Inclusive Workplaces for Autistic Women, With AWN Board Member Dr. Morénike Giwa Onaiwu and JBC Vice President Adrienne Lawrence

Jennifer Brown | | , ,

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This episode was originally recorded as an Advocacy in Action session and features a conversation between Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network Board Member Dr. Morénike Giwa Onaiwu and JBC Vice President Adrienne Lawrence as they discuss lesser-known misconceptions about autism, and how it manifests in women. Discover what business opportunities your organization may be missing, and ways in which you can recover by making your workplace more welcoming for autistic women.

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: We also often find that women on the spectrum will suffer from considerable anxiety and exhaustion, because the reality is when you live in a world that isn't meant for you, it can create a lot of social anxiety and you get tired often doing what they call camouflaging, finding ways to act "normal", to fit in, to engage in behaviors or conversations similar to others around you, who may not necessarily treat you as welcoming if you're a little bit different or may not necessarily create space for you.

That can be a considerable weight. Also, we can often find ourselves on the periphery of social activity. In part, again, for those same reasons but also because we may have interests that don't necessarily align with the vast majority of neurotypical women.

DOUG FORESTA: The Will to Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, best-selling author and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She is a passionate inclusion and equity advocate committed to helping leaders foster healthier and, therefore, more productive workplaces, ultimately, driving innovation and business results informed by nearly two decades of consulting for Fortune 500 companies. She and her team advise top companies on building cultures and belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty, and now onto the episode.

Hello and welcome back to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. This episode was originally recorded as an advocacy and action session, in partnership with the Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network and hosted by JBC vice president Adrienne Lawrence.

In the conversation, you will hear about lesser known misconceptions about autism, how it manifests in women, what business opportunities your organization may be missing and ways you can recover by making your workplace more welcoming for autistic women.

As you'll hear in the conversation, neurodiversity is an important part of diversity and more than 80% of individuals who identify on the autism spectrum are either unemployed or under-employed, meaning they work in roles that do not fully utilize their talents. Then when you further assess that by gender, the disparity becomes even more stark as does the loss to potential business.

An important conversation about a richly diverse and untapped professional resource and now onto the episode.

ADRIENNE LAWRENCE: Our conversation today is in partnership with the Autism Women and Nonbinary Network. From the network, we have Dr. Morénike, who is the equity, justice and representation representative from AWN. Morénike, thank you so much for joining us.

MORÉNIKE GIWA ONAIWU: Thank you so much for having me. Everyone, I'm really grateful that you're here with us to commemorate the Americans With Disabilities Act. I am Morénike Giwa Onaiwu and my pronouns are she/her/hers and they/them/theirs and I am a proud member of the Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network or AWN, as we call ourselves for short.

Just very quickly, to share who we are, we are a nonprofit organization. We focus on representative justice, equity, inclusion. We want to have a supportive environment across disability but we are focused particularly on disability justice. We were founded a little over 10 years ago, actually in the basement discussing autistic children who had just received an autism diagnosis.

We had found that there were so few things for those of us who are nonbinary or trans or who are women, there were a lot of resources and activities, information, if you were assigned male at birth and fit certain stereotypes but there were not a lot of things for other people.

After searching in vain for resources, AWN was started and so AWN has started from a very tiny labor of love to a global nonprofit organization that looks in a number of different ways to meet community needs in terms of publications, voice and representation, intersectional education, advocacy, material support, and so many things.

I'll share towards the end some ways that you can be involved with AWN but we're really grateful to be able to partner with Jennifer Brown, who is hosting this event.


Thank you so much. We appreciate the insight and your organization, and we'll have an opportunity as Morénike mentioned, to talk more about it and how you can get involved later in our conversation today.

Also, as a note, for those of you who have never participated or had the good fortune to be a part of our conversations, our advocacy and action monthly series, there will be a link in the chat that you can click to, to provide your question. Those are something that hopefully Morénike and I will be able to address in our conversation after this brief presentation where we discuss how to create more inclusive workplaces for women with autism.

First off, let's talk about why we're here. It's Disability Pride Month. It's so incredibly important that we acknowledge people and the different walks that they come from, that intersection of life. As we just came off of celebrating Pride Month, we do want to acknowledge that there are people, again, from different walks of life and different journeys that are intersectional. We need to acknowledge that. Fortunately, we have organizations out there like AWN, who do a wonderful job at uplifting voices but we all need to be very much invested in those conversations, including in the workplace.

Also, it's important to talk about women with autism, because we are often ignored. Very much so. It's often the thought, which we'll talk about the stereotypes there that it is a white male affliction, that it is something that does not impact women and that is something that is very problematic, because individuals should be seen and this is good, because it also means seeing people means you can provide them with the resources available, so that they can be optimal in terms of their life, their livelihood, and the contributions they have for our society.

Also, we need to bear in mind that neurodiversity, that whole realization that how people's minds work, how their brains work, and the differences between them, it's beautiful, it's part of inclusivity. We want to be able to ensure that we're including this in our DEI conversations.

Also, the reality is organizations are missing out. The fact is that people who have minds that function differently, such as myself, we bring a lot to the table, and that's also something we'll talk about as we often ... When we look back in history, we note people like Einstein, Nikolai Tesla and so on and so forth, so many individuals have been on the autism spectrum. Because they thought differently, we have a lot of the inventions, the accesses, the things that have advanced our society today and we want to bear that in mind, because we want, as business leaders and as business people, to provide the best resources, the best products, the best services we can and we can't do that if our minds are not expanded and we're not tapping into the human capital and the resources we have available that think differently.

We also all have to do more to achieve our DEI goals. Once again, neurodiversity is an incredible part of DEI. It is that beautiful part of diversity that is among us and that we all carry. We want to make sure that we continue to uplift it.

For understanding autism, it is something that is extremely misunderstood and as someone who was late diagnosed myself, I can tell you that there is a lot of, unfortunately, I'd say, ignorance out there and it holds people back significantly. I will go ahead and lump some of that on the part of the medical community because they have lumped so many of us together by virtue of just not knowing a lot of things but the reality is that we'll talk about is it is a spectrum, and there is so much diversity within it.

When we look at and have conversations about what is autism, first, we have to bear in mind it is, as I will say, simply a difference in communication and processing. It means that how I interact with the world is different, how I process information is different, just as how you may interact with the world is different, how you communicate and process.

The thing is is it's how my brain is mapped, how brains operate. This is simply a different neurotype. It is a neurotype. It is a difference. It is not an insult. As we'll mention, it is not necessarily, as far as I'm concerned, a disability. It can be a difference and it also can be a disability but we want to let people define themselves for themselves.

We also want to bear in mind that this is a spectrum of behaviors and abilities. Again, differences in how we interact with the world, differences in our abilities, the things we can do and how we can make contributions. It is incredibly important that we bear that in mind, because, once again, if we have a homogenous population and workforce, then we are going to get the same product, we're going to get the same results but if we want to go higher, if we want to advance, we want to bear in mind that we should have people who think differently, who see the world differently, who communicate and process differently, but we have to also create environments that are inclusive and welcoming and get past our own biases, so that we can welcome in individuals who are different and different in how they think and how their mind operates.

Also, we want to bear in mind that autism is ever-evolving and when I say that, I say the science, the medicine. The fact is that a lot of science out there, they still don't necessarily know and particularly when we speak about women, because, again, this is something that was originally thought to be a white boy's disease, not bearing in mind that individuals are socialized different based on their genders and that can impact how you interact with this world.

Also, we want to bear in mind that everything is always evolving, things are ever-changing, in workplaces and in society, which is why we want to continue to learn when it comes to DEI, to continue to embrace individuals of different walks of life, who may not be like us but who can contribute to bringing us all up as an organization together.

First, let's go ahead and talk about some of the common misconceptions when we talk about autism. Often times, people will automatically assume it's a learning disability. That is not the case, as we've talked about, it's a different neurotype and while there can be certain things that are associated with someone's autism, whether it's a comorbidity, maybe a different mental health issue or a health issue that may come along with that, in some form or some fashion or with an individual themselves, we want to bear in mind that autism alone is not a learning disability. It's also not exclusively white male. It impacts people across the board. Even though, diagnosis rates for women and people of color are particularly low, that is likely more of a reflection of our society and the biases we hold and also the access certain people have to care.

We want to make sure that, again, we let people define themselves for themselves and we keep an open mind. We also want to bear in mind that it is not a childhood affliction, exclusively. It's not something that leaves you as an adult. There are millions of people in our society who are adults, who have been diagnosed with autism. It's not something that you grow out of, rather it's, again, a neurotype, how your brain operates.

It's also not simply being socially awkward. I can't begin to tell you how people say, "Oh, well, we're all a little autistic." Those things are microaggressions. It's something that a lot of people don't seem to understand. Also, when individuals aren't necessarily socially awkward on the surface, people often will say, "You can't be autistic. You don't have a certain look. You don't present yourself in a particular way." Again, we want to avoid having these biases, these stereotypes, these microaggressions, because we want to let people define themselves for themselves. We also want to acknowledge and recognize, we want to see people for who they are.

Also, it's not a matter of lacking empathy. That's often one of those stereotypes out there. Simply because people don't convey empathy in a way that may be what they call neurotypical, which would be people who don't have a certain neurotype, it's the negative way of saying neurotypical would say the norm, but the thought is that, "Oh, you lack empathy if you're autistic." That is not true at all. That is a common misconception.

If you happen to show empathy differently than often times people will think you lack it and, again, we have to let people define themselves for themselves and we want to overcome our own biases.

We also don't want to assume that someone must be a savant or a genius, simply because they're autistic. There are individuals who do have savant-like qualities and skills without a doubt. There are people across the board no matter what. While that is a very beautiful thing, it's something that should be cherished, it should not be imposed upon people simply because they are autistic. We don't want to create standards based on stereotypes. Again, letting people define themselves for themselves.

More common misconceptions, that is vaccine-inducing, that is not something that I am looking to argue or debate. Also, when it comes to uniform, it's not that all autistic people must be able to do this, they all must look like this or interact with the world in a certain way. Again, these are common misconceptions and they are very limiting. Just as we wouldn't say, "Oh, Adrienne, you're Black, you must sing and dance very well." Those things are microaggressions.

Again, it's the assumption that everyone must be the same if this is a box that you check. We do not want to get into that kind of interaction or behaviors with people. We want to let people define themselves for themselves, because as we remember, it's a spectrum of behaviors. This is a different neurotype, different processing and communication. It doesn't necessarily mean that all people who are autistic do X, Y and Z.

We also don't want to assume it is a disability as in its limiting someone in some way. Again, letting people define themselves for themselves, where they are and what they can accomplish and what they can do. Again, being on the autism spectrum, I consider myself to be different. I do not necessarily consider myself to be disabled in any form or fashion. That is a conversation we can dive into more later when we discuss some of the limitations that are often imposed upon people.

When we talk about common traits, and these are things to bear in mind when we are talking about workplaces. When it comes to common traits that people with autism may often manifest, these are things like communication efficiency. For example, people on the autism spectrum tend to be direct. That directness can often be assumed to be rudeness or bluntness. It's about being efficient in how I process my words and how I interact, and that can also be reflective of the fact that I may not engage in what I may say would be fluffy language or things that are very vague and that are not necessarily, I would say, protective.

I often in my trainings will use the term synergy to explain to people that I will not be using terms like that. I am very direct in what I am saying, so that you can understand the message that I am sending through, that is efficiency. People on the autism spectrum tend to be very efficient with their language, because it reduces demands on executive functioning. Trying to talk in this fluffy language, it can create significant misinterpretations. Being direct, getting to the point, it's something that tends to be very common.

Also, there can be a struggle in reading cues, in part, because there is essentially a way in which brains function, that they, neurotypical brains, engage in a sense of mind reading in another way and also there are some social norms that are unspoken or unsaid and a number of them can be extremely unproductive.

It doesn't necessarily make sense but it's something that we often do. Reading those social cues can be very difficult for people on the spectrum. For example, something I've run into is when, let's say, I've invited a coworker to an event and that coworker responds, "I'll get back to you." That meant no, but how am I supposed to know that because I took what they said directly. I did not understand that that was a social cue that they were putting in my direction as a no when the word no would have been a lot easier.

Some of these cues can be extremely limiting but, again, they are, as far as I'm concerned, very unproductive but they are something that many people in society do engage in and, thus, people on the autism spectrum, we can struggle with them.

Also, people on the autism spectrum tend to have more of a novel thought, because, again, if you are thinking outside the box, you see things differently, maybe you see things as more efficient, because they may not necessarily align with the status quo but they could be more productive. It's a way in which you interpret the world because, again, it's a difference in communication and processing. I like to regard it as a novel thought and a difference in how you can achieve certain things.

Also, as my example mentioned earlier, that literal perception. Yes, I believe it's the cognitive style, as something that individuals on the autism spectrum often reflect but it, basically, leads to a literal perception and processing of information.

This is, again, high efficiency. That means it'll take longer to work out words such as synergy or when people say we're going to stand up a presentation or a document, I do not know what these things mean, so I will often ask questions of what are you getting at? What do you mean? We'll see these things and they go from culture to culture. The east coast culture is very different than the west coast culture and colloquialisms and phrasings, they can be very unique, as though, essentially, people are speaking different languages. As a result of that, it can be especially limiting when we're having conversations because, again, you simply want people to say what they want and say what they mean directly and that isn't necessarily how our society operates.

Also, individuals on the autism spectrum often engage in what they call information chunking. I believe the word is echolalia. Excuse me if I mispronounced that. I generally tend to take things very literally, so it's very difficult when words don't necessarily match their spelling.

It's a way of banking information and chunking information and it can be used in a way that increases the flexibility of it, but it's taken in a mass times. You'll see various traits and commonalities such as hyper-focusing, being able to absorb considerable amounts of information and using that information and storing phrases in a way that it doesn't put as much stress on cognitive processing. Again, this leads to higher efficiency in communication and it definitely can lead to greater efficiency in work product.

Also, individuals on the spectrum will engage in information dumping. It's a very authentic autistic trait and conversation style. It's about verbally downloading information in great detail, as it's taken in. It's a way often times that autistic people will use it to form and build connections and to share. I find myself doing it at times, which is probably why I do trainings. I enjoy sharing considerable information and so getting into that dumping is something that I find to be somewhat exhilarating.

When we talk about women on the spectrum, in particular, let's go ahead and focus on in as, again, this is often thought to be a male kind of difference in brain type and that is not necessarily the truth in any way. When we're talking about women on the spectrum, we know that about two million adults in the United States are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum and about 500,000 of them are adult women.

Again, when you have any kind of difference that has generally been built up and seen through the lens of the male perspective or the white perspective, then you're going to have individuals who do not meet those characteristics, who are, essentially, outliers. They're left out in the cold, which is why a lot of women who are adults, who are being diagnosed, are finding themselves later in life being diagnosed.

It can be a very eye-opening experience and knowledge to realize that's what's been going on this whole time, that is why I have been struggling in certain arenas and the thing is it is significant and it is changing lives and it creates opportunities and like the AWN Network can give women an opportunity to come together.

Also, the diagnosis rates, we're looking at one to three when it comes women to men being diagnosed, still, because we know that a lot of the diagnostic standards and things have been crafted around boys, around men. For example, some of the tests and the questions will ask do you like playing with trains, maps, things that generally boys are socialized to play with but women, girls, not necessarily the case. It'll lead to a lot of gaps when it comes to individuals and groups and communities and also research and being able to learn more.

The reality is that when it comes to women with autism, the characteristics are different than men because we are socialized different. How the world forces us to interact, so that we can advance, so that we can be a part of the communities around us, shapes us in different ways and it causes us to, again, interact with the world differently and to present differently.

When we have conversations about how autism will often manifest in women, we have to bear in mind that you're going to have different interests. This is often true. In part, because often times women on the spectrum will find themselves in solitude more and maybe that's because we can miss social cues, because we're less likely to fall in with the popular crowd, to go along with the majority, and so that can create some isolation, maybe fewer friends.

We're going to have our own interests that are very different than what a lot of women may find themselves to be interested in. There's the thought that often times we might be adverse to some extent to what is popular, in part, because we tend to be practical, we tend to be functional, because that's what makes sense. High efficiency, let's do what makes sense, what advances us. There may be certain behaviors, certain interests that don't necessarily align with women on the autism spectrum as often as they do neurotypical women. In part, because it's not practical, it does not make sense as opposed to let's focus on what is practical and what serves the purpose that it needs to serve.

We also often find that women on the spectrum will suffer from considerable anxiety and exhaustion, because the reality is when you live in a world that isn't meant for you, it can create a lot of social anxiety. You get tired often doing what they call camouflaging, finding ways to act "normal", to fit in, to engage in behaviors or conversations similar to others around you, who may not necessarily treat you as welcoming, if you're a little bit different or may not necessarily create space for you. That can be a considerable weight.

Also, we can often find ourselves on the periphery of social activity, in part, again, for those same reasons but also because we may have interests that don't necessarily align with the vast majority of neurotypical women. Women on the spectrum also can appear to be naïve or immature. I would like to think, in part, that that comes from also being highly logical, being functional, being practical and not necessarily being able to engage in mind reading or understanding things from a more neurotypical perspective and this is something that I have run into and often times, the case, because I would not understand why someone would seek to engage in that behavior toward me, because it doesn't make any sense. It is illogical. Why would you act in a petty way towards someone who, for example, is your superior? As that would put you in a position of possibly losing your job.

I wouldn't necessarily see things coming but because human nature can engage in all sorts of behavior and neurotypical people can look to soothe insecurities they have by acting out in various ways, people will engage in behavior, yet women on the spectrum, we might be the last ones to necessarily see it, because it doesn't make sense.

Also, being able to conceal part of your personality at different times. I don't mean the home personality, or what you may have for the workplace personality, but literally taking these aspects of yourself and showcasing different sides of your personality depending on the environment, because you are camouflaging, because you are hiding these aspects of who you are in your identity that are maybe aspects of your personality or key to the being autistic and how your brain works and develops but, essentially, you have learned to adapt in these environments and, again, these things contribute to considerable exhaustion and anxiety.

Let's talk about how this kind of stuff can manifest in workplaces. First off, running into stereotypes, women on the spectrum often hearing that, "No, you can't have autism. It's something that's exclusive to men" or this thought that, "No. You're a person of color. They can't see you in that regard."

I have run into this thought that, "Oh, she's blunt and direct and she's not adhering to gender norms because she's a Black woman. You know that they are bold and sassy." As opposed to this very much being direct and also giving you all of the accurate information, this is very much a part of how my brain operates. I grew up in a pretty well to do white community, so this stereotype you have of Black women may not necessarily be accurate in any form or fashion and so when you don't allow me to define myself for myself or embrace my differences, and you identify me with certain stereotypes then it can become extremely limiting.

Also, a stereotype, the thought that, "You must be emotionally unregulated. You must have meltdowns", so to speak. That again is a very limiting stereotype, especially when we see just about every day, neurotypical people have very, very significant meltdowns in workplaces, as far as I'm concerned, I'll call them meltdowns but with yelling and being really aggressive and angry. These things often happen and the thought that you can't control your emotions and that there must be something wrong with you and we can't take the risk, those things are very ableist and they're very limiting. The company will often lose out, the organization.

Also, with the push for cultural fit. There's an idea often times in many organizations that you have to meet the cultural expectations. That means you need to walk like me, talk like me, come from the school I went to, from my background, same class, all of these things that can be especially limiting and we want to move away from those, we have to move away from those because there are people with, again, different neurotypes, different backgrounds, different expectations and interactions and we need to make way for that.

Also, women on the spectrum often will run into unspoken rules, that they're expected to know. Again, I'm expected to know that, "I'll get back to you" means no when, hey, there are actually different places, different people where, "I'll get back to you" actually means I'll get back to you and so to have to know what these unspoken rules are, to do this extra level of mind reading can be very limiting as well.

Then upholding the status quo, that can show up when it comes to gender norming very often. The status quo may generally mean maybe women don't challenge men in the workplace or point out things that could be better or be improved. When you see the world differently and you see things that can be improved and you know how it can be done, it can be very difficult not to share that knowledge and information, especially when you have been hired and you have been brought on to provide the insight that you have, the human capital.

When the status quo of an organization is really one of almost, shall we say, maintaining people's sense of I guess egotistical comfort, it can become very difficult for an individual who doesn't see the need for fluffy language but is very direct in their communication and has the knowledge to bring you to the next level, to lift you up but for the status quo seeking to impose it's limitations, it can be very, very challenging for people in the workplace, particularly, women on the spectrum.

Also, there are a number of assumptions, the thought, again, that you're disabled where as far as I'm concerned, I consider it a difference. Also, this thought, which is very able-istic is the thought that, "Oh, you must be incompetent. You must have a shortcoming in some way that we must provide an accommodation for you" or, "I have to help you out in this form or fashion." Again, we need to let people define themselves for themselves.

Also, this thought that, "You're not autistic at all. You don't have autism. You must be seeking attention." Again, that can be especially limiting. Everyone wants to be seen, they want to be embraced for who they are, so we have to allow that by not trying to place our own limited knowledge and experience on people, because people manifest things in very different ways and simply because it's not a way in which maybe you, yourself know or have seen does not mean that it does not exist.

Also, we want ... Again, it goes with understanding the cultural fit mentality, understanding big terminology like synergy. There are these terms out there that entities, individuals will often use and not everybody understands or gets them but there's often an assumption that everybody knows what I'm talking about, so we'll talk about ways in which you can break down those assumptions, so you can communicate more efficiently, as you want to bear in mind that not everyone necessarily will completely understand what you are saying and, thus, it can be very limiting in workplaces.

Also, we want to be mindful of stressors, whether it is intense sensory situations, for example, if you have lights, whether it's a harsh type of inside light versus natural light. Also, a loud work environment, if you have intense smells going on, lacking privacy opportunity, having crowded spaces, these things all are very limiting and especially distracting.

When you have a difference in communication and processing, it can be something that can hamper your ability to provide optimal performance, so we're also going to talk about ways in which you can create a workplace, you can shape it, so that it is more welcoming for people, so they can do their best work and contribute their knowledge.

Also, having an unnecessary dress code. We often see that as the case because it's part of the status quo. There are things that, of course, are required for safety purposes but making people dress in ways that makes them extremely uncomfortable, especially when you have sensory issues, when it doesn't feel good to have something that constricting on your body. We want to be mindful of these things because they can often interfere with someone's ability to provide optimal performance as well as their desire to be there at all. Some people may simply just not want to deal with it, because if you can't focus on your work because you're focusing on your attire, it can be, again, especially limiting and it's the organization that loses out.

Let's talk about how we can shape inclusivity. First off, that interview process. We want to focus on the KSAs, knowledge, skills, abilities. These are things that are key, because, often times, if you stim, which might mean moving side to side or moving your foot or you're moving in some way, that you're self-soothing or coping yourself through a conversation, it could be interpreted by a neurotypical person or as being something indicative of maybe the person not being honest, sincere, or they're being something wrong behaviorally when it's not the case at all. It's simply how my body responds.

In the interview process, focusing on what are the knowledge, skills and abilities, not so much on what is their behavior like? Are they making eye contact with me? Are they giving over-eye contact with me?

We also want to go virtual where we can. We can avoid things like proximity issues or people feeling uncomfortable or making judgements on maybe the way someone dresses or their movements. If you do have the option to go virtual, it'll create more opportunities but, of course, we want to bear in mind that not everybody necessarily operates very well virtually or has access to high speed internet or whatnot. Even if it's a matter of picking up a phone, it can go the distance in terms of bringing in candidates who aren't exactly like the people we already have brought to the door.

We also want to welcome various experiences. Maybe that's not a matter of saying, "Oh, well, did you go to this school? Do you have this certification?" Because if it's a hobby, the person has engaged in and they know everything about it and much more, far more than anyone who has acronyms behind their name, pay attention to that, because there are people who will hyper-focus, they will dive into a topic and they have it mastered but maybe they don't have a masters. You don't want to miss out on quality talent, so find ways in which you can enjoy that person, enjoy the qualities, the skills, the experiences that they have, benefit from it, give them an opportunity to contribute and that may be recognizing that not everybody is going to get the same knowledge from the same sources.

Also, check your own biases, recognize that it's not necessarily indicative of something adverse or negative, simply because the individual is moving more than usual or maybe, again, giving way too much eye contact by your standards or giving not enough. We want to be mindful that people are different and embrace that difference. Our focus here is can the person do the job? Will they contribute? Because we want to create ways in which we can create inclusive cultures.

Also, looking at our interaction. How are we interacting with people? You want to allow the people you work with to share without penalty. Again, we don't want to uphold the status quo, preserve ego to the point of losing out on productivity, on advancement, on innovation. When you have people you are working with, who may be different, maybe they have a different neurotype and they have the knowledge and information to take you to the next level, do you think that that person will stay with your organization very long if you will not hear them? People want to feel welcomed, valued, respected and heard. We do not want egos to get in the way and to limit people's contributions, especially when we, our organization, could be the one to become the industry leader instead of having that individual who wasn't heard go somewhere else or maybe even start their own company.

We also want to welcome questions, because, again, there are things that are often said that I don't understand, because people are using colloquialisms, or their own little lingo. No. Just tell me what you want. I've said that many times to my clients and I explain to them why and they appreciate it so much, because I don't have time and it's not in anyone's good usage of time for people to dance around what they need as opposed to just directly tell me.

We do live in a society where it's the thought we need to be nice, we have to preserve this sense of decorum and the thing is that can hamper productivity, it can hamper efficiency and because I need that directness, I need people to welcome that and to embrace that and to move in their space. That might be a little bit difficult and challenging at times, but the thing is it's about working together.

Also, in workplaces, to be transparent about expectations. Again, what do you want from me? What do you need? Because I can't read between the lines. I cannot read your mind. I don't understand if you're saying, "I'll get back to you" when you really mean no. I need direct interaction.

Also, little things like scheduling a meeting in advance, letting people know what's on the agenda, because it can be extremely stressful when a woman or an individual on the spectrum is unprepared or they do not know what is going on and all of a sudden, it's a very sudden change. Again, these are not necessarily things that will impact everyone. Again, because it is a spectrum and people are different but it can be extraordinarily stressful. Especially if that person is in a hyper-focused mode.

For example, when I used to practice law, I did very well, because there were rules and I didn't have to walk into situations where someone would maybe take advantage of my naivete or anything of that measure because there were rules that governed how I'd interact with others. Also, information dumping was great because I'd learn a lot. Being direct when you're billing at $450 an hour and the partner you're working at is billing at over $1000 an hour, being direct, blunt, and to the point, it is priceless.

And getting the job done. That is also priceless but also if I were hyper-focused on a case and what I was working on in my office and someone were to do a pop-up meeting, oh no, that would not work for me. I could not do that. I cannot switch as quickly as others may be able to. That is something that I would need a little bit of patience for, so scheduling that meeting, even if it was a half an hour in advance, that is something that can help in terms of creating more welcoming and inclusive environments.

Also, education, we have to educate ourselves. We already know a number of individuals on the spectrum know there are so many stereotypes. There are stereotypes, myths, just blatant lies out there about autism, about the spectrum. Also, there's significant changes. For example, some people will still use the term Asperger's. I believe that's what Elon Musk uses. That has been changed here in the US where it's been moved onto the autism spectrum for various reasons.

There are differences in language usages, how people want to interact, how people want to be addressed and the thing is, again, you let people define themselves for themselves. Sometimes people do not like being called autistic. They prefer to be known as an individual with autism. Again, these things are important to bear in mind and we do not want to come to the table and assume we know or also assume that, "Hey, I know how you're going to act or I know how you're going to handle something", because, again, we need to let people define themselves for themselves, so continued training is especially important, especially because we live in a society that will often reinforce stereotypes, that will reinforce notions, things that it believes we must believe and so we want to be mindful of that and that's something that we can only do when we continue to learn, share our knowledge, as our society continues to progress.

Thank you so much for joining us, Morénike. Especially on this very important topic. Can you please tell our participants, our guests today where they can find more information about the work that you do and the work that AWN does?

MORÉNIKE GIWA ONAIWU: AWN, we are on social media, so pretty much all forms of social media, our website is You could even Google that and you can find us there. We'd love to provide any information to any of you. We realize that everyone is not autistic. We are a minority within the population but neurodiversity is a fact of life for all of us. It's something that impacts all of us. You can gain some knowledge and support those in your life.

Thank you so much for being here, everyone. Happy ADA anniversary.

JENNIFER BROWN: Hi. This is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at You can also subscribe, so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.

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