The rise of the neurodivergent female entrepreneur
Did you know that neurodiversity in business has been PROVEN to improve the success of a company’s performance?
Havard Business Review believes that neurodiversity provides a competitive edge (and I wholeheartedly agree!)
I have spent 13 years as a businesswoman, in legal corporate management roles, and now over a decade as an entrepreneur. Since my autism and ADHD diagnosis, I’ve been able to see where my unique ways of working and thinking have made a huge difference to my entrepreneurial success – and the organisations I have worked within.
Neurodiverse minds are essential to business success, in my opinion. We naturally challenge the status quo. We ask the questions many don’t think to ask. We approach problems from angles others might not see.
What the Harvard Business Review actually shared, was that diverse companies are 45% likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and are 70% likelier to capture a new market. This isn’t just about ethnic or gender diversity – it’s cognitive diversity. It’s neurodiversity.
Here’s some of the reasons why neurodiversity in business is so unbelievably powerful:
1. The ability to think differently and embrace different thought processes
Think about it for a moment. Every revolutionary product or solution in the market likely began as a different thought, a deviation from the ‘norm’. Those with neurodiverse conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more, often possess cognitive flexibility that allows us to think outside the proverbial box. Think Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg.
2. Problem-solving: the neurodiverse way
While our neurotypical counterparts might approach a problem linearly, many of us in the neurodiverse community visualise problems from a different angle or space. This alternative viewpoint can often lead to more efficient and creative solutions to problems, and stimulate more effective ways of working. A report by the CIPD highlights how neurodiverse individuals can contribute to enhanced problem-solving and innovative thinking, particularly when they’re included in diverse teams.
3. Persistence and resilience in business
Many of us have faced challenges that come with our unique neurological make-up. Through these experiences, we’ve built resilience. We’ve learnt to persevere. In business, this translates to determination in the face of setbacks, pushing through barriers, and the grit to see our innovative ideas to fruition.
4. Niche skills and specialised focus
You’ve probably heard of the phrase ‘special interests’ – in truth, I shudder a little at the phrase, as it’s often used in a less than positive way. However, many of us often have areas of deep, passionate focus – where we find our mojo, get into a flow state, and excel. In a business context, this can lead to unparalleled expertise in niche areas – a valuable asset in any industry.
5. Unconventional leadership styles
Neurodiverse women often have leadership styles that veer away from traditional norms (this was 100% me during my corporate life) This can result in creative team dynamics, fostering environments where innovation isn’t just encouraged, but is the norm. Having often spent years in environments that have not felt supportive, we become nurturing and compassionate leaders.
How neurodiversity can set you apart as an entrepreneur
Creating genuine and meaningful connections
Pretty much all of the female neurodiverse women I know are running businesses where they are supporting and helping others. They create a deep understanding of their clients’ discomforts, needs and desires, and they pour everything they have into creating meaningful solutions. What I particularly love about this, is it smashes up that theory that autistic folk have no empathy.
With many of us having felt different, or excluded for much of our lives, we have an unwavering desire to create inclusive and safe spaces, both for our clients and our teams.
A unique voice and message
For so many of the female neurodiverse female entrepreneurs I have met, I have noticed that they have a unique and powerful voice. Often, their message goes far beyond their day-to-day business experiences – these women are usually on a bold and brave mission that is much bigger than them. I can sense their energy and power from a distance. These women are here to make a difference, in their own beautiful and unique way.
Sometimes, the challenges come in business, when we are constrained by the ‘shoulds’ and rules of others. It can feel stifling and oppressive. This can be the same as an employee and as an entrepreneur, if we feel pressure to fit in with the norm, or what’s expected of us.
But when we have the right teams around us, and we are following our intuitive ways of working, we can flourish and create absolute magic. Of that, I am sure. We have the ability to let the powerful impact of neurodiversity in business shine through.
I reflect on my time in corporate, and I can see exactly why I struggled so much, but I can also see where I created so much positive change. I can see how I helped improve the working environments for my teams, how I helped them to excel and fly in their careers, and how I was able to create new ways of working. I can’t help but think, had I known I was autistic ADHD during that time, would things have been different? I’d like to think they would, but so much depends on the environment you’re in – and whether they are inclusive and flexible in their ways of working.
The right environment will see you supported, where your unique skills and talents are embraced and championed. The wrong environment will likely leave you feeling stifled, suffocated, and struggling to fit in and do what’s expected of you. Where are you right now?
Feeling stifled and limited isn’t just applicable to employees, it impacts entrepreneurs too. It’s just as easy to get caught up in running a business the way you think you ‘should’, or doing what mentors and coaches guide you to do. When I discovered I was autistic ADHD I took a long hard look at my business and I realised that it was not set up in a way to support me, and in some cases, was working against me. I had done all of the things my coaches and mentors told me to do, which didn’t serve me that well.
Whilst I had created a multi-award-winning niche skin and scar clinic, it wasn’t fully aligned to my needs. It was scary, thinking I had created this beast, and now I couldn’t tame it. But I did. And it was much easier than I thought it would be – and that is how my RADIATE model came into existence. I created a way to align myself to my values and goals and make the changes that I needed to make.
It’s never too late to make changes, to create a life that is thriving and leaves you feeling fulfilled and happy. You get to define success on YOUR terms, and not societal terms.
Here’s my TOP 5 TIPS for embracing your strengths and talents, creating success on your own terms, for a thriving and happy life:
1. Define what success means for you
Forget the societal tick-list for success, what does success mean for you? Is it a feeling, a way of living? For many (neurotypicals alike), achieving the car, the paycheck, the house, and the designer watch, are rarely enough. Focus on what success means for you. My top tip for this is to create a vision board for your life, including your professional and personal life. Focus on what’s important to you, your values, dreams, and passions. Use photos, quotes, and text – create a powerful and meaningful representation of what success looks like for you.
2. Set boundaries
Having clear boundaries in your professional and personal life, to help ensure you don’t end up burning yourself out and feeling overwhelmed. Many neurodivergent women find it hard to say no to others, but healthy boundaries are essential to your success and your wellbeing.
3. Be unapologetically you and know you are inspiring others
Remember, you might be ‘different’, but you are not less! You have unique skills and traits that make you shine. Don’t hide those away, in a bid to fit in. It’s time to stand out and shine. And if not for you, know that you will be someone’s inspiration. Someone will watch you in awe, and you will make them believe that they too, are capable of great things.
4. Be authentic
The only way to create meaningful connections with others is to be authentic, to be our true selves. When we are being the truest version of ourselves, we attract the right people into our lives, both professionally and personally. We feel a sense of belonging and comfort, and we feel loved and accepted. When we are trying to conceal our true selves, it’s impossible to create meaningful connections with others, and we also feel a disconnect with ourselves. Taking time to really connect with yourself and how you can show up in the world as your truest self, in a way that feels right for you, will help to boost your sense of connection and belonging.
5. Champion your unique perspective
Recognise that your neurodiversity provides a viewpoint that others might not have. Celebrate this. When you approach problems or brainstorm, trust that your perspective is invaluable. It’s this distinct approach that can lead to breakthroughs and innovation.
Having a neurodiverse mind can be the secret to unparalleled success. The challenges come when we try and force ourselves to fit into a world that isn’t designed for us. Embracing our unique skill sets and talents, we have the opportunity to thrive, and to create innovation and business success in ways that neurotypicals can’t. In the words of my favourite group, Fleetwood Mac – you can choose to ‘Go Your Own Way’, or you can collaborate with other neurodiverse and/or neurotypical minds, to challenge the status quo and to go out into the world and show society what neurodiverse minds can achieve!