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In recognition of Mother’s Day this year we’d like to shed some light on the experiences of neurodivergent women in the workforce.

Australia has made significant strides in promoting gender equality and diversity in the workforce, but challenges persist in achieving full representation and pay equality for women, especially those with disabilities (Workplace Gender Equality Agency).

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of gender diversity in the workplace, leading to various initiatives aimed at promoting women’s participation and advancement. Organisations across Australia have been implementing policies to address gender bias, promote equal opportunities, and support work-life balance for all employees (Diversity Council of Australia).

However, despite these efforts, women continue to face obstacles in the workforce, including pay inequality. The gender pay gap remains a persistent issue, with women earning, on average, less than men for equivalent work. This gap is influenced by various factors, including occupational segregation, where women are overrepresented in lower-paying industries and roles, as well as unconscious biases in hiring and promotion processes (WGEA).
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Women with disabilities face additional barriers to employment and career progression. They often encounter discrimination, lack of accessibility in the workplace, and inadequate support services. As a result, they are disproportionately underrepresented in the workforce and more likely to experience poverty and social exclusion.
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Neurodiversity is the natural variation in the human brain that leads to differences in how all people think and function. It is estimated that 15 – 20% of the global population is neurodivergent and has one or more neurological difference including traits of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Dyspraxia, and others.

Often people who are neurodivergent are not aware of it and have never been diagnosed. They just know they feel different; like a square peg in a round hole but they do not know why. Adults who suspect they may be neurodivergent often find that a diagnosis is simply inaccessible to them due to the scarcity of trained professionals able to make a diagnosis and the costs involved.

Neurodivergent workers have unique challenges and strengths in the occupational setting, from navigating workplace expectations to tackling stereotypes and unconscious bias and they face hurdles that often go unrecognised.


Breaking Male Stereotypes: Neurodiversity in Women

Society’s understanding of neurodiversity has often been shaped by male-centric narratives, leaving the experiences of neurodivergent women overlooked and misunderstood. Autism, ADHD, and dyslexia for example have historically been portrayed as predominantly male issues, leading to a lack of recognition and support for neurodivergent women.

Advocating for neurodiversity acceptance and accommodation in workplaces, educational institutions, and communities can help ensure that all individuals, regardless of gender, are able to thrive and reach their full potential. It’s time to listen to and amplify the voices of neurodivergent women and encourage them to share their experiences and needs in conversations about neurodiversity inclusion and the impact on their health and safety at work.


ADHD in Women: Unseen Struggles

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ADHD is often portrayed as a hyperactive little boy’s disorder (think Bart Simpson!) leading to underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis in women. The female presentation of ADHD tends to be less stereotypical, with symptoms like forgetfulness, disorganisation, and emotional dysregulation often mistaken for personal shortcomings rather than neurological differences.

This can result in girls feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood during

their education and formative years and setting up an internal dialogue about their perceived shortcomings (lazy, unintelligent, disorganised etc) which they carry into adulthood and the workplace where they continue struggling to meet expectations without proper support. Often this leads to co-morbid mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder.

Underdiagnosis and Misdiagnosis – Neurodivergent women are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed due to differences in symptom presentation and societal expectations. Women with conditions like autism or ADHD may exhibit different patterns of behaviour compared to men, leading to their symptoms being overlooked or attributed to other factors.

Masking and Burnout – Many neurodivergent women engage in masking or camouflaging behaviours to fit in with social expectations. While masking can help neurodivergent women navigate professional environments, it comes at a cost. The constant effort to blend in and suppress natural behaviours can lead to burnout, anxiety, and a sense of imposter syndrome, impacting their performance and well-being at work.

Social Isolation and Rejection – Neurodivergent women may struggle to navigate social interactions and relationships, leading to feelings of isolation and rejection. They may face difficulties in forming and maintaining friendships, romantic relationships, and professional connections, exacerbating feelings of loneliness and alienation.

Employment and Career Challenges – In the workplace, neurodivergent women may encounter barriers to employment and career advancement due to stigma, discrimination, and lack of understanding. They may struggle with executive functioning, organisation, and time management, making it challenging to excel in traditional work environments.


Hormones and Neurodivergence: A complicating factor

Research on the interplay between women’s reproductive hormones and ADHD and Autism sheds light on the complex relationship between hormonal fluctuations and ADHD and Autism symptoms. While the exact mechanisms remain incompletely understood, various studies have highlighted potential impacts of reproductive hormones on ADHD and Autism symptomatology across different life stages, including puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause.
  • Puberty and Menstrual Cycles – During puberty and throughout the menstrual cycle, fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone levels may influence ADHD/Autism symptoms in women. Some research suggests that oestrogen may have neuroprotective effects and could potentially alleviate ADHD/Autism symptoms, while fluctuations in progesterone levels may exacerbate symptoms. Additionally, menstrual cycle-related hormonal changes have been associated with fluctuations in ADHD symptom severity, with some women reporting worsening symptoms during specific phases of the menstrual cycle.


  • Pregnancy – Pregnancy represents a unique hormonal experience characterised by significant and rapid changes in oestrogen, progesterone, and other hormones. While some women may experience improvements in ADHD/Autism symptoms during pregnancy, possibly due to hormonal changes or psychosocial factors, others may experience worsening symptoms. Research indicates that hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy may influence ADHD/Autism symptom severity, but the direction and magnitude of these effects can vary widely among individuals.


  • Postpartum Period – The postpartum period is characterised again by rapid hormonal changes, including a decline in oestrogen and progesterone levels. For some women with ADHD/Autism, the postpartum period may be associated with worsening of symptoms, possibly due to hormonal fluctuations, sleep deprivation, or the demands of caring for a new-born. Postpartum depression, which commonly co-occurs with ADHD/Autism, further complicates the clinical picture, and may exacerbate ADHD/Autism symptoms.


  • Menopause – Menopause represents another significant hormonal transition characterised by declining oestrogen levels. Research suggests that menopausal hormonal changes may impact cognitive function, mood, and ADHD/Autism symptoms in some women. While the evidence is mixed, some studies suggest that menopausal hormone therapy may have beneficial effects on cognitive function and ADHD/Autisms symptoms in certain individuals, although further research is needed to clarify these effects.


Motherhood and Neurodivergence: A Balancing Act

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For neurodivergent mothers, juggling family/carer responsibilities while managing their neurodivergence can be overwhelming. Supporting mums of neurodivergent children adds another layer of complexity, requiring understanding and accommodations both at home and in the workplace.

To address these challenges, concerted efforts are needed from governments, employers, and society as a whole. Policies and programs that promote inclusive workplaces, provide support for neurodivergent women, and address systemic inequalities in pay

and advancement opportunities are desperately needed. Employers can play a crucial role by adopting inclusive hiring practices, raising awareness across the workforce, providing flexible work and other adjustments, integrating neuroinclusive practice into business management systems including health and safety and fostering a supportive work environment where all workers can thrive.
Ultimately, achieving true gender equality and inclusion in the workforce requires ongoing commitment and collaboration to dismantle barriers and create a more equitable society for women of all backgrounds and abilities.

The Neurodiversity Workplace Profiler: We can help!

One of the most popular services we offer at The Neurodiverse Safe Work Initiative are our Neurodiversity Coaching Packages, using the Neurodiversity Workplace Profiler.

Unlike other treatment, therapy and coaching options, Neurodiversity Coaching provides both education and insight in a strengths-based person-centred approach that recognises and embraces the fact that no two people are the same and no matter what labels we carry (Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia etc) every client is unique and needs different things to succeed.

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The Neurodiversity Workplace Profiler, developed by Professor Amanda Kirby of Do-IT Profiler, guides users through four assessment modules that screen for neurodivergent strengths and challenges, wellbeing and workplace adjustment needs which is then used to inform the coaching process.

It produces an individualised report that provides guidance, practical workplace tools and resources in the context of neurodivergent traits. The report can be used as a starting point for an individual to understand themselves better and how to maximize strengths and minimize challenges in life and at work. It can be used to start a

conversation with others in the workplace or to initiate further in-depth assessments if required and it can be used to inform the risk management.

You can find out more about our Neurodiversity Coaching Packages and the Neurodiversity Workplace Profiler on our website.

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In conclusion, recognising and celebrating the unique strengths and challenges of neurodivergent women in the workforce is essential for creating inclusive, supportive, and safe environments. By amplifying their voices, acknowledging their struggles, and valuing their unique strengths, we can pave the way for a more equitable and empowering future for all women, this Mother’s Day and beyond.
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