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How can we empower neurodiverse women in tech to unleash their full potential?

Side view of a pensive young woman with dark hair wearing a white blouse with a colourful brain full of cogs, neurodiverse women concept

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Cybill Watkins, a passionate advocate for neurodiversity, delves into the challenges faced by neurodiverse women. From celebrating diversity to avoiding stereotypes, her insights encourage a more inclusive environment in the tech industry.

The tech sector is no stranger to neurodiversity.

In fact, for many years, the industry has benefited from the strengths of neurodivergent individuals. Stereotypes which exist in the mind, and on the silver screen, reflect the characteristics so frequently associated with the industry – studious and analytical, with excellent memory recall. After all, there’s no denying how beneficial these attributes are for career success in this field.

And yet, despite significant leaps forward in female representation within the sector, the person that most likely sprung to mind was still male. So, the question is, since neurodiversity isn’t exclusive to men, why aren’t women enjoying similar career success as a result of their own individual characteristics? And how can we further enhance both the presence and prominence of neurodiverse females within the sector?

Cybill Watkins, group payroll legislation manager at Moorepay, deep dives into these questions and more below.

neurodiverse women

With over 25 years of experience in Payroll, Pensions, and HR, Cybill Watkins is a driven and self-motivated Senior Payroll professional. Her expertise spans various sectors, including Bluechip companies, Media, Council, Consultancy, Higher Education, Logistics, Manufacturing, and Staffing/Recruitment. An advocate for neurodiversity, she’s dedicated to making payroll an accessible career for all and fostering business adaptability for neurodiverse talent. Cybill is a founding member of the Employee Neurodiversity Group in an international organisation. She actively contributes to senior leadership teams, leveraging her legislative knowledge in Automatic Enrolment (AE)/Pensions, National Minimum Wage (NMW), Salary Sacrifice, and Holiday Average laws. Cybill Watkins drives diversity, compliance, and inclusivity in Payroll and HR. Connect on LinkedIn.

Celebrate diversity in all its forms

In general, representation is improving — and this is something to celebrate. Among the tech workforce, there is now a growing number of women, of all ethnicities and sexual orientations, succeeding within the field. But awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity amongst women isn’t a general expectation, or indeed a topic of conversation. And without the ability to see others thriving thanks to these attributes, females who are already commonly known to mask their symptoms feel further stifled as a result.

Adding female neurodiversity into the ED&I agenda is an often-overlooked piece of the puzzle. Tackled sensitively, it could encourage increased understanding of the signs and symptoms of neurodiversity among women – perhaps encouraging people to recognise some of the traits in themselves, leading to acceptance and increased support around any challenges.

Be cautious of stereotypes

Stereotypes are another factor which can stand in the way of females being recognised as neurodiverse. For example, fluctuations in mood are often assumed to be hormonal, whereas difficulties with social communication can be labelled as shyness. In fact, both symptoms can be a sign of autism.

Even outside of neurodiversity, the behaviour expected from males and females is slightly different. For example, while assertiveness in a male is generally applauded, the same trait can be subject to a different interpretation when displayed by a female. Being less sociable for a man might equate to being the ‘strong, silent type’ but women are more likely to be considered rude when choosing to avoid social occasions.

Ultimately, the male stereotypes associated with neurodiversity are often a factor in helping them to ‘fit in’ with the culture and, furthermore, to succeed within the industry. Remaining mindful of how behaviours are interpreted, and whether there is any gender bias being displayed – perhaps inadvertently – can help protect the interests of neurodivergent females, whose qualities are equally as valuable within the workforce.

Recognise the strength in neurodiversity

We all have challenges, and this is no different for neurodivergent individuals. But where neurotypical individuals may struggle, neurodiverse people often excel – with laser focus, attention to detail and a level of perfectionism that preempts exceptional results.

Neurodivergent individuals, with their unique cognitive approaches, often excel in thinking outside the conventional boundaries. Their ability to see things from different angles not only enriches the thinking process but also positions them as invaluable problem solvers, consistently cracking complex issues where others may have struggled.

Therefore, reframing our differences, and positioning them in a complementary manner, can not only help facilitate better teamwork, but also lead to stronger results overall.

Increase understanding and improve chances of diagnosis

The lack of understanding around neurodivergent females is not only prevalent within society but is also, sadly, a factor in the diagnosis process – which is widely considered to be geared towards the symptoms more frequently displayed by a teenage boy. This means that signs can be missed in females, who tend to present differently and spend so much of their lives masking their traits, consciously or subconsciously.

However, with more information about how neurodiversity manifests itself for women and girls, they are more likely to become advocates for their own wellbeing, seeking advice and diagnosis as a result. And with a diagnosis in place, individuals can begin to better understand their own areas of strength and challenge – and access any support or adjustments available to them within the workplace. But the onus isn’t only on the individual. Encouraging all members of the team to reach their own potential is a responsibility for employers too. Striving to increase education and awareness around neurodiversity, and especially in relation to its presentation in female employees, is a positive step in the right direction when it comes to the advancement of women in tech.

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