The unfair test - Neurodiversity and Intersectionality

Neurodiversity and intersectionality: lost opportunities and goldfish?

Situation

A considerable number of people are still arriving in adulthood without a diagnosis or understanding of their neurodivergent traits (ASC, DCD, dyslexia, dysgraphia or other neurodivergent traits). There is often an assumption that people know what they need and know how to access it. The reality is not everyone has access to the support and insight that is needed to help them identify their neurodivergent traits. This is why I think it’s so important to consider neurodiversity and intersectionality.

Neurodiversity is all of us. Some individuals are neurodivergent and have traits including strengths and difficulties that are unique to them. Intersectionality is a framework that considers the social and political identity of an individual. When the two are combined it creates the potential for extreme advantage or disadvantage for the individual.

Neurodiversity is a term originally coined by Judy Singer in her bachelor thesis and later explored by Harvey Bloom who Singer corresponded with. When the term was originally introduced it described the autistic community, but since then it has become synonymous with a far broader range of thinking styles. The neurodiversity umbrella has now opened further to include many acquired conditions and medical diagnoses like migraines and PTSD to mention a few.

Intersectionality is a framework for understanding how a person’s social and political identity combines to create discrimination and privilege. This term was first conceptualised by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. The original work was looking at gender and race, but again this term has broadened out to include a much wider spectrum that includes underrepresented groups.

When we look through the lens of intersectionality, neurodivergent individuals can experience huge opportunities while others experience a perfect storm of disadvantages.

For example, a male from a middle-class family with supportive parents is more likely to receive support and opportunities to amplify his strengths and manage his difficulties than a female who has grown up in a deprived area and has a mixed cultural heritage. There are many biases in play including gender, race, language, criminality, and social-economic background. This can put the female mentioned above at a considerable disadvantage before she has even started the race. When we then lay on top neurodivergent conditions for example ASD (Autism), where much of the criteria for diagnosis have been developed around male behaviour and presentation, the female is considerably less likely to be diagnosed and as a result, receive support that would amplify her strengths and help her manage her difficulties.

Task

The task before us is to ensure individuals have access to appropriate screening and diagnostic resources in order that they can be properly identified regardless of their social and economic background. In short we must consider their neurodiversity and intersectionality. This then needs to be followed up with appropriate support and guidance for individuals to understand their strengths and difficulties, allowing for the introduction of co-created interventions that help them be their most effective.

The government this week through Matt Hancock has proposed a blanket policy of screening every child of school age for dyslexia. Though at first, this seems like an excellent policy, what is important to consider is this is a screening of one neurodivergent set of traits. Based on research by Prof Amanda Kirby, co-occurrence of neurodivergent conditions is the norm rather than the exception. So, what will be missed? Is this just creating another silo with partial knowledge that doesn’t allow the individual to fully understand their neurodiversity?

Screening is just the start of the journey. Interventions and reasonable adjustments based on the whole person are essential to help individuals amplify their strengths and manage the things they find difficult.

Playing fields can seem level until you look at where the starting point is!

The challenge is not just to look at the individual as something to be fixed, but to also look to the organisational context that the individual is within. As with this illustration, a goldfish has many strengths, but climbing trees is not one of them, especially if the purpose of the assessment is to find out how well the candidates can swim!

Action on neurodiversity and intersectionality

As we look at how to be truly inclusive, organisations must look beyond the easy silos, considering people as a whole and making sure that we reach out to groups and individuals who have different intersectional backgrounds. We must look at this as a process of changing our organisations instead of fixing individuals to fit in.

As we embark on this process it is important that we engage in constructive dialogue and do not take shortcuts. Quick wins are okay but shortcuts are often detrimental to the overall aims of what we are trying to achieve. Look for evidence-based approaches like work-based strategy coaching that support individuals and teams to deal with their own issues so they can be their most effective at work.

These evidence-based approaches look at supporting the individual with the tools and strategies that are relevant for them to be most effective in the workplace. They also look beyond this and start to consider the organisation or environmental factors that impact the individual while critically reviewing their purpose and their fitness for use with the overall aim of creating workplaces that are better for everyone.

Many adjustments that are put in place to support neurodiversity are person-centric (changing the person, not the problem). Though important they do not address the environmental factors that cause disability. If there are no environmental changes then we run the danger of just putting a sticking plaster on the problem.

How to make neurodiversity and intersectionality work

We talked about insight, environment and impact. The reality is we are all looking for practical measures that can be used to make the neuroinclusive workplaces a reality.

So here are some suggestions on where to start:

  • Understand your colleagues, not just who you think they are, but who they really are. Take time to talk to them, listen to them, and get your head around where they are at.
  • Be compassionate and listen to hear what they’re saying, as opposed to listening to tell them what you think.
  • This is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself for a sustained effort as change is often painful, but the results are extremely worthwhile.
  • Actively seek out and recognise where there is discrimination or practices for disadvantage individuals or groups of people.
  • Record and measure where there are inequalities and start the process of deciding how you are going to measure and record the changes you want to see.
  • Be honest and be ready to own up to the mistakes you have already made and will make in the future.
  • This process is as much about building relationships as changing things.
  • Do not make neurodiversity the ‘charity of the year,’ this is an ongoing effort that needs to be ingrained within your organisation’s culture.
  • Do not be tokenistic, keep it real or it will be worth nothing.
  • Start with people and finish with people (with no campaigns in the middle).

Results to expect from neurodiversity and intersectionality

This all starts with positive power and neutral conversations built on trust. These will open dialogue that enables a more inclusive workplace that considers the intersectionality of the individuals involved. Let’s do this openly, while actively looking to engage others from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences, especially those in the groups identified experiencing a greater level of difficulty and or representation within your organisation and society (looking outside your organisation is also helpful).

Review

What has been described here is a process that enables organisations to become more neuroinclusive especially to those with different intersectional backgrounds. As this is a process it has no endpoint, it is instead something that will constantly need to evolve and adapt based on the greatest resource organisations have – your people.

 

Original article published on FE News here.

Person on bike

Equity and neurodiversity – the right transport to get to the party

Auntie Anne had a problem: her favourite dog Jemima had fallen to the bottom of an old well at the far end of her property. She did not want the dog to stay down there and starve to death so she decided she would get a shovel and cover her up. It would be cruel, but it would not be as cruel as letting the dog starve to death at the bottom of that old well. So, Auntie Anne took a shovel of dirt and threw it into the deep well. Every time that shovel full of dirt hits the dog, she shook it off and stomped on it… shook it off and stomped on it… and it wasn’t long before the dog had shaken off enough dirt and stomped on it so that she was high enough to jump out of the well.

  • Equality is about giving everyone the same resources.

  • Equity is about distributing resources based on the need and choices of the recipients.

This is more than just supplying the same bus, bike, or tightrope for anyone to use.

See blog Equality and Neurodiversity.

Instead, it is about supplying proper transport for the individuals that have been invited. For neurodivergent individuals, this means thinking about the environment, tools supplied, and the way things are done. For example, it could be about creating quiet spaces or supplying assistive technology tools. The key is that places are created where people feel safe and equipped to perform.

Understanding the guidelines (or where the rope is) for your workplace and having it made clear is vital.

Equity is achieved through tools like universal design

Universal design is about creating environments, or in this case workspaces that can be accessed, understood, and used effectively by as many people as possible, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.

Workplaces must be designed to meet the needs of the people who are going to use them. Not as pin-up spaces or beautiful designs that only help a minority of the population.

Good design is about making workspaces accessible, appropriate, convenient, and great fun to use so that everybody gets the most out of them. By considering the needs and abilities of all the potential users of a workspace, universal design offers us the ability to make truly great places to work.

Universal design for equity and neurodiversity

Case study 1

Microsoft has introduced tools including ‘Read Aloud, Dictate’ and ‘Editor’ into the Microsoft Office 365 suite. These tools are available in theory to everyone in the workplace using this platform. The key element here is choice in terms of how individuals use or don’t use them. They are available on-demand to be explored and played with as needed by the person that knows best.

Equity is not about the availability of the tools but education in terms of their existence and how to use them. Just because something is universally available does not mean individuals know it exists or how to use it.

Case study 2

Carly (this is not her real name), struggled with the way her home office chair felt as it constantly irritated her skin and made her feel uncomfortable when seated. This reduced her concentration and meant that she did not want to use the chair.

Some people who are neurodivergent can be very sensitive to materials and fabrics.

Equality would be to give Carly the same chair as everyone else and say that was fair. Equity is about having a conversation with Carly to find out if she would like to try out a few different chairs to establish which one doesn’t irritate her skin, or she may well have some better ideas based on her own experience and research. For example, she may want to be able to change the covers on the chair based on how she was feeling.

What next for equity and neurodiversity?

Our workplaces will never meet everyone’s needs completely considering equity is something that can be built on and added to.

The goal is excellence, not perfection because this is going to be a changing landscape where employers need to respond to the needs of their workforce appropriately.

See Blog Perfection vs Excellence mixed with neurodiversity.

Lessons

The other lesson here is that if there is more than one choice it is always better to choose the more inclusive one. For example, it is worth considering whether everyone:

  • Can use it easily?
  • Can set it up?
  • Can share its benefits?
  • Finds it fun and engaging to use?
  • While not forgetting does it help make the organisation work better?

Final Thoughts

To achieve equality, equity must be a given I encourage you to think deeply and courageously about what this looks like in your organisation.

  • Sometimes these things are intentional
  • Sometimes they are accidents
  • Sometimes they are discovered
  • We must review and embrace what works and remove and reject what does not.

If you would like to explore this further, please get in contact.

And, if you liked this blog you may also want to read – Why aesthetics matter to neurodivergent people.

Woman talking into a microphone

Nathan Whitbread in conversation with Claire Pendrick

Talking about Intersectionality Podcast

It was the most amazing privilege to join Claire Pendrick MMC for a conversation on her podcast the Coaching Inn. For those of you who do not know, she is the author of simplifying coaching, one of the most inspiring and interesting books on the subject. In the podcast, we talk about all sorts of topics from neurodiversity, intersectionality, the workplace, hopes, dreams and beyond.

Please take a listen here.

PS it is me on the podcast, Nathan Whitbread (not Nathan Whitehead honest).

neurodivergent traits are strengths

What are neurodivergent traits? – How do we retain and empower them?

So what are neurodivergent traits?

Based on statistics from the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) it is estimated that at least 15% of the working population have some neurodivergent traits. Neurodivergent traits are those associated with conditions like dyslexia, ADHD, ASC along with medically diagnosed and acquired conditions like PTSD and migraines. These traits are likely to appear in different combinations in each individual. This is supported by research carried out by Professor Amanda Kirby that shows it is more common for individuals to have co-occurring traits from several different neurodivergent conditions, rather than traits just associated with one.

As we consider these traits, I believe it is essential we take a strengths-based approach looking to understand what the individual is great at, while at the same time helping them to understand the things they find difficult and how to mitigate the impact of these on their effectiveness.

These neurodivergent traits include (this is not an exhaustive list):

Neurodivergent traits (strengths)

Creative, imaginative, energised, solution finders, emotionally intelligent, persistent, inquisitive and have fresh eyes.

Neurodivergent traits (difficulties)

Short-term memory, anxiety, fear, disguise and sensory overload. Screening diagnosis and understanding of these various traits and conditions are improving rapidly, though there is still much more to do.

How these traits impact an individual’s working environment and their effectiveness at work is unique to them. I work with a wide range of individuals across several different sectors. Though their stories are all different the recurring theme is that they have hit difficulties at some point in their working life that has caused them to reach out for support. Some of these individuals have been recently diagnosed, while others have known about their traits since primary school. The challenge is not just to know that you have these traits but how these traits affect an individual’s effectiveness in the workplace.

Some of the ways that common neurodivergent traits impact individuals’ effectiveness in the workplace include:

Memory and concentration

Working in environments where a lot of information is shared orally can be extremely challenging for individuals who have poor short-term memory.

A way to think about this is like a bookshelf. The average person (if they exist), can typically hold around 7 to 9 books on a bookshelf. However, someone who has difficulties with their short-term memory is likely to be only able to hold one to three books on the bookshelf. The implications of this are when a new book is added the first book is pushed off and the individual is forced into a situation of grabbing the book that has fallen, often disrupting the rest of the shelf.

If the culture of the organisation means that this is just the way things are done it can be incredibly challenging for these individuals to keep and recall information.

There are ways to help individuals through coaching and technology that allow them to support their short-term memory. This can enable them to work effectively within their organisation.

Organisational skills

In a workplace being organised and understanding what is going on is an essential skill, especially when collaborating with others. If however your sense of time and your ability to follow processes is challenging, then this can make life very difficult. We often assume that having a calendar allows us to be organised, but what we take for granted is that there are a whole bunch of skills around making that calendar work for us. These include building in time to do post and pre-meeting work, accounting for travel and building in buffers to deal with unexpected situations.

Not being able to organise effectively can be very debilitating but through co-building processes, the individual’s situation can be improved dramatically.

Time management

Having a sense of time and being able to estimate time effectively are again essential skills within our current workplaces. If you are unable to do this effectively it can detract from your credibility in the workplace. For some individuals, this could just be that they have no sense of time, while for others they may be overwhelmed by the sensory inputs from their environment.

There are various solutions to this difficulty, including the use of alarms and wearable technology. It is important to work with the individual to understand their unique working environment and how time management affects them.

Wellbeing

Some individuals feel that they are unable to share or not aware of their neurodivergent traits and as a result, try and mask them. This can often mean that they spend far more time working on tasks than their colleagues. This type of behaviour can generate a considerable amount of anxiety, especially when coupled with change. This is because the individual may well be barely hanging in there when they need to reconsider changing all their strategies.

Spending time assessing an individual to help them understand their traits and how these impact their work is invaluable. It can help them flourish and become their true self at work. This should focus on amplifying their strengths and building strategies to help mitigate their difficulties.

Don’t underestimate the power that these changes can have

Christopher Reeve the actor who played Superman, paralysed in a horse-riding accident in 1995 – put it like this.

“When the first Superman movie came out, I was frequently asked, ‘what is a hero?’ I remember the glib response I repeated so many times. The answer was that a hero is someone who commits the courageous action without considering the consequences – the soldier who crawls out of the foxhole to drag an injured buddy to safety. Now my definition is completely different. I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Unfortunately, overwhelming obstacles are present for many individuals with neurodivergent traits and if we do not change this then our organisations will be poorer for it with implications including:

  • Non-compliance under the equality act 2010.
  • Attrition of staff who can add value to our organisations.
  • Loss of competitive advantage and innovation.

To this point, we have discussed supporting the individual. It is important that changes to support the individual are not sticking plasters, but instead part of an organisational wide environmental support.

The road to success

This journey starts with raising awareness of neurodiversity and specifically neurodivergent traits. This mustn’t be a sheep dip approach, yes neurodiversity training is good, but it needs to be supported by mentoring and coaching for managers and leaders of neurodivergent staff.

This then needs to be supported with high-quality processes that are easy to understand and are embedded across the organisations, (not buried at the bottom of some old filing cabinet).

For example:

  • It should be obvious where to seek support.
  • It should be clear how you will be treated.
  • It should be clear what you can expect to happen and when.

Is there an opportunity to be assessed by a professional who can look at your strengths and difficulties and then be given tailored help and support to amplify your strengths and manage your difficulties?

If you have met one person with neurodivergent traits, you have met one person as we are all uniquely different.

Article originally published on FE News

diversity is being invited to the dance

Neurodiversity – Is being invited to ‘The Party’

Paul Bright lived alone, and he wanted to plant his annual crop of runner beans in his veggie patch. He was getting old and finding it very difficult to work the patch. His only son John used to help him, but he was behind bars doing 10 years in Broadmoor maximum security prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described what was going on: “Dear John, it looks like I won’t be able to get my runner beans in this year. I’m getting far too old to dig the ground. I know if you were here you would help me. I know you would be happy to dig the ground, just like in the old days. Love you, dad.” A few days later the old man received this from his son: “Dear Dad, don’t dig up the allotment! That’s where the bodies are buried. Love John.” At 2 AM the next morning, officers from Northampton’s murder investigation unit arrived and dug up the entire back garden without finding any bodies. They apologised to the old man and left. The same day the old man received another letter from his son, “Dear Dad, you can get on with planting the beans now. That was the best I could do under the circumstances. All my love, John.”

 “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

Although John met his dad’s needs in an unorthodox way, I do think this story illustrates the fact that we need to approach individual situations differently. We must think outside the box with diversity as ironically neurodiversity is all about thinking differently and embracing unique styles and ways of doing stuff.

To do this well there must be an invitation for people to be their most effective at work.

So where does diversity start?

Diversity starts with how we greet people into our organisations and make it okay for them to ask for adjustments. This is more than just window dressing, it is about making it part of our culture that it is okay to ask for what we need. To ensure that each person is treated as an individual this process always needs to start with a conversation.

With neurodiversity and other hidden disabilities, individuals may have a history that means they are uncomfortable about sharing what they need. They may take some convincing that it is safe to do so within the organisation they’re working in. This could be due to several reasons including bullying, earlier work cultures or the fact that when they’ve asked for support before it has been refused or made so difficult that they don’t want to engage in the process again. There is also the possibility that an individual may not be aware that there is anything wrong until something changes in their work environment that highlights the difficulty.

What is key in all of this is the invitation for support and that the organisation including colleagues, managers and support functions is actively looking to support individuals to show and celebrate the power of neurodiversity.

Coming back to the conversation, diversity starts with asking questions about the following areas:

  • What do they think they need to bet their best at work?
  • What have they found helpful or would like to try?
  • What has worked well for them previously?
  • What makes things more difficult at work?
  • Who do they need to talk to to make these discussions effective?

What is also important to consider is the role and work environment. Think about things like:

  • What aspects of the role may be more challenging for them than others?
  • What could be done to overcome these challenges?
  • What environmental changes could be helpful to support work routines.

This is of course just the starting point and should be used to get the conversation going. The diversity conversation is built around trust and best intentions. Without this, it is all a waste of time, we need to want people to be their very best and most effective at work. If people feel threatened or endangered, they are unlikely to perform at their best and be unwilling to discuss this topic.

If you have not already, I would encourage you to start having these kinds of conversations in your organisation.

If you need help with this?

Please get in contact.

Find out how this links with my blog about Equality.

Tightrope walker equality and neurodiversity

What does equality and neurodiversity mean?

Jean Francois Gravelot “The Great Blondin” was the first person to tightrope walk across Niagara Falls quarter-mile gap. He was not just content with crossing the gap once, he did it over 300 times and each time pushed himself to a new level of difficulty. This included cooking an omelette in the middle, sitting down, and lowering a rope to collect a bottle of wine from the ‘Maid of the mist’ boat below and even carrying his manager on his back.

On one occasion he crossed with a wheelbarrow to the rapturous applause of the crowd. On reaching one side he approached a Royal party who were watching him and asked if one of them would like to make the trip inside the wheelbarrow. He was declined, so he asked the crowd if anyone else would like to make the crossing in the wheelbarrow and no one spoke up except for one small old woman. He crossed successfully with her in the wheelbarrow to rapturous applause. It was reported later that this woman was his mother.

Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.

Vernā Myers

Before we can even begin to engage in such feats as Jean achieved at Niagara, we first need the opportunity to get involved. That means being able to take part and in the words of Vernā Myers being asked to dance. I would like to take this further though and explore what it takes to get to the point where you can dance like nobody’s watching.

Because diversity is about being asked to take part, equity is about having the transport to get there, inclusion is about being asked to get involved and equality is performing like no one is watching.

Diversity – is being invited to ‘The Party’

For equality and neurodiversity to be a reality this is a statement of intent for neurodivergent individuals.

It is about knowing that you can bring your best self to the situation you are working on. What is important is that this is not a half-hearted attempt at inclusivity but instead a concerted effort to invite those that think differently to the table. This is not one of those invites when you say you want people to come, but you do not expect them to turn up! Find out more here.

Equity – is having proper transport to get there

This is more than just supplying a bus or tightrope but instead supplying proper transport for the individuals that have been invited. For neurodivergent individuals, this is about thinking about the environment in terms of the tools that are supplied and the way things are done. For example, it could be about creating quiet spaces or supplying assistive technology tools. The key thing is that places are created where people feel safe and equipped to perform.

Understanding the guidelines (or where the rope is) for your workplace and having it made clear is vital. Find out more here.

Inclusion – is being asked to participate

To be included you need to be invited and have the tools and environment to be present. Being asked to take part shows the value that you are placing on the person you are asking. Asking them to take part because you see their strengths and know that they can add value is vital. Inclusion is not a display, it is about mutual benefit and creating places that allow the individual to walk the most difficult tight ropes.

Equality and neurodiversity – performing like no one is watching

Equality and Neurodiversity is about creating a level playing field where individuals get to use their skills and competencies in great ways. It is a place where creativity explodes, and innovation is paramount that can only be realised if you can bring your full neurodivergent self to work. It is about challenging and being okay with offering insight without fear and recognising the value that you can bring whilst encouraging the potential you see in others.

This is only possible if diversity, equity, and inclusion are present then equality and neurodiversity works!

Neurodiversity and neurodivergent thinking are hot topics. There are many ways to approach this area. I would encourage you to think deeply about how you can utilise the great potential these thinking skills can offer to your organisation. If you would like some help or just a conversation to explore this further, please get in contact.

Looking at a Promise to my future self

What is your promise to your future self?

When I joined secondary school, we had the opportunity to write a letter to our future self about where we wanted to be. I remember pondering over all the great things I’d like to achieve, including flying to the moon and playing rugby for England. Then I concluded that what I wanted at that time was to be the most successful bank robber in the world and retire to the Costa del Crime. I’m pleased to say my aspirations changed, I’m not sure that promise to my future self would have been particularly helpful for my long-term health and well-being.

How will your promise to your future self impact you?

It is easy to make a big hairy promise to your future self without thinking about the implications for the things we care about. Or volunteering to take on new responsibilities and projects that have far-reaching potential future impacts. The challenge is not to avoid big commitments, but to make sure we understand the implications of them and consider how they will affect our future self. I would always encourage you to take a moment, preferably in a quiet space to look forward and imagine what life will be like one, two, and even six months down the line with the choice you are about to make in mind.

Excepting and sharing your strengths and difficulties?

Neurodivergent individuals have a soup of traits that form strengths and difficulties depending on the situations based on their environment. If they have had negative experiences in the past, they will often choose not to share the traits that cause them difficulties. This can result in their needing to work far harder at the choices they have made and can sometimes break down if changes happen within the organisations they are working in. I mention this because the choices you make may well also have implications for the people you work with and collaborate with.

Will you choose when to go into conflict with others wisely?

Making promises to your future self inevitably involves change. With change can come conflict as our ideas and aspirations do not align with those who we are working with or collaborating with closely. One of the promises we need to consider to our future self is, when will we choose to go into conflict and what will we choose to do to avoid it?

Will you treat the things that have gone wrong as CPD?

Promises to our future self will often involve risk. This could be personal, financial, reputational or some other sort of risk. When things go wrong, they can often be expensive for us and the question we need to ask ourselves is are we prepared to treat it as CPD (continuous professional development).

As a side note, I have been on many training courses some of them incredibly expensive and have learned that we never fail to learn from the things that have cost us dear.

Will your promise to your future self allow you to hold firmly to your values and not compromise?

In my example, at the beginning of this post I talked about my aspiration of being a bank robber, but what I had not thought about was how this fitted with my values in terms of fairness and charity. Now, this is an extreme example, but it is one we should consider when looking at promises to our future self. Do our promises align with our values, for example, if one of your values is family, are you making promises that mean you spend substantial amounts of time away from home creating an imbalanced lifestyle.

Will you live in the reality of today, not the ifs and but’s of tomorrow?

When making a promise to your future self, are you prepared to live with the consequences. Are you happy that there will be things that you cannot do because of the choices you have chosen to do. It is easy to look back with ifs and buts, this is not an option if you made a choice and have stuck to it.

Will you be kind to yourself?

As you consider the choices that you want to make and the implications they may have for your future self I would encourage you to be kind. We have one life and it is full of adventure, challenge disappointment and grief.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Albert Einstein

If these are questions that affect you, I would encourage you to reach out and have a conversation with someone you can trust. If I can help with that conversation, please feel free to get in contact.

running

Does it take a Village – to run well?

Running my first 10 kilometre (km) race, this story starts five years ago when a few friends and I decided that we wanted to row (we were the most ragtag bunch of rowers you can imagine). At the time I was out of shape but wanted to be a better version of myself for me and my children. So, a friend of mine called Dave and I (with a couple of others), set up something called Monday Club which as you properly guess happens every Monday. It is an opportunity for some 40+ year old men and women to work out and play at being boxers and gymnasts. This club inspired me to do more with myself and through conversations with my friends, I decided I was going to give running a go (I wanted to run well).

Running begins

Four years later I am starting to run regularly with a bunch of people from Monday Club who inspired and helped me to move forward when it was suggested, I should have a go at running a race.

Time to race

When the race came around, I was expecting to be looking at my watch working out my timings and trying not to run, way too fast. Adding at this point that my nickname is the ‘beast’ as I do everything at full throttle, not holding anything back and burning out much of the time. Come race day I expected to turn up on my own and run the race for which I had practised.

We are off

The race begins in a flurry of activity and the guy I am chasing down the road starts encouraging me to run with him and this is where the support begins. Turning the first corner my friend Simon is there rooting for me telling me to take it easy and run at the pace I have planned. Running a further 500 meters up the road and my friend Dave is there telling me not to overcook it and keep to my pace, pull my shoulders back, breathe and enjoy it. As I continue to run the race these two guys keep popping up, rooting for me, pushing me and encouraging me to be the best I can be.

The final 2 km

Things are starting to hurt now, and my shoulders are all hunched. Then my friend Dave appears and starts to run with me. At first, this is about me getting my confidence and form back then I notice myself accelerating. Moving from someone slipping backwards to someone who is overtaking people and running faster and faster.

Finishing strong

Coming into the final 700 meters I was a transformed person running with determination and gusto. Finishing the race in 41 minutes 26 seconds, 1 minute 26 seconds outside of the goal I set myself, but that did not matter, I had learned how to run a race well and that is a lesson I will not forget.

My first 10k race was not run on my own, I ran it with people who believed in me and enabled me to do my absolute best, inspiring me to do it again.

What I learnt

Sometimes things take longer than you first expect.

When I started this journey, I wanted to row a boat and I ended up running a race. That does not mean that I will not row a boat one day too. What I did instead was achieve something else that takes me closer to that goal.

Sometimes what you want takes time to work out

This is true in many aspects of our lives. What is important is to keep moving forwards. It is vital to have champions and cheerleaders on your team to keep encouraging you to seek out what you want. In my case, it is about being a better version of myself, for you it may be quite different, but I would encourage you to keep on looking for it.

Practice is the key to everything – you will need to do it a lot so make sure it is fun!

As with everything worth doing there is always a lot of practice involved. The biggest transition for me has been the movement from only enjoying the end goal to enjoying the practice. This is so relevant to the roles we do and the things we want to achieve. If we do not enjoy the day-to-day stuff to get us to a goal I do not believe will be anywhere near as fulfilled as we should be.

The best coaches will come and run along with you

Sometimes we need help, sometimes we need advice and sometimes we need people to run along with us. Both in the sense of doing things as well as carrying the same dreams and passions as we do. It lifts our heads and gives us the capability to be genuinely great.

Doing things with a village is the best

Reflecting on this experience, the image of the village of people supporting one another to achieve their goals is an incredibly attractive one. Where one achieves much, everyone achieves much, and this is a principle that can help move forward some of the key aims we have in our lives.

Who is in your village?

If you would like some help to explore this further, please get in contact.

Technology agnostic TT

Is being technology agnostic important?

A few years ago, I wanted an Audi TT (225bhp for those that care), it is a beautiful car, fast, agile and the envy of my mates. Being six feet 1 inch tall with long legs means that I ended up sitting virtually in the back seat. Turning a four-seater car into a two-seater car was less than ideal.

This story has resonated with me a lot especially as I look at the area of solving difficulties related to neurodiversity, (find out what neurodiversity is here), with technological solutions.

Technology-agnosticism is about saying there is ‘no one size fits all for a particular problem. That is not to say that a particular solution cannot solve a problem for many different people, it just will not solve it in the same way.

Think about it

It is the difference between an adjustable spanner and a standard spanner. One of them adapts to lots of assorted sizes of bolts with a greater margin for error and the other one fits one size of bolt perfectly but lacks flexibility. The question you always need to ask yourself is, do you even need that flexibility or is it okay to just do one thing perfectly well?

Many technologies, platforms and software products try and do everything for us, meaning they can end up not doing anything particularly well, so we need to make bigger compromises. It is easy to be bamboozled with a multitude of tools and promises that these tools can deliver, but if we lose sight of the problem that we are trying to solve, the danger is we end up with a solution to a problem that does not even exist.

Or to put it another way, a screwdriver to fix nails in the wall!

This becomes clear when you speak to individuals about the processes they perform and instead of describing what they do they reference the tools they use and how those tools perform the task. On its own, this is not an issue but where it becomes a problem is when the limitations of those tools start defining the process and its boundaries.

Here are some things to think about.

Being technology agnostic when things stop working

Take a pause and reflect on what has stopped working. Do not just switch to another app or another piece of technology before you have asked this question as you may well find that something more fundamental has changed, either with the environment or the processes you are using.

For example, I like to-do lists and I use a product called Todoist.com. It has worked very well for me. Unfortunately, when I started blogging, this platform just did not work for me anymore, so I had to go back and look at what the problem was, and it was to do with the amount of information I wanted to collect within my to-do list. So, I went back to the drawing board to map out what I wanted to achieve and then I was able to select a new software solution that helped me solve the problem, in this case Trello.

Invisible inefficiencies

Adapting a process that we use to fit the software tools with which we are lumbered. Are we keeping process components that really should be obsolete because the software demands them? I believe that if you look at your processes through a set of technology-agnostic glasses, you will find improvements and make changes that will simplify things!

Collaborating with a client who had used MS Outlook successfully to manage their diary, and who was now finding it did not give them the flexibility they needed to annotate, it caused a huge amount of anxiety about appointments. The other issue was the client felt they were not in control of their diary. In this instance, the client moved back to a paper-based solution. Now I realise for many reasons this is suboptimal in lots of organisations, but for this client, they were able to increase their effectiveness by not being stressed about their diary.

Revolutionising your processes

When evaluating what you are doing or why you are doing it, being technology-agnostic allows you to look beyond the constraints of the platforms and software that you are using. It allows you to imagine all the possibilities you might like to carry out, giving you scope to dream big and not have them thwarted by inappropriate tools.

Creating opportunity by being technology agnostic

When the shackles of, “it’s always been done this way” are broken all sorts of possibilities appear. This is also likely to enable you to move forward and to recognise your potential in terms of what you can achieve and how you are going to achieve it. Inappropriate tools that cause you to carry out actions and use time inefficiently reduce your effectiveness at work. Re-evaluating the tools you use creates an incredible opportunity to do things differently and to be more effective in your workplace.

If you would like to explore how to be more technology-agnostic in making decisions around assistive technology, then please get in contact.

neurodiversity and networking

How to navigate neurodiversity and networking

Walking into a room full of strangers that you are supposed to be interacting with can be incredibly daunting. Add on top of this anxiety around who you are and how you communicate and suddenly there is a recipe for potential problems. Welcome to neurodiversity and networking.

As a neurodivergent person, I have always found networking challenging as it seems everyone else knows exactly what they are doing. So here are some ideas to turn networking into something more manageable.

Being ready to talk

The best spontaneous conversations are well practised!

This may sound like a completely bizarre statement, but the truth is if you want to be spontaneous and have something to say you need to practice. This could be as simple as practising engaging with strangers in conversation or just being ready to start more conversations with your friends about topics that you think they may be interested in.

Asking questions that make connections

With networking the key thing is finding out what the other person wants, not telling them what you want. I would encourage you to start conversations by asking questions about how you can help. For example, you might want to ask:

  • why someone is there?
  • or what challenges they are experiencing that you could help with?

Telling real punchy stories

Think about your own stories, the things you have done, the people you have met and how they can be relevant to the people you are talking to now. No one can resist a story, especially when they help solve problems. When telling stories it’s important that they are punchy and to the point and that while you’re telling them you are seeking feedback to make sure they are relevant to the person you’re talking to, (if their eyes glaze over or their face changes, make sure you ask them if this is useful – if in doubt ask!)

For example, you might have a story about a recent client (you do not have to use the client’s name), or a problem that you solved as part of your work.

I would always recommend using stories as they illustrate not only the benefits and strengths that you can bring, but they also bring you alive as a person.

Being ok with who you are

Believe it or not, you are the very best person at being you, and there is no one else quite like you. Do not try and be someone else, be yourself, that’s why people want to get to know you. It is important to celebrate who you are as well in terms of your attitude towards yourself. I can assure you that you have value, things to offer, you do things other people cannot do and you are the very best at being you. – Be yourself!

It takes a village to successfully network

What I mean by this is that contacts you already have will provide you with information that allows you to connect with others. This will help you engage in conversations and communicate better with new connections. No person is an island, utilise people you know, learn from them, and ask for feedback.

Drive, the Partnership Network has been this place for me.

What can hold you back

Mindset is key, when getting involved in networking start with what you want to achieve then ask others what they want and see if there is space to build something. People never stop talking about what they need. If you can tap into that, you will network effectively because you will be able to help them find solutions for their problems.

Do not be the limit to your network.

Research shows that we love to talk to people like us. but unfortunately there is only a subset of the human population that are anything like us. If you are looking to network the chances are your skills and experience are going to be more useful to people that are nothing like you. Don’t be afraid because people are different – they still breathe and have a pulse just like you.

Having a goal

Having a goal is key. We network because we want to achieve something, so be clear about what you want to achieve. You then need to think about what, why, how, and when you are going to network and make sure that this fits with your other commitments.

Make time to network

Unfortunately, networking does not happen by magic, you need to make time for it and be consistent. Think about how much time you would like to spend networking and set that time aside and then see if it works for you.

Be proactive

You are not an impostor, you have every right to share what you are doing and mix with others to find common ground. You need to accept no one knows what you know the way you know it, and no one will ever know it unless you interact and have real conversations with them. Also do not be afraid to ask for help, there are a lot of people out there in a similar positions who want to help and see you succeed.

Find allies and champions

Allies and champions are vital especially if you have got questions like what is the value I bring?

These people will often know you best and can help you cement this value. They will also be the people that open doors for you and invite you to new places, and you will be able to support them. This is not an awkward thing to do, it just starts with a conversation.

So do not be afraid to ask!

If you would like some help with networking skills, please get in contact.