Following the ceremony, I sat down with the winner, Marie Hanson MBE, and nominees Akua Opong and Magnus Hedemark to discuss their experiences and thoughts on how to be more inclusive toward neurodiversity in the workplace.
Marie spoke very candidly about her education and workplace experiences, highlighting the harmful stereotypes which have hindered her and so many others. It’s a view shared by Akua. The stereotypes that come with ADHD and dyslexia have not been so negative for her, but it’s clear that she is frustrated by the use of these labels when people then fail to focus on the many strengths she brings to the table.
Magnus, meanwhile, reveals that past colleagues have confided in him about their own diagnoses, but don’t want it to become common knowledge for fear of being pigeonholed. He is quick to point out that his position as a senior leader doesn’t exclude him from stereotyping either. When I ask him about it, he examines one particular stereotype that is often associated with autism – empathy. There’s a misconception, he explains, that Autistic people are lacking in empathy while, in reality, they often experience something called “hyper-empathy”. For Magnus, this is a hugely beneficial trait as a leader, as every decision he makes is based on his consideration for those who aren’t like him or don’t share his experiences.
How have these experiences affected their own outlooks and careers?
Magnus, who has since joined Genius Within as their new CIO, also tells me: “I very much enjoy just being in the background, helping to use my position to elevate other people who often don’t have access”. His own experiences mean that he now champions diversity across a number of demographics, something he stresses the importance of as our conversation develops. Likewise, Akua has long advocated for and driven diversity in STEM, as well as at the London Stock Exchange group where she works and acts as a mentor to new employees. She’s also a mental health champion, and during the chat, discusses the links between issues surrounding this and being neurodivergent.
Having been a victim of domestic abuse, Marie set up S.T.O.R.M. to empower other women who had been through this experience. She’s also worked as a councillor in London while, on a global level, acting as an ambassador for the United Peace Federation.
Prior to S.T.O.R.M., Marie ran a cosmetics business. Why this desire to be an entrepreneur?
She explains that she’s chosen to work for herself because of the difficulties she’s had in finding employment and how, when she was struggling with her dyslexia during her studies, she was unable to find any support. Genius Within’s founder, Dr Nancy Doyle, discussed this in a recent live event with our CEO, Alistair Cox, when she said that someone with ADHD is twice as likely to start a company as somebody who is neurotypical.
What can organisations do to change this and ensure inclusivity for neurodiverse candidates and employees?
For Marie, it’s important that decision-makers within organisations are well-informed and receive adequate training on the subject. She encourages transparency on both sides, referencing a recent interview she had where she disclosed her dyslexia and dyspraxia and the process was promptly adapted.
This approach can’t end at the hiring stage, though – it needs to continue into the workplace. Akua agrees that managers need training, and discusses the need for neurodiverse coaches that can offer an informed perspective. Magnus also stresses that the people offering this advice should be neurodivergent too, while both he and Akua were keen to address the small changes organisations can make (for example, by sending out agendas in advance of meetings so employees have time to prepare).
I’m very grateful for the opportunity to hear these insights from such inspirational people. I really appreciated their honesty in sharing their experiences, as well as their desire to build a workplace for the better. All of the nominees at the ceremony have important stories to tell and, if we are to create a more inclusive environment for everybody, it’s important to listen and learn what we can do to make positive changes.
To find out more, watch the full interviews with Marie, Magnus and Akua above or on our YouTube channel.