Neurodiversity – a unique opportunity in the workplace

Elsie-May Gribbon

Tuesday October 31, 2023

Elsie-May Gribbon, winner of the 2023 National Student Awards

Growing up as an undiagnosed neurodiverse woman can be extremely isolating. For many of us, the difficulties of teenage years in particular are exacerbated and probably the first indication that we have a different way of thinking to our peers. It's the subtle differences that emerge - we can't "read between the lines", we can't interpret body language the same as everyone else, we may be seen as gullible, and questions begin to form about our abilities and our differences compared to others. Is there something wrong with me? Where do I fit in? Why do I feel this way? In my case these questions turned inwards and resulted in me exhibiting difficult behaviours and ultimately resulted in doctors' appointments that focussed on "hormonal changes" and depression. 

It wasn't until I was 24 that I was diagnosed with Autism - considered a late diagnosis although from what I have now come to understand - is actually a fairly early diagnosis for a female as diagnostic criteria are based upon young males who often present very differently. With increasing access to information and an openness of more neurodiverse women, people are finally answering their own questions and seeking an adult diagnosis.  

The current rise in female diagnosis of neurodiversity could be compared to the rise of "left handedness" amongst the population. Up until the late 20th century, being left-handed was stigmatised and people were punished resulting in relatively low percentages of people using their dominant left hand. Neurodiverse people have similarly always been here - we've just not been recognised by society.

Neurodiversity can include Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia and each has a spectrum of symptoms giving people uniquely different skills and abilities. These are not typically considered in the workplace which is largely designed by and for neurotypical people.

Neurodiversity could pose as a unique opportunity in the workplace and none more so than in the Construction Industry where there is such a variety of roles. I have found that the innate attributes of my neurodiversity make me a creative problem solver with excellent attention to detail, high motivation on project driven talks and a willingness to lead with compassion and empathy. 

Instead of simply making accommodations for people with neurodiversity, business can capitalise on the potential benefits and skills neurodiverse people offer by creating a supportive and truly active, diverse workforce. This could bring different perspectives to workplace challenges, for example by using hyper fixations to develop creative strategies to problem solving and ultimately improved results. 

The response and support I received when talking about my experiences - for the first time in a professional context through the Students Award process, at both Regional and National level, has been transformative. I have found the optimism within the industry for embracing Neurodiversity has been an asset and has allowed me to explore a career in which I can finally be proud to be myself. 

I no longer question why I feel different - instead I embrace the person that I am and the potential that I have within this Industry. I also have the hope that other neurodiverse women can also find acceptance and thrive here.

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