Professor Amanda Kirby, CEO of Do-IT Solutions., Campaigner for Neurodiversity, Medic, Knowledge Translator, researcher
Originally published as part of The Neurodiversity 101 LinkedIn Newsletter.
Trust, consistency, and accountability
Allyship is when a person of privilege works in partnership with a marginalized group of people to remove the barriers that challenge that group’s rights, provide equal access and opportunity to thrive in all aspects of our society.
Some of the conversations we have relating to neurodiversity can be challenging because often we are uncertain about using the right words or offending a person. Instead, we decide to say nothing.
You may be in a position of power – don’t waste this and be an ally
ERGs that are run relating to neurodiversity need to be open spaces where people feel free to talk, ask and listen. We can learn so much from each other if we don’t have them and us approach.
Allyship is about walking alongside another person
Anyone can be an ally and leverage their place of privilege. Sometimes fear can make us not stand up and ask for what we want or need. An ally can serve as a mentor or a voice for someone who doesn’t have a voice or has less confident to speak. They can also enhance the culture of inclusion by engaging with their marginalized colleagues and providing support in their daily lived experiences.
When marginalized groups feel supported and included, they are more comfortable sharing parts of themselves. We all tend to feel more engaged and productive when we can offer our ideas and thoughts, and these are valued. It creates a more enjoyable environment for everyone
What can you do to be an ally?
1. Listen – think about where conversations take place. Busy background noise or when someone is tired at the end of a busy day may not be the best time to have a conversation. Acknowledge the words someone is speaking and see their skills for what they are. Neurodivergent people are often held to higher standards.
2. Get involved – ERGs relating to neurodiversity don’t need to be only for those who are neurodivergent. Be curious and ask respectful questions.
3. Get educated – if you don’t know what words mean and how to best use them ask. Say you don’t know and the reason why you want to understand more. Mirror the language that someone uses to describe their own identity. If you don’t know ask the person.
4. Speak up – it may be harder for the person to speak if they lack confidence. But don’t share information without gaining consent to do so. Find out how the person prefers to communicate to ensure they have an opportunity to have their own voice heard. If you have a platform to amplify others’ stories then use it in a positive way to make a difference.
5. Intervene – call it out. If you see someone bullying or commenting inappropriately don’t let it continue. Ask your neurodivergent colleagues for help and ideas on how to make a difference. They may be cautious to offer. You can change the power dynamics if someone is dominating a situation.
6. Learn from your mistakes – we are all learning all the time. Unlearn and relearn if you have to. Challenge what you have done and take a step forward and do things differently.
7. Accept you will feel uncomfortable – this will mean you remain curious and can see there is always more we can all do.
8. Show up – being there counts a lot in difficult times. Listen out for microaggressions and be aware of the impact for the other person which can be very triggering and associated with past trauma in school.
9. Stay engaged – take opportunities to be part of the change. Show genuine curiosity and compassion about other person’s life and listen carefully to their responses.
10. Support local and national support groups/charities – share information with others – it is always a powerful way to help more people to gain information.
Being the only person in the company who is talking about being dyslexic or having ADHD for example can feel lonely and challenging. The culture and behaviors of people around you day to day can have a real impact on that person. An ally can make such as difference.
Allyship is recognizing the imbalance in processes, places, and privileges and working hard to make change happen. You can be a mentor.
Diversity, inclusion, and belonging are not about an awareness session that happens once a quarter and then is over. You can make a difference every day.
Find your reason to be an ally
It may be personal; it could be about your children having a better future; it could be about increasing retention in your organization.
Use your privilege to encourage allyship. This is never a them and us.
Hold your team to be accountable as well.
The blog author
Professor Amanda Kirby is CEO of Do-IT Solutions– a tech-for-good company that provides training, tools and consultancy for organizations about neurodiversity in education and the workplace. Amanda is also a medic, an academic, trainer and researcher. Do-IT has developed screening tools to measure the spiky profiles we are talking about.
She is part of a very neurodivergent wonderful family which drives her motivation to make change.
Professor Kirby was one of the 20 UK LinkedIn Voices for 2020.
Amanda is also co-author with Theo Smith of the published best-selling book Neurodiversity at Work, Drive, Innovation, performance, and productivity in a neurodiverse workforce.