Neurodivergent women face unique barriers to leadership. Here’s how employers can support them

A live shot of Tesla and Space X CEO Elon Musk delivering his Saturday Night Live monologue on May 8, 2021.
Multi-hyphenate CEO Elon Musk first disclosed his Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis while hosting Saturday Night Live in May 2021.
Will Heath—NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Good morning! Paige here.

Male business leaders, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, have credited much of their career success to neurodivergence. But few women among this cohort of entrepreneurs and innovative business minds have openly done the same. 

There are a few reasons for this notable deficit, as outlined in my newest feature. A small share of women ever reach the CEO rank or receive adequate funding to become successful entrepreneurs—and that number is even smaller for neurodivergent women. Women are also less likely than men to be diagnosed with several disorders that fall under neurodivergence, with many receiving a diagnosis later in life. And lastly, the media presents white men as the face of neurodivergence.

Neurodivergent women experience unique barriers to climbing the career ladder and assuming leadership roles. While the glass ceiling is a painfully familiar concept to any career-driven woman, neurodivergent people experience a concrete ceiling. They’re underrepresented in senior roles and often don’t exhibit skills typically associated with leadership, like strong communication or management abilities. They often must also mask, concealing one’s condition to “fit in,” sensory issues, affecting their ability to thrive at work or take up advancement opportunities. 

Yet many neurodivergent women I spoke with say they’ve excelled in their careers thanks to their unique brain function. And when employers support neurodivergent individuals, they benefit: JPMorgan Chase’s Autism at Work program found that autistic workers are up to 140% more productive than neurotypical employees if matched to the right job.

Bringing more neurodivergent women into senior roles requires that organizations dismantle the rigid perception of what makes for a strong leader. Employers must also be willing to create evaluation and promotion systems that prioritize performance metrics over personality preferences.

When companies expand their definition of strong leadership, neurodivergent talent can stand out, says Charlotte Valeur, founder of the Institute of Neurodiversity. “We need to get to a place where our leadership teams are looking for someone who doesn’t fit in, because that’s diversity.”

Read the full article here.

Paige McGlauflin

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