Meet Inclusion Activist:
By Wura Obisesan on 25 April 2022
Q. Tell us about yourself, in particular what led to your interest in advancing equity and inclusion?
A. I am a law graduate from the University of Leeds with a placement year in a law firm. At 17 years of age I was diagnosed with dyspraxia. Once I graduated from university and was attending paralegal job interviews, it was then I noticed there seemed to be a lack of awareness around Neurodiversity. Looking back over my life, I started to realise how difficult being neurodivergent in this society had been and it was quite upsetting, it was only when I started going to therapy someone brought up that I might be autistic, and suddenly it all made sense.
I went online looking into the legal sector and disability and there was a report by Legally Disabled and The Law Society which focused on reasonable adjustments. From the report I saw that only 3% of solicitors are disabled and only 20% of law firms have plans going forward to increase disability diversity and inclusion. All this fuelled my passion to drive equality and inclusion and set up my organization The Neurodiverse Lawyer Project. We have grown rapidly and we now have around 50 volunteers and are working towards charitable status. We are really trying to make a difference and empower neurodivergent people.
Q. What outcomes are you wanting to achieve and why do these need to happen?
A. Firstly, our main goal at The Neurodiverse Lawyer Project is always to empower neurodivergent people to apply to law firms and eliminate self-doubt. I had to give feedback to almost every firm that I interviewed at, to let them know reasonable adjustments such as splitting up the interview questions in the recruitment process weren’t put in.
Secondly, I want to highlight discriminatory attitudes towards neurodivergent people, I have realised that in some situations individuals speak on our behalf. A few days ago, I saw an interesting post that said you wouldn’t have a white straight male to speak about being Black, lesbian, and female. However, a whole panel on neurodiversity can take place and not have a single neurodivergent person on it.
Finally, I want to educate employers and individuals on getting rid of misconceptions and biases. I realised quite early on that if people just had a basic conversation with a neurodivergent person, 50% of the biases they had would disappear, we just need a mechanism to amplify those voices.
Q. How is your work helping to achieve these outcomes above?
A. Giving neurodivergent individuals a voice and a platform has been really beneficial in helping companies to see things from the horse’s mouth so to speak. When I post on social media platforms, I receive messages from HR professionals acknowledging how useful my posts are and that they will try to implement suggestions and ideas I write about in their own company. Our main aim is to empower neurodivergent people to apply for jobs and stop doubting themselves and we have developed a network of people that can share advice, and provide helpful content.
It may sound really simple but no one really teaches you how it’s supposed to be done. For example, emailing an employer asking for a reasonable adjustment, and just having someone to say, you know, this is how I’ve done it, and being able to share that knowledge is beneficial sometimes. Also, the podcast is about sharing the stories of neurodivergent people and putting their stories to the forefront for recruiters and HR professionals to listen to. I think my The Neurodiverse Lawyer Project has given them a really personal perspective in which to learn from. For me, winning the Legal Cheek ‘Best Use of Social Media 2022’ award has demonstrated that neurodiversity is really starting to get on to the diversity and inclusion agenda.
Q. Who or what inspires you to do what you do and how do you keep focused and energised in challenging times?
A. I think in terms of what motivates me, it’s really that there is so much misconception about neurodiversity and discrimination that goes on. I think more than anything right now, I just want to make a real difference to other neurodivergent people, who have been in the shadows for too long. It’s just been an incredibly rewarding thing for me, and it’s really pushed me forward, hearing the stories of others. Every single time I jump on a call with a law firm, and I get started, they open with, “before we say anything, we do nothing on neurodiversity”, and they’ll have ‘inclusive employer’ plastered all over their website. That just spurs me on even further.
Q. How can individuals support your work?
A. Firstly, I always say to people to just to look inside themselves, and to ask those hard questions, for example; ‘do I have bias?’, ‘am I acting in ways which are discriminatory?’. It may be difficult, but we have to be honest with ourselves. Secondly, you can spend time trying to amplify the voices of neurodivergent people, for example those featured in my online network, and employees in your own organisation, this puts us out to a wider audience, connects us with more people and creates more opportunities and spreads the message that change is required.
Q. How can employers specifically get involved?
A. Employers can ask neurodivergent staff within their organisation and D&I/HR/recruitment staff to take part in our new NDLP Firm Index launching soon, which aims to amplify the voices of neurodivergent people. They can receive a tailored package of workshops, feedback, podcasts, blogs, and they can also provide advice and support to our audience wanting to work for them.
1 in 7 people in the workplace are neurodivergent. Businesses have some neurodivergent staff, whether they disclose it or not, whether they’re diagnosed or not. More authentic action is required and this should not only be on Neurodiversity Celebration Week and Autism Acceptance Month, but really make sure that it’s permanent. This has to go deeper than just partnerships with charities and offering reasonable adjustments. Change is required in recruitment processes because they are often built by neurotypical people for neurotypical people to find neurotypical attributes. I truly believe a neuro-friendly workplace is more accommodating for everyone.
Q. What next?
A. Leading with the stories of neurodivergent people, our new index will be starting soon and we are hoping to secure partnerships and long-term relationships with businesses, so we can grow it into one of the first and largest neurodiversity indexes, led by actual neurodivergent people. We want to continue to grow – grow our number of neurodivergent contributors, get more firms to actually think about neurodiversity, our audience is growing exponentially and hopefully that will provide some impetus. Ensuring the small things like proactively asking about reasonable adjustments, changing recruitment processes to avoid group tasks and AI-based tools, reporting on the number of disabled staff, having a reasonable adjustment policy, are all things we want to ensure are standard practice.
Find out more and get involved:
- The Neurodiverse Lawyer Project Website
- The Neurodiverse Lawyer Podcast on Spotify
- The Neurodiverse Lawyer Blog on Instagram
d&i Leaders is a global community of senior diversity, inclusion and HR focused professionals, looking to collaborate, network and accelerate their workplace inclusion strategy.