Different vs. Too Different
The Intersection of Gender & Neurodivergence
Neurodivergence is a career maker for men like Elon Musk and Kanye West. Women aren’t afforded the same privilege. I read the title of this article on Fortune.com by Paige McGlauflin, and it reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a mentor who told me that “men get to be eccentric but women only get to be crazy.”
This mentor was a brilliant scientist, a tough trailblazer…and a neurodivergent woman. She had been diagnosed with ADHD as a young adult, and she had created unconventional and creative ways to work and live happily and successfully given the challenges of ADHD. Although she consistently outscored her male colleagues on performance metrics, she was rated lower than them because she was deemed to be “unreliable” and “abrasive.” When she questioned these evaluations given the excellence of her results, she was told that she was being “combative” and “too defensive.” Unfortunately, some of these comments came from women in the organization who were strong proponents of gender equity.
One evening over drinks, this brilliant and tough woman started crying as she told me how difficult it was for her to manage her ADHD in a high-stress environment, especially as a senior woman in a predominantly male organization. “If I was a man, they would put up with me as an eccentric. Men get to be eccentric, but women only get to be crazy.”
The article in Forbes discusses the challenges that neurodivergent women face in workplaces, and it explores how some women have reframed their neurodivergent challenges as superpowers. What the article does not do is talk about the pain and tears involved in transforming these challenges while also navigating gender inequities.
My mentor left her organization a couple of years ago, not because she didn’t want to work any longer but because of how hard she had to work to just be able to do her work. “It’s not my personality. It’s my neurology. There is only so much I can do to change that, and there is only so much I can take being told to change that.”
When we work on differences in our workplaces, we need to be on alert for when differences feel too different, too difficult to integrate. It’s easier to work on differences when they feel closer to the norm; people who live in the intersections of difference can sometimes be seen as too different. But isn’t too different just another form of difference? Does “too” different say more about our ability to understand the difference than it does about the people we are describing?
Intersectionality research has warned us for decades that if we ignore those in the intersections of underrepresentation, we risk creating a faulty foundation for diversity, equity, and inclusion. If we start at the intersections, we build a better platform for true inclusion.
What can the intersection of gender and neurodiversity teach us about how we approach gender equity? How can your gender inclusion efforts benefit by integrating neurodiversity?