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by Lyric Rivera

May 30, 2024

Unmasking Authenticity: A Workplace Self-Advocacy Guide for Queer, NeuroDivergent, and NeuroQueer Professionals

Tips for LGBTQ+ and NeuroDivergent people who want to share their identities and experiences in their workplace and ask for accommodations

The world has many kinds of human diversity; some forms are visible, and some are invisible. 


Humans have a habit of discussing what we see (because it's right in front of us every day) but often forget about (or ignore) things we don't see. 


Out of sight, out of mind... or in the case of NeuroDivergent, Queer, and NeuroQueer individuals: 


Our differences are literally in our minds, invisible, and out of sight (and easier for outsiders to forget, dismiss, or ignore).  


As Queer, NeuroDivergent, and NeuroQueer professionals, having the freedom (as well as physical and emotional safety) to bring our authentic selves to work can be crucial to our success, productivity, and emotional safety within the workplace (and other spaces we enter). 


Emotional (Psychological) Safety enables all members of an organization to collaborate freely, share bold and creative ideas, push envelopes, and express themselves openly with one another. 


When People feel a sense of Emotional Safety, they trust one another and feel safe enough to show up authentically in the workplace (and other spaces they enter).


There are numerous levels of safety (or lack thereof) that people might feel within a workplace. 


Ideally, people should feel safe enough to speak up about their needs and ask for help, trusting that doing so will not negatively impact their employment.


Affirming organizations know how to celebrate, encourage, and empower people's differences. They also have organizational cultures that allow their team members to express human vulnerabilities freely. 


In affirming spaces, people aren't asked to "leave parts of themselves behind" when they come to work, and the whole person can feel appreciated, benefitting EVERYONE in a workspace.


Unfortunately, some spaces may not be safe or affirming. 


When the environment is not emotionally (or physically) safe, it can prevent people from getting our needs met in various spaces we enter, limiting our ability to engage equitably within that space and/or flourish.  


If we lack emotional (or, worse, physical) safety, we may feel (or be) unsafe asking for the things we need to be successful (whether it's being called the correct name and pronouns or having our communication and sensory needs honored, respected, and accommodated). 


Ideally, people should feel safe enough to openly disclose their needs and ideas. Sharing thoughts, needs, and opinions may be unwise when an organization doesn't provide emotional (or physical) safety. 


Despite the risks, many people will at least partially disclose their needs to select people in an organization (like a trusted manager or HR person). Otherwise, it can be challenging to gain the support needed to succeed.


Before sharing your identity or requesting accommodations, take time to:


  • Research company policies and culture and consider your comfort level, as well as any potential impact

  • Focus on understanding your individual's unique strengths, challenges, and needs. Get to know your strengths and struggles, what you're good at, what you love doing, what you struggle with, and the types of work that drain you or you hate doing so you can lean into your skills (and have support for or avoid your weaknesses) whenever possible.

  • Identify potential adjustments to help you excel in the workplace or with more difficult tasks. Think about what you need to be your best version of yourself for each meeting, day, week, or general.

  • Evaluating the organization's (emotional and physical) safety is crucial to determine how safe sharing is (and to whom you will disclose).


When you are ready to share:


  • Take time to decide what you would like to communicate with others and what you need help with, as well as how your needs relate to what you plan to ask for

  • Decide if you will do a partial/limited or full disclosure?

  • Will you disclose to everyone, or only a few leaders or trusted people who need to know (HR, management, or a trusted colleague or two)? 

  • If you disclose partially (or to only select people), it is good to share with people you want in your support network, including mentors, colleagues, or employee resource groups.

  • It can be good to seek out relevant employee resource groups or diversity initiatives (that can help you connect with others, including allies). 

  • You may want to request additional training, tools (such as assistive technology), or resources, modify tasks to play to your strengths or be paired with someone who can support you in those areas.


NOTE: Unfortunately, many organizations fail to support their marginalized employees. If you don't feel you can speak about your needs in your workplace (without being scolded, mocked, or having them used against you). In that case, you may be in a space that isn't genuinely safe or inclusive (at this point in time). 


This doesn't mean the space will never be safe or inclusive; it is only that there is work to be done (which isn't a problem if your employer is willing to make changes). 


If your employer is failing to be inclusive (and seems resistant to change), it may be helpful to enlist the help of an outside supporter (legal or otherwise) to advocate for your needs in your current workplace OR (if it's really bad) to help you find a new workplace that will be more accepting of you. 


Remember, self-advocacy is a journey. 


Sometimes, self-advocacy involves being able to recognize (and create) safe spaces and knowing how to find safe people. It can also include staying in unsafe places (because we hope our presence will help make spaces more inclusive and secure). 


Other times, self-advocacy involves knowing when to leave people or places (because the toll on our mental and physical health is too significant). 


Empowerment comes from embracing authenticity, but we must be given safe spaces (or create safe spaces) for that authenticity.


 If you speak your needs and they are not heard or respected, that is not a reflection of you; it is a reflection of an environment that has yet to become inclusive. 

Neurodiversity, Neurodivergent, Mental Health, Wellness

by Lyric Rivera

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