What’s it like when you’re neurodivergent but haven’t been diagnosed yet? It’s different for everyone, of course, but in my case, I spent decades trying to present myself the way I thought I should be. I struggled daily with things that seemed to come easily to others. When measured against neurotypical standards, I constantly came up short.

If you’d only apply yourself.

If you’d only focus and pay attention.

I heard these all the time. To me, they meant: If you’d only not be the way you are.

Advocating for neurodiversity

When I was finally diagnosed as neurodivergent as an adult, it was a relief. I began to lean into my neurodivergence, working with my strengths (and, it turns out, I do have a lot of strengths) and seeking accommodations and workarounds for things that are harder for me.

I’ve become a vocal advocate for embracing neurodiversity in the workplace, because I know firsthand what a monumental difference it can make when you’re part of an organization that not only recognizes but genuinely values diversity of thought. I’m fortunate to have found that in my current role, and I believe that what I experience here should be the rule, not the exception.

Now that I’m in the right work environment, I’m perceived as an effective executive and leader not in spite of my differences, but in many ways because of them. That’s important. And it’s not because people are indulging me. Neurodivergence like mine leads to breakthroughs and innovations. Homogenous groupthink never busted through plateaus. Filling a room with people of different backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking means challenging the status quo and going further, faster.

Everyone should feel safe to thoroughly, openly, and unapologetically be their whole, authentic selves at work, whether they’re neurotypical or neurodivergent. The world is just beginning to warm up to embracing neurodiversity, but overall, it’s still deeply stigmatized—especially in the workforce, let alone at the executive level. We have a long way to go. And I think the deeply rooted stigmatization of neurodiversity is a big miss for today’s workforce.

A competitive advantage

Tolerating neurodiversity isn’t enough. Sprinkling it in for the sake of tokenism isn’t enough. (For the record, that goes for other forms of diversity, too.) Diversity of thought is a gift, and it should be seen as such. I truly believe it’s a competitive advantage for businesses. And in order to really embrace neurodiversity, you have to create a safe space for it. It’s one thing to say that you welcome neurodiversity, and it’s another to have established an environment with such psychological safety that people are comfortable showing up as they are, leveraging their unique skills and different ways of approaching problems.

I can’t tell you exactly what gifts you’ll get by embracing neurodiversity in the workplace, because neurodiversity isn’t one-size-fits-all. For me, being able to show up as I am means offering up highly creative problem-solving. It means that when a crisis hits, I’m a go-to because I can be calm, strategic, and develop a crystal clear action plan. (I may not be able to put my laundry away in a reasonable time, but I am excellent in a crisis.) I’m an empathetic leader who has a knack for disarming people and encouraging transparency and authenticity.

Being neurodivergent is not all sunshine and rainbows, of course. Some of the neurotypical majority takes for granted how easy it is for them to get dressed in the morning, show up for work or stand up and give a presentation in front of others. The world is built for the neurotypical majority, and I still run up against barriers daily. I believe a remote-first, outcomes-oriented environment is an essential component of an inclusive workplace, and I wish more companies embraced it. This approach allows me (and people who share my circadian rhythm) to work where, when, and how I do my best work. (If you schedule a call at 8 a.m. ET, you can expect that I will decline or openly show up with limited brain capacity.)

Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace

My company Alludo is leading the way when it comes to embracing neurodiversity in the workplace, and we’re still learning. We recently launched an internal Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group, for which I’m the executive sponsor. I am so excited to have more conversations about the gifts of neurodiversity and the unique and varied obstacles we each face. Again, if you interview 100 neurodivergent people, you’ll hear 100 different sets of strengths and challenges. That’s why I can’t tell you exactly what to expect if you create an environment of psychological safety and embrace neurodiversity at your organization. But I can tell you that you, your employees, and your entire organization will be better off if you do.

Hi. My name is Becca Chambers, and I am a neurodivergent executive. 

What does neurodivergent mean? It’s a big question, but at a high level, neurodiverse populations are those who have diverse thinking styles and have conditions like, but not limited to, ADHD (that’s me!), autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other diagnoses related to the way people perceive and interact with the world. 

According to numerous studies, around 20% of the world is neurodiverse. Yes, that’s a lot of people. It’s also important to call out that many neurodivergent people go undiagnosed and live their lives experiencing difficulties with organizational skills, social perception, and social interactions. Up to 80% of those on the autism spectrum face unemployment. It’s not because neurodivergent lack something or are less capable. It’s because the world was built for the neurotypical majority. When held against those standards, neurodivergent people are set up to struggle. Despite advancements in acceptance of mental health, there remains a significant stigma around neurodiversity. I believe some of the responsibility falls on leaders across all industries to help break down this stigma. At my company Alludo, I’m doing my part to help the company embrace and lean into neurodiversity. I’m proud that Alludo is on the forefront of leading this revolution and breaking the stigma for good. How are we doing it? For starters, Alludo isn’t afraid to hire great talent that is born out of diverse backgrounds, locations, and thinking styles. Here, we believe that neurodiversity—that is, diversity of thought and perspective—is diversity. And we know that diversity begets innovation and accelerates progress. It breaks through plateaus and ruts, allowing organizations to go further, faster. 

Bringing your true self to work

As SVP of Brand and Communications and a person who is neurodivergent, I’ve yet to work with a leadership team like the team at Alludo. For the first time in my career, I can finally be my whole, neurodivergent self. It’s a gift I’ve never been given until now. I have always walked a tightrope of balancing my gifts with my perceived shortcomings, struggling to present as neurotypical. How can we bring our absolute best and innovative selves to work if our thinking style is not embraced? (Spoiler: we can’t.)

Leaning into neurodiversity  

At Alludo, I am empowered to lean into my neurodiversity. I don’t hide it. I embrace my whole self, and by doing so, I give people around me permission to embrace their whole selves—neurodivergent or not. Even though Alludo is at the leading edge of this revolution, we’re nowhere near done yet. We have a wonderful and challenging journey ahead of us. We’re starting with a newly launched Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group, a safe space for neurodivergent employees and allies to discuss, share, and educate each other on the challenges and opportunities associated with neurodiversity.  

Until this point, the world has missed out on an incalculable volume of creativity, inspiration, and innovation stemming from stigma around neurodiversity. Now that we’ve started to break down that stigma, the possibilities are endless. I’m excited about where we’re going. I finally feel true freedom (one of Alludo’s values) in my career and won’t settle for anything less. And I want that same feeling for every one of the 1 in 5 people around the world who don’t fit the neurotypical majority.