the UK to opening an office in China as a Business Development Associate Director for one of the largest travel companies in the world – growing it from 4 to 100 people. I then broke my hand on the job and burned out - quitting everything, moving to Australia, and starting my first business. In the space of a year, I wrote and published 3 books, spoke at TEDx Melbourne, and acted on a few random shows and commercials. I then went back into the travel industry working as an Area Manager, looking after a team of 10 people in Australia and leading them through Covid, to losing my job and relocating to the UK in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s once back here (and after a complete mental health breakdown and subsequent diagnosis) that I transitioned into what I do today: diversity and inclusion in innovation.
I used to feel ashamed of my career path because people (recruiters in particular) kept telling me that it didn’t make sense. It’s true that it doesn’t fit the usual image of a straight and sensible ladder… Mine looks more like a mountain road of twists and turns. For the longest time, I tried to find ways for it to make sense - to both others and myself. Until I realised that, of course, it didn’t! See, my career has never been guided by rationality but by purpose and curiosity. That’s why it doesn’t make rational sense, but it does make emotional sense. And that’s awesome too!!
Now I look back and I see that my career reflects me, and I accept and embrace that whole-heartedly. I am proud of some of the highlights of what I’ve achieved and I’m grateful for everything I’ve learnt and all the people I’ve met along the way. I know deeply and truly that there is more to come and I’m nervous excited about it all. This is something I try to impart to others, especially young people I speak to - your career is yours only and yours truly.
I love the word hope. It speaks to my core and keeps me going. There have been times along the course of my career and life that I’ve lost hope and I sincerely wish for it not to happen again. I have so much hope for my career in the future. I hope it will be filled with learning, growing, community, conversations, acceptance & compassion. I’d love to continue to explore how I can be my full ND self more at work (dropping the mask bit by bit), bring people closer together - beyond borders and preconceptions, and ultimately, change the world.
How has being Neurodivergent shaped the direction of your career?
Being neurodivergent has been the backdrop of my career, though, for the longest time, I wasn’t aware of its existence. With BPD and ADHD come a high level of impulsivity / spontaneity, so I changed jobs often. I’ve worked in 6 countries, across a range of industries (corporate, government, own business), and even more teams and role types. Sometimes I look back and genuinely wonder whether some of these experiences were actually me?
As someone with BPD and ADHD, I’ve often felt as though I fell in the gap between “neurodivergence” (more and more celebrated and embraced) and “mental illness” (still extremely stigmatised). This has made the journey difficult and it’s only now that I’m opening up about it all as I think transparency it’s absolutely key to help both myself and hopefully others along the way. I think back to how my aunt (who had bipolar) was “hidden” behind closed doors out of shame. It fuels me. I want to break the doors with compassion and conviction. It’s time we stop hiding and changing ourselves to fix in predetermined boxes. It’s time we, instead, change the boxes (erase them even?!) so that they fit us, all of us. This is why I now work in Disability Inclusion - and to give a voice to those who have been voiceless, I must find my own… and hopefully this is a little step in that direction.
Creativity and empathy have also been strengths I’ve learned to lean on, particularly in leadership. I absolutely love working with people and helping others achieve their goals and dreams. But… being neurodivergent in a world that isn’t built for us is far from easy. I’ve burned out more times than I can remember and masking is something I am very (too?) familiar with.
Having learned more about neurodiversity, I’ve changed the way I work. I now do compressed hours (5 days in 4) and have personal projects, which help me feel whole. Routine is really important and, even more so, is community - perhaps I do belong somewhere after all!
Do you feel that your job/industry is a good fit for an ND woman?
Yes and no. This is a very difficult question to answer as every ND woman has her own personality, preferences, and passions.
From my experience so far, I would say:
Yes - innovation is a fantastic space for those who have lots of ideas and think outside of the box! Also, my job offers the flexibility of different work patterns and being based at home as well as the options to come to the office from time to time, which I know many of us love. You also get to be part of something bigger than yourself and that’s so compelling for dreamers like me.
No - working for a government body comes with its own set of rules and structures, many of which are quite rigid. This can be really difficult to navigate when you struggle with things like authority, prescriptive processes, and imposed ways of doing things. It definitely makes me work on my patience and sometimes I feel like a square 3-D peg trying to be molded into a 2-D box.
What advice would you give to another Neurodivergent woman navigating their way through life?
Self-exploration and learning would be my key advice. If you’re curious about neurodiversity, follow those questions by reading, listening, asking questions. The more you learn about yourself and others, the more you’ll find ways to navigate your own life and your own path with your neurodiversity by your side.
Personally speaking, a combination of DBT therapy, physical exercise, finding a wonderful community of likeminded people with whom to have conversations that include a lot of “what, you too?!”, and finally self-education (with a lot of trial and error along the way) is what helped. But different things work for different people, so tune into yourself and experiment to find what works for you. You got this!