My ultimate career aspiration involves being the proprietor of a cozy and charming café. Being a talented baker and having an unwavering passion for crafting scrumptious delicacies, coupled with my innate hospitality, I take pride in creating a welcoming atmosphere for all.
To some extent, learning the art of hospitality is akin to mastering the principles of inclusivity and fostering a sense of belonging.
As someone who is autistic, I appreciate the importance of clear and straightforward instructions. Baking aligns with this trait perfectly, as it requires meticulous attention to detail, from measuring ingredients accurately to ensuring the correct butter temperature and baking time. The routine of following a recipe and then seeing the finished product is immensely satisfying to me. For many individuals on the autism spectrum, having routines is essential to their well-being.
Upon reflecting on my past work experiences, I have come to realize that I excelled the most when I had a substantial amount of autonomy and the ability to establish a routine that catered to my individual needs. During my tenure in upper-level management, I thrived because I was in charge and could make my own accommodations.
Contrary to popular belief, neurodivergent individuals can be outstanding leaders.
I am a testament to this as I have proven to be an exceptional leader who values honesty, fairness, respect, active listening, and strives to create a fulfilling work environment for each team member.
My leadership style, which is highly collaborative and participatory, once earned me a nomination for the Best Boss in Portland award.
I recently came across an insightful Instagram therapist whose content resonates with me. She posted a hilarious spoof video from the show The Office the other day. In the clip, a character responds to a rhetorical question about not being managed by saying,
"It was my understanding, that I was not going to be managed."
While the video was comical, it highlighted an essential truth: neurodivergent individuals struggle with micromanagement and being told what to do when it is without clarity, purpose or intention. This could be because we have our own distinct ways of self-management that may not be compatible with conventional and conformist management approaches, which can sometimes be degrading, oppressive, and insensitive.
Today, my morning is occupied with two significant events. At 9am, I have a meeting scheduled with HR to discuss my accommodation request, followed by an introductory phone call at 10:30 to schedule my autism assessment. As I examine the form, which requires me to detail the challenges I face due to my autism, I can't help but feel uneasy.
I don't consider myself disabled; rather, I believe our work systems are fundamentally flawed and designed in a way that excludes individuals like me.
It seems odd that I must outline the barriers I encounter as a result of my autism, when in reality, the hurdles I face stem from the exclusionary practices ingrained within our systems. The accommodations I will inevitably request are not just specific to my needs but in reality, they are best practices for creating an inclusive work environment for all.
I'm feeling a sense of apprehension about this, as there's a lot of room for error. What if I make a mistake and request the wrong things? What if my accommodations are met with ridicule or my needs are dismissed altogether? I'm also worried that even if my accommodations are accepted, my supervisor might be annoyed by them. It's hard not to feel uncertain in these circumstances, but I'm hopeful that everything will work out for the best.
At this juncture, I am left with no alternative but to embark on the potentially burdensome and stigmatized path of advocating for my needs. My primary objective is to cultivate a work environment that prioritizes my overall well-being. Despite the likelihood of encountering obstacles and facing judgment, I remain resolute in my pursuit of securing the necessary accommodations.
For if I do not advocate for myself, who will? And if I do not prioritize my well-being, what will become of me?
Previous employees who have left this workplace did not have the opportunity or the energy to push for a shift in the culture. It would be unfair to place any blame on them for their decision to leave instead of fighting for a workplace that prioritizes the wellbeing of its employees. The high rate of turnover in my unit, particularly among management and director positions, is indicative of the toxic environment. I have had intimate conversations with some of these former colleagues who shared their experiences of the workplace's toxicity. While I am not sure about their neurotypes, I assume that they did not perceive the toxicity as a problem that specifically affected neurodivergent individuals. Rather, they saw the culture of the workplace as a whole as harmful.
As someone with a background in Human Resources, I know from experience that workplace culture can be changed. In my previous employment, I achieved a remarkable feat by establishing a retention and succession program that addressed the needs of employees by not only listening to their ideas but also implementing them effectively. I firmly believe that change is possible when enough people come together and demand it. Let us raise a toast to the prospect of relishing apple turnovers in my future endeavors.
But until then, let me reaffirm my commitment to promoting a culture of retention in my present workplace.
Through the power of self-advocacy, I aspire to pave the way for a workplace environment that is not only inclusive but also prioritizes the well-being of its employees. By advocating for myself and championing the cause for others, I seek to create a positive change that will resonate beyond my immediate workplace and inspire others to do the same.