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May 31, 2023
Work Appropriate
Neurodivergence at Work with Faith Saenz

In This Episode

If you have ADHD, autism, Tourette’s, a traumatic brain injury, or another neurological difference, navigating workplace culture can be a huge challenge. Faith Saenz, founder of NeuroTalent Consulting, joins host Anne Helen Petersen to answer listeners’ questions about being neurodivergent at work.

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TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Anne Helen Petersen:  Hi, everyone. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, and this is Work Appropriate. [music plays] Have you ever heard the phrase workplace culture? I mean, probably you probably have [laughs] but it’s one of those words we use without a lot of, you know, clear definition. The best definition that I’ve heard is the way we do things around here and for a very long time workplace culture at most places has been determined by the people with the most power in that workplace a cisgender white dudes. For example, if you’ve ever wondered why office buildings are so freezing, particularly in the summer, it’s because the culture of the office is oriented around the needs of dudes whose quote unquote “professional clothing” is traditionally warmer. There’s just more of it. Like pants, long sleeved shirts, than women’s professional clothing. Put differently. What’s often understood as standard office culture is actually only standard for a portion of its workers. And that’s also why office culture can feel so suffocating and exclusionary to so many people, because dominant office culture isn’t just oriented around cisgender white dudes. It’s also oriented towards people who are able bodied and neurotypical, and that includes everything from hiring practices to communication norms. Now we’re doing an episode in the next few weeks specific to navigating the working world as a disabled person. But for this episode, we wanted a co-host who’s an expert at navigating and challenging the strange norms of neurotypical work culture. [music plays]

 

Faith Saenz: My name is Faith Saenz. I am the founder and head consultant of a company called NeuroTalent Consulting. We work with recruiting companies, recruiting programs within corporate companies to help create more accessible hiring practices for autistic and otherwise neurodivergent jobseekers. So that is something that I’ve become really passionate about over time. I have a whole background in recruiting and hiring on a corporate level, mainly on the tech side of things in the tech world. So lots of experience working with these teams hands on and I’ve been doing a lot of work with them from this perspective as well, just trying to make a more accessible workplace. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So just for listeners who aren’t as familiar, I think a lot of people are, but there are some people who maybe have never had someone be kind of explicit with this. What does neurodivergence encompass when you’re talking about it? 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, it’s a great question and it is a question that I feel is constantly, or at least in the last several years, has kind of grown to include more than originally was intended. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: And so neurodivergency is a word that is sort of an umbrella term that describes anyone who has a neurologically based difference, I guess, right? So you think about things like ADHD, autism, all of that’s neurological. There’s also things like Tourette’s, OCD, mental illness is considered a neurodivergence. Also, traumatic brain injury is a neurodivergence as well. So really, anything that affects your neurological makeup and the way that you operate on a neurological level would be considered a part of neurodivergency. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I think there’s increased awareness for many, many reasons, but especially in the workplace with a lot of women in particular. I think either self diagnosing or being diagnosed with ADHD over the course of the pandemic or understanding that they’re neurodivergent in other ways. I think the pandemic seems like this interesting shift point where a lot of people—

 

Faith Saenz: Absolutely. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —who maybe were masking and they didn’t realize it, they didn’t realize that that wasn’t what everyone was doing every single day of their lives. Like, have you noticed that as well? 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. There’s definitely a big movement that has happened of sort of self-awareness. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: For a lot of neurodivergent people. I think a lot of that is just the time and open space that we have. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: You know, I think it was overall to be very general. I think it was a time of reflection for everybody. But I also think, you know, like you said, there’s a lot of masking which for those who don’t know, is just mirroring neurotypical behavior, mirroring the behavior of whoever you’re engaging with or things that you know, to be set neurotypical standards. So when you don’t have anyone to mirror anymore [laughs] like I do think that you get to a place really quickly where you’re like, what do I do? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Do I have a personality of my own? [laughter] I didn’t realize I didn’t until just now. [laughs] So I do think that was a big sort of wake up call for a lot of us. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: What is your own story with neurodivergents and how did you come to make a career out of consulting around it? 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, so I started in recruiting in 2015 and at that point in time I had already suspected that I was autistic based on I had like seen a few articles years ago and very, very directly related to a lot of what was described in them. And, you know, I had a few nights where I didn’t sleep, so I spent like 5 hours researching autism [laughter] and I was like, It sounds like me, but I don’t really know what I want to do about that yet. I’m going to put a little box in the back of my brain and not do anything about it. And once I really started getting in deep in my recruiting career, I was drowning. Like it was so challenging to be in the office all day, every day. And there was all of this stuff that I just felt like. I don’t know if everyone is being challenged in this exact same way. So that’s when I talked to I was currently seeing a therapist at the time and I was like, hey, do you see this? And she was instantly like, yes, I see this. [laughter] So she set me up with some appointments that kind of got the ball rolling on that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: So I knew I was autistic for years before I actually really embraced it. And I think a lot of people have a road like that because the idea we have around disability in general that we’ve sort of had instinctively since we were young, it’s humbling to acknowledge yourself as a part of that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Right. And so I think it takes time for a lot of people. But once I started like putting into practice things that were like, if you’re autistic, this could help you. And it started like really changing a lot about the way that I was working and performing. I was like, okay, well, it’s really just a detriment to me to not embrace this and learn more about it. So that’s kind of where I went off. I kind of jumped off into like learning everything that I could about neurodivergency and, you know, obviously the whole while. I was working in recruiting, so I was seeing the interview process and how just completely not designed for us it was was. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: And noticing specific people who would struggle, you know, I would have these really great, insightful conversations with these candidates and then they would just bomb their on site interview. And I’m like, no, this person knows the role, you know, like what’s going on here? And that is what really made me hyper like zoom in on the interview process as it relates to neurodivergency and you know, how we can sort of tailor that to be more accessible. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So to set up our questions, we had one come in where the person was basically feeling torn about disclosing her ADHD diagnosis at work, and the pros are you might get some sort of support that you need to do your job effectively. The cons where you have people saying dumb stuff to you about it. And so I wanted to kind of start our conversation with just this general question of how do you think people should be thinking about disclosure when it comes to neurodivergents at work? 

 

Faith Saenz: So this is a big question. Obviously. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: You know, I’ll start by saying neurodivergents is like a wide umbrella and there are specific conditions that have various connotations attached to them. Right. So there is a big difference in the workplace from saying I have ADHD to saying I have autism or I have Tourette’s. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Faith Saenz: Or something, I have a traumatic brain injury or something of the sort. There is a difference in the way society views these things. Now autism and ADHD are essentially sisters and they’re not that different, but the world views them differently. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: And thus the experience that you’re going to have once disclosing is going to be really different. You know, for a lot of people with ADHD, the challenge there is getting people to take them seriously. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Faith Saenz: Right. Enclosing ADHD as a disability, you kind of come back with because so you’re ADHD like it. Okay, whatever. It’s hard to focus like what’s the problem? And because that’s the way society has sort of taken ADHD, it’s really challenging for people to get the support they need from the standpoint of you’re not disabled enough. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, right, right. 

 

Faith Saenz: And so in that instance, I say to be as confident and sure about the specifics of what you need, and I like to say it in one sentence, in one pitch, like a cell, and I use their own words right back at them. Right? So I’ll say something along the lines of like, you know, another thing is that I can focus really well because I’m ADHD. I have autism and ADHD. So because, you know, I have ADHD so I can hyperfocus, which is a really great thing. You know, there are other challenges that come along with that as well. But for the most part it means that I can blah, blah, blah, I can do this. I’m really great with this. I saw on your website that you guys are really open to hiring diversely so I knew that this was a really great place for me. Like, just like using those things too. I saw that you like this. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Faith Saenz: Great. Because I’m this. And like, once you say it like that, you’re positioning them to have to say, well, we don’t really mean that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And also, I think what I heard when you were saying that is emphasizing all of the incredible attributes. 

 

Faith Saenz: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Of having a mind that works differently. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yes, absolutely. And that’s the thing, too, is like. When you spin it that way. Another great thing is that the interviewer can’t ask you more questions about like, well, how is that a challenge for you though? Like, those aren’t questions that they’re allowed to ask. If they do ask them, you can decline to answer them. So you can phrase it that way and it can genuinely be a sell. And it is right because our minds working differently is incredibly helpful. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: To the team at large. But, you know, it does get more murky when you talk about things like autism and stuff. I typically don’t suggest that people disclose their autism until the point in which they absolutely have to. If you can make it through the interview process without accommodations, however challenging it might be, I do try to encourage doing that because we’re in a place right now in our society where people just instantly ghost us once they find out about our autism. And I work with autistic people all the time and I talk to so many autistic people and I haven’t met a single autistic person that doesn’t have a story like that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Where they got an interview arranged, they asked for something, for an accommodation, they were immediately ghosted and ADA requires that people don’t do that. But there’s also no accountability. It’s not like there’s anyone stopping them from doing that. And and there’s no accountability internally with smaller companies, right? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: If you’re not talking about like Amazon or Google, it’s just some rant like, you know, Joe Bob’s accounting firm [laughter] no one is stopping Joe Bob from being mean to you because you are autistic like and that’s the bulk of you know the world. So I say with autism, do it that way. When you disclose, like definitely frame it with all of the positive things that your autistic brain brings to the table. But wait as long as you can. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: It’s like a little bit of a sidebar, just because I think oftentimes people do not know what they’re not allowed to be asked in an interview process. Can you talk a little bit about that, specifically how it relates to the ADA, the American Disabilities Act? 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, sure. So the ADA does not require that you disclose. It does require that a company provides an opportunity for you to disclose. So that’s why you’ll see the like check list on the on the application. That’s information that they are legally required to ask for. Obviously, you’re allowed to decline to answer, which is why that’s always an option. But you’re never required to disclose when you disclose. They aren’t allowed to ask for any details around that. If you are an employee of theirs and you’re asking for support for accommodations, they are allowed to ask you for proof of. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm. 

 

Faith Saenz: That disability. So it’s possible that they can ask you for like a doctor’s note or for like your actual proof of diagnosis. I just went to my therapist at my last job and I was like, hey, these are the things I need. And she’s like, yeah, you definitely probably do need that. She signed off on it. So but typically they are allowed to ask that, some don’t, some do. And that’s another thing that we’re kind of working through. That’s another challenge is because a lot of people don’t have official diagnoses. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Faith Saenz: It’s really challenging to get an adult diagnosis for a lot of these things. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Like autism, for example. So there’s a lot of undiagnosed people who still need support. We’re working on that. But right now the ADA requires that they ask, doesn’t require that we answer, doesn’t allow them to ask follow up questions, but does allow them to ask for proof of disability. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Great. This is a perfect segue into our first question, which is from Katniss, and it’s about the steps to take after disclosure. Our producer Melody is going to read it. 

 

Katniss: I have ADHD diagnosed and I am autistic but not officially diagnosed. My workplace hasn’t requested an official diagnosis in order to do their best to offer me adjustments, which is good. However, as the company grows and grows, it’s becoming harder to get a consistent level of autistic friendly communication from coworkers and managers. Neurodivergent folks are expected to do most of the education work, including educating our managers. Some managers think that one training session on neurodivergence is enough. Progressing in our careers requires fulfilling a number of quite rigid ableist criteria. This is still the best place I’ve worked at, so I’m not ready to leave. There’s a new H.R. team and I have some faith in them and some energy to pick some battles, which, if these battles are worth battling and which approaches would you suggest? We already have an internal resource group, but folks are busy and we’re not all equally affected by the gaps in support. So it’s not always getting a lot of engagement. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So the first thing I will note is that I had one training session on neurodivergence not even nearly enough, right. 

 

Faith Saenz: Not close. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I feel like I, as someone who is close to you, related to cares for a lot of neurodivergent people in my life. Like I. There’s just so much that I need to know [both speaking] in order to offer support and to unlearn a lot of my ablest thinking. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So I’ll just put that out there that like one training session [laughter] is not even nearly enough. But what battles are worth picking in, in this case. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, it’s a great it’s a great question. And I’ll say there is to a certain extent like it is going to be a personal decision. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: But right away, I would say anything that, you know, is going to get in the way immediately or in the long run of you being successful in role is something that’s a battle to pick. If you know that you’re not getting something that you know, you’re going to need to be successful speak up about that for sure. If it is something that is more. I’ve got a lot of pet peeves about the way that people interact with autistic people in general and in specifically in communication with me. I just try to spend a lot of time with myself and really think through, Is this a pet peeve or is this going to get in the way of me being successful? And that’s sort of how I try to categorize them and all of my pet peeves in this category go to my FaceTime dates with my best friend where I just am like so annoying that they do this. But all of these things over here, this is what I’m like, okay, we need to bring this up at work. This matters, right? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: And I will say something that I think is really important is and this will help with the whole one session thing, which again, is ridiculous. [laughs] If you say to someone that you’re newly working with, these are currently all of the ways in which you can help me be successful right now. That said, my autism is something I’m always discovering and I’m always fine tuning what support looks like best for me. So I would love it if we could grab time down the road and retouch base on this. Make sure, especially with your direct manager. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Faith Saenz: Like hey, once every few months, can we just connect on this and make sure that things are going well in terms of the types of accommodations that we have going on? You know, it’s possible that you have you’re at a company that has a specific accommodations team, so you’re really just talking about the communication aspect. But I will do that where I’m just I give them the expectation, like this is an ever changing thing. So we need to continue talking about it. This has to be an open dialogue. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: I can’t give you like a one hour ADHD 101 because my ADHD is unique to ADHD and everyone else’s is as well. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: So another thing that I think is really helpful in this and it’s a bolder move, so this is your call, but I have a super succinct little template that I send any new person I’m working with. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: So even if I’m just like, oh, this is a new recruiter and we’re both working together on the same role. So like they’re on a different team. I’m going to hire this role with them and I may never talk to them again. I just send them this really quick. Like, hey, just wanted to let you know, for our super successful working relationship, I really need written communications because I have auditory processing issues. So something really important comes up during the meeting. If you could shoot me a note about it after that, be great. Just a quick really like if you could try to schedule our meetings earlier in the day, I’m going to be more of a thought partner for you. Like little things to remember about working with me and just a tiny little like a little one note of this is just what this looks like, a little one page or something, and I will just send that to someone like, hey, so we’re working on this project together, wanted to shoot this over, and that way they have it. Or it could just be like a questionnaire that you have filled out and then you’re like, how do you best receive communication?

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Faith Saenz: Like, how can I help you? Because just because you’re not ADHD doesn’t mean you don’t learn in a unique, specific way. We all do. So honestly, that’s the homework we should be doing at the top of any working relationship is how do you communicate best and how can I best communicate with you? So that’s just an accommodation that, like many of our accommodations are really just good practices for everyone. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: If you take two more extra seconds. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That’s what I was just thinking is that like so many of these quote unquote “accommodations” are actually universal design. Like they actually make things better for everyone. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, definitely. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And so, like the idea of that one sheet, which I’ve seen some tech companies really practice on an organization wide level, especially companies that are distributed that are fully remote because they want to make the standards of communication really transparent to everyone. And those companies also end up being a really great place for people who are neurodivergent to work because it’s right there and every person is expected to do that from the CEO to a new hire. 

 

Faith Saenz: I really do. I’m supportive of that. It’s helpful for everybody. Everyone can just reference that. And I don’t know, I think in my opinion that’s like the number one way to go. However, the reason I say it’s bold, like obviously that is openly saying to everybody that you have. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Some sort of a condition that requires accommodations and assistance. So, you know, it’s a personal call, but that’s what I like to do. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: It seems like this person has a certain level of confidence in their organization. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And especially since they’re willing to, they’re like, I feel like I have some energy to go to bat for some of these things like that seems like something that they might feel comfortable with. You know, part of me was thinking, oh, maybe they should focus on communications within their team or with their manager and let the larger light company wide communications let them slide for now. But then it was like maybe the company wide communications are the model. Like maybe that’s setting the tone and the model for the rest of the organization. So maybe that’s something that you actually could really shoot for. It’s like, okay, how do we start at the top with these sorts of communications and allow that to also trickle down? So there’s there’s a couple of ways I think you could approach this. 

 

Faith Saenz: Definitely. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is explicitly about communication. Let’s hear from Chelsea. 

 

Chelsea: I’m a creative freelancer and I’m also autistic. I do well enough as an independent contractor. But lately I’ve been considering returning to a full time job for health insurance benefits, a more stable paycheck, and so on. However, a block I have as an autistic person in the professional world in general and in interviewing for full time work specifically, is that you’re never allowed to say what you actually mean. For example, I understand that no one is going to go around advertising, that their company is understaffed. But I get so confused trying to figure out the professional speak code for asking questions. So I know beforehand if I’m being pushed into doing the equivalent of multiple full time jobs. And that’s not even getting into the song and dance of negotiating salary as an autistic person, professionalism feels like the highest level of neurotypical language. And on top of that, I’m also a woman. So there’s a gendered component to being too blunt in the workplace. How do I learn to translate my questions and concerns? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Faith I feel like you are the perfect person to answer this question. [laughter] So what—

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, I completely understand. Honestly, in the I do some career coaching with autistic people as well. This is like any single question I get the most is just a big general how? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. [laughs]

 

Faith Saenz: Around communication because we are as autistic people were very direct or very straight to the point. Additionally, many of us myself definitely included, have very black and white thinking. So the questions that we bring up are pretty stark anyway, right? And the things that we’re bringing up are already going to be like things that maybe people would consider just not bringing up to begin with. So it’s such a minefield and that it’s a hard question for me to answer without sounding like I’m insulting neurotypical people so—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: No please do. [laughs]

 

Faith Saenz: —don’t cry about it, please. But it’s best I try to think about neurotypical people. The people that I’m talking to as, like, sensitive little toddler babies. [laughter] 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: It’s so true. It’s so true. 

 

Faith Saenz: It’s not just so, like, if I were to walk up to an autistic person, I am asking them a question that I want to know the answer to. And I’m thinking about a question, and I’m asking for the answer with a neurotypical person. I’m also considering how are they going to feel about my question [laughs] right? Is my question going to make them feel startled that I would bring something up? Are they going to be shocked? Are they going to be stressed? Are they going to be offended? Are they going to be whatever however they take it is going to be a part of the answer that I get back and it is going to affect how direct, how clear, how honest, how, whatever the answer I get back may be. So there’s a level of consideration that you don’t have to take when you’re talking to other autistic people. So if we can use an example like you want to know where is X report, right? That somebody was supposed to finish and you just go up and ask them, hey, where is X report? If you were talking to a little toddler baby, you wouldn’t just say, where’s this report? You would say, hey, how’s it going? How you doing? You okay, right? And then you would say, remember that report we were working on where we had this thing that we were doing? I know that we were talking about the fact that it was going to be turned in on Monday. I wanted to make sure I was clear on that. It’s Monday. Are we like, what’s the status here? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Also for the toddler baby, I’m not mad at you. I appreciate you. [laughs]

 

Faith Saenz: Here are all the reasons I’m asking this. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: That’s another thing that’s helpful for neurotypical people. That’s another a good thing to note is the why behind why you’re asking the question like relieves them because they’re constantly looking for the motive behind why you’re asking the question. And that’s the thing autistic people aren’t doing. And they’re constantly like, why is Faith asking me about this report? Who did she talk to before she asked me about this? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. And you’re like, I just want to know where the report is like‚

 

Faith Saenz:  I literally just wanted to know where the report was. So if you if you start by saying, no one’s asked for this or anything, I just am wondering so that I’m caught up, where is that report? Then they’re instantly like, okay, I know where she’s coming from. And so it’s harder for them to get offended by that. I feel like. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: However nice or friendly or whatever you think you’re being just up it. [laughter] Just do it more. I will have people every once in a while say that my reactions are like over the top or I’m very animated and very dramatic and in my mind I’m like, that’s a win. Is it too much? A little, maybe, but it isn’t not enough. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right? It’s very clear. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: So sometimes maybe you’ll annoy people or something, but like, for the most part, everybody wants you to consider their feelings before you bring something up even. Yes, I know it’s work related. They still want it. And then also the motives behind where you’re coming from, making that really clear from the onset. Those are all really helpful things. The reality is it’s always going to be hard for us to understand and it’s always going to be hard for us to respond in the correct [laughs] way to respond, I say with gigantic air quotes that I just realized are not picked up in the microphone. [laughter] I think it’s always going to be a lot of a challenge, so don’t beat yourself up. [laughs] And also, you know, I say that to say, like tips are all I can really ever provide, right? Is just help. But I think those are some good starting off points. I think if you just think of the person you’re speaking to as a toddler, I think that’s really helpful. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: How do you think that this would work? I’m thinking specifically of Chelsea’s question about like, how does she figure out if they’re understaffed and trying to make her do—

 

Faith Saenz: Yes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —several jobs. 

 

Faith Saenz: That’s a great question. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So how do you ask that and not hurt the feelings of the person who’s recruiting for this job? 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, there are a lot of questions that you do want like there’s information you want about a job and things like that before you commit. So it’s important, but it’s like the answers you want. You can’t ask those direct questions, right? Like she already said, I can’t ask them, are you understaffed or anything like that? But it is important to try and focus on the information that you need on a grander level. So I always, instead of just asking for the information I need, I think to myself, why do I need this information? Well, I want to know that I’m not going to be spread too thin. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Faith Saenz: I want to know that I’m going to have like a clear designated job description that I work within and I’m not juggling hats and blah, blah, blah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Faith Saenz: So you could ask other questions that will get you similar information. So like in in that case, I would say like how big is the team? How many people are on the team? I would say how do job functions work out or how are they sort of delegated amongst the team? Does everybody do something a little different? Is it a regional divide? Like what is what does work look like and how is work shared on the team? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm. 

 

Faith Saenz: Those are things that I feel like will still get you to that answer because they’ll they’ll either say like, you know, yeah, we have about eight people. Everyone has their own region, you know, things like, okay, well I’m going to be given a region and I’m going to work in that region. So it’s not going to be likely that they’re just going to be throwing random things at me. And that’s helpful information or they’ll say something. Well, you know, it’s really just you and two other people right now. So it’s going to be, you know, a lot of it’s going to kind of be in flux for a while. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Faith Saenz: You know, we’re going to be trying to then you have your answer and you’re like, okay. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: All right. They’re understaffed. All right. They they’re they’re looking for someone who can do those sorts of things. There are also always keywords that you can just listen for that they’re going to tell on themselves without you having to ask. Like at a startup, for example, they use words like, we just want someone who’s really motivated and who’s really caught our initiative and is passionate and is a go getter and is, you know, a self-starter. And all of these things mean we want someone who won’t complain when we work them to the bone. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: That’s what that means. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: [laughs] It sounds like, you know, once you start to notice those things, that can be really helpful. Something that I suggest to everybody that I work with is while you’re job seeking, keep a journal, keep a journal of phrases you see a lot and what you’ve found them to mean, questions you ask during an interview that they didn’t seem to like, questions that you ask that went really well. You know, whatever comes up that you didn’t expect to come up, write it down in case it comes up the next time. You know, things that you keep consistently seeing in job descriptions, like write those down and Google them and figure out what they mean. Like do research about the job hunting process while you’re like, use yourself as like, you know, every new interview is a new opportunity to sort of test your theories and figure out what’s going on and and how to best do it. It’s like you’re perfecting how to correctly do something. If you think about it more in those terms and less in the murky human nature. Sort of like that’s what’s really intimidating, right, is having to preemptively intuitively know what someone is going to want or ask for or do or say. That’s what we don’t do well. But when we approach it from like a scientific experiment. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Then it’s like, you know, there’s like, oh, interviewers will do this thing and it typically means this thing. And then you start to figure out, you know, the game, so to speak. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: No, and I what I appreciate about this as a neurotypical person is how it makes norms weird. Professionalism which is understood as like the norm. Is weird, right? There is nothing natural about it. It has just been— 

 

Faith Saenz: It’s very exclusionary. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 

 

Faith Saenz: As well. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And it’s just been normalized. And so the more that we can understand it as a foreign language, as a ridiculous foreign language. When I was learning French, it’s like the tense of French that no one ever uses anymore. 

 

Faith Saenz: Mm hmm. Right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: But that you have to learn so that you can just like, I don’t know, just know it and just understand that it is ridiculous. Like that to me is what how we should be thinking about professionalism so that it eventually goes away. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So speaking of job hunts, Cheyenne needs some advice on jumping through some hoops. Our colleague Caroline is going to read it for us. 

 

Cheyenne: What’s up with the ableist personality tests and timed math assessment stage of interviewing? Seriously, the data can’t be relevant or helpful. And how is it even legal to obtain? It’s basically just a weeding tool against hiring people who are neurodivergent. How is this defensible? Much less helpful? And how do I, as a neurodivergent person, game them? I need a job, but I don’t do tests well. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So I think that as it has become easier to apply for jobs, especially jobs that don’t have a specific location, there have been so many applicants for so many jobs and a lot of hiring committees or people doing the recruiting have to have some sort of mechanism to reduce the number of applicants down. And so they have bullshit like this in order to do it the same way that colleges use ACT and SAT scores. But just as many colleges are now going away from those SAT and ACT scores because they are ableist, because they are racist, because they are classist. I wonder how long it’s going to take workplaces to catch up. So Faith, I would love to hear your thoughts on this. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah. I will say from my perspective, they’re going away. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: It’s happening slowly, but we do. We’re already seeing that shift. You know, the bigger global tech companies, which, you know, the tech industries, the most progressive, really or one of the most progressive industries. So you’ll see things like this happen first there. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Faith Saenz: And in the larger companies where, you know, they they want to brag about how progressive they are. So they’re doing these practices, they are getting rid of these things. It is absolutely exclusionary. It is absolutely only set up to weed out people who think differently. Where I see it most is in like larger companies outside of the tech industry, like larger, more global companies. They typically are doing that as as a part of like the initial rounds of interviewing. There’s two sorts of ones. She mentioned the personality test and then there’s like basic knowledge tests. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: I remember one time I was trying to get a temp role as a receptionist, answering phones, literally just answering phones. That’s what I did. And I had to do a math test. I had to do a, a, an Excel like a timed Excel questionnaire thing. And it’s very dumb. [laughs] But it is something that I think a lot of those places will do because they’re finding that they can’t require things like college degrees on the same level anymore. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: And they’re they believe that they have assessed what is intelligence in this role. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Faith Saenz: I don’t know what math has to do with answering the phones personally, but they’ve decided that that’s a thing they’re doing. Another one is the personality testing. That is because they are not allowed to say, we only want extroverted people working here. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mmm. 

 

Faith Saenz: We only want people who are going to whatever, blah, blah, blah—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Culture fit. Culture fit.

 

Faith Saenz: Culture fit. Exactly. So these personality tests do it for them without them having to say it. So it is again, only set up to be exclusionary. It is something that I believe a lot of people are talking about very loudly now, and I hope that that’s going to continue shifting in a more positive direction until then avoid larger companies is what I would say. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: In your in your job search. And then also roles that don’t have specific skill sets are going to have more of that. I feel like I always try to guide people towards more specific opportunities and that doesn’t have to be like, I have a specific degree in like marine biology or something like that. But even within the more general context of administration or something, for example, let’s say administration, those administrative roles, you can find specific spaces that are home to what you do best. So there’s going to be like record keeping versus answering the phones and like being a receptionist versus someone who is just only scheduling and doing things like that. So looking for a more narrowed version of a role, those are going to have less of those stupid hoops that you jump through because they’re already only looking for a specific kind of person. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I would also say, you know, I know this person is just looking for a job, but also if if a place is using these tests and you get a job there. It’s not going to be a place that’s very inclusive. 

 

Faith Saenz: A part of me does want to say, well, if they’re doing that to blow it off. But I also know the economy and people are like. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: I just need to work—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Totally. And also, I feel like you can game at least the personality ones. You can game them as like— 

 

Faith Saenz: Yes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: What would the baby think? Right. [laughs]

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, exactly. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Like you brought up a memory that I haven’t thought of in years, which is I was applying to work at Hastings, which was a national record and book store when I was in high school, and I had to take a test. And it really was a test in hindsight that was there to gauge my honesty. Like, would I still would I allow other people to steal that sort of thing? But they’re all tricky questions where they’re trying to get like your real motivations or that sort of thing that I can see being a real mind fuck. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ll say also another thing about them is they will ask the same question in several different—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 

 

Faith Saenz: —ways, several different times. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 

 

Faith Saenz: Because they’re hoping they’ll answer differently and they’ll get the like they’ll get through to the truth. And that is specifically confusing for neurodivergent people because I need you to ask something as clearly and directly as possible, or I don’t totally get what you’re asking, you know, and they do that on purpose. But again, from someone who’s in the recruiting industry, I can tell you it is very widely known how exclusionary they are, and it’s something that we are working actively on, taking that away. And I hope that that is something that in the next decade we see just not exist anymore. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Our last question is about how to best support neurodivergent colleagues. This is from Katrina and our colleague Ashley is going to read it. 

 

Katrina: My colleague is open about her ADHD, which I admire and respect. Then she was promoted to supervisor, which has been more challenging than we expected. More miscommunications are happening. Only a fraction of email questions will get an answer. I end up telling myself my work questions aren’t important because she’s not responding to them as important. She’s describing to us all how she feels overwhelmed. How do I help improve these problems while avoiding stigma and ableism? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So the first thing I want to think about is that Katrina notices her colleague is struggling in this new role, and her first impulse is to draw a line from those struggles to her ADHD. Do you think that that is a fair place to start? 

 

Faith Saenz: Yes and no. You know, this question, I think it’s interesting as well. I read it a few times through to kind of see that part of it as well, like what is happening here, because she does mention that the coworker has expressed that she is overwhelmed. So maybe she has said my ADHD is a struggle and it is making me overwhelmed. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Maybe. And she just didn’t say that back to us. If not, I would say, you know, it is a maybe understandable, but still maybe an interesting place to start. I would have I would start with, is your ADHD what you think is a struggle and what can we do to help sort of a situation? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: You know, that’s not always going to be the struggle. I don’t always struggle that work because I’m autistic. I struggle at work sometimes just because I’m tired or I. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Don’t feel passion about what we’re doing or whatever, right? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: It’s not always going to be my autism. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: What kind of script would you give to Katrina for having this conversation? Because I feel like there’s a way that this could come out as kind of condescending if done the wrong way. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah. And so I kind of want to, like, answer her question really specifically and then kind of zoom out a little. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Because this one’s interesting in the sense that this is actually her supervisor now. So that’s different from a coworker that’s on your team with you. That’s like an actual like equal level colleague. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Faith Saenz: Those are different things. I think she has to maybe be a little more careful here. It does sound like they’re close and they work well together, and I think that’s great and that’s definitely helpful. But it is a different aspect when it is her direct manager. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: You have to, I think, maybe be a little bit more like soft in the way you bring it up, because what would be the worst thing in the world right now is for it to come across to this person as everybody can see that you’re struggling, you’re obviously drowning. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Faith Saenz: How can I help you? Because you’re not managing the team effectively or you’re not leading successfully or whatever. Like that is probably the worst thing a new manager of any neuro typing could hear. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] Yes. 

 

Faith Saenz: Right. It’s so scary to be a manager for the first time. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: To be in charge of other people’s roles for the first time. It’s terrifying. And so anything that’s going to come across as as that can be really challenging to their confidence and that’s going to affect them as well. So essentially what we’re seeing here is this person that she’s asking about is struggling with executive dysfunction. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: For those who don’t know, just a quick overview of executive function, the executive function part of your brain, you can think of as like the office manager. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: They are setting deadlines, they are delegating work, they are making sure everything stays on schedule and on task and they’re prioritizing what gets work done when that is all executive function and when you are experiencing executive dysfunction, all of those things are affected. Starting and stopping tasks is challenging. Completing tasks following through on tasks that you start, all of these things, it’s all really, really challenging. So what is tricky is like I could say everything that I think this person would need if they were the one that had come to me. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: What the question is, though, is how do I as a coworker help someone who will who hasn’t said that this is what they’re struggling with, but who is very obviously struggling with this to the point where it’s affecting the entirety of the team? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: One thing that I would do if this were just a coworker and maybe she’s comfortable doing this because again, they are colleagues and it sounds like very friendly is I would just grab time with them and I would say I was hoping to ask about maybe just getting some information or what I can do to help you. I’ve noticed that maybe there’s a more effective way we can get outcomes on the team. What are some things that would be helpful and just kind of let that conversation open up? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: But also when it comes to executive dysfunction, I think specifics are really helpful in terms of like instead of, you know, with with certain things, you want to be very open with just what do you need? You tell me with this. It could be better to say, would it be helpful if we had a set structure for how communication is shared on the team? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Faith Saenz: And can I create that for you? Or when I send emails with multiple questions I need answers to, I’m going to space them out in several paragraphs. I’m going to number them and I’m going to bold the two most urgent ones. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Faith Saenz: And so those little shifts, some of them, I say just start doing them right. If they’re little things like that, that like the way that you write out an email, just do it and see if it’s helpful. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: But on the bigger things like comms and things like that, like maybe come up with a game plan about how you think organization could work better and then bring it to her. Like, do you think that this could benefit us or can we work on this together to come up with something that benefits us best I, I want to make sure that things aren’t falling through the cracks. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: And so bring it up from that perspective I think is really helpful. When someone is dealing with executive dysfunction, it’s not always easy to pinpoint and say, this is what I need that will make it all better. Like, that’s it’s very hard to know that yourself. So it’s not like. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, if you just knew it, then you could do it. [laughs]

 

Faith Saenz: Exactly. If you just knew it, you would just do that thing. Exactly. Nobody wants to just be called lazy or thought of as a scatterbrained, disorganized mess. Nobody wants to come across that way. So whenever someone is doing that, if they’re not showing extreme signs of not caring about their job in other ways [laughs] it typically means that they’re genuinely, really struggling. And what they need is a different way to come at the work. And then also another thing, because executive dysfunction, you can’t just most of the time, you can’t just push through it. You can’t just decide, I really need to get it done, though. I’m just going to do it. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Like, that’s I think, what neurotypical people think about executive dysfunction and that’s how they think it works. Like, I really don’t want to. And it’s not like that [laughs] you know. So another thing is how can we create on the team a system for when executive dysfunction is is a current challenge. So let’s say like that looks like okay she woke up on Tuesday and it is obvious to her that like she’s not going to get her brain on the same page for this meeting or this meeting. It’s just there’s no way that that’s going to happen. What what is the set standard that we have on the team of, you know, an hour before you can cancel a meeting or like, what is the what is the comms going to look like for when we have a deadline that’s missed or for when we, you know, this or like what is the set standard of how we attack these things? And that way it feels less unsettling. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: When those things happen because the reality is they’re going to she is going to wake up on a random Tuesday and nothing will get done that Tuesday. It’s just not going to get done. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: You’re not going to be able to focus enough to maybe send more than two emails that day and maybe work needed to get done on a Tuesday. So what is the system for that? Right. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Those sorts of things are really helpful and really just for everyone. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I think one thing, especially as you know, it seems like they are colleagues and somewhat friendly, you know, if she’s saying it’s affecting the team, that to me is sometimes code for like there’s blockages, there’s things that the team can’t get done because it hasn’t been approved by their manager. And that’s why the missed emails is a big deal. So maybe even like I know you get so much email, I know you have so many comms coming in all the time. So when we reach a point as a team where there’s a blockage that we just need a sign off or whatever, like what’s the best way to reach you? And maybe it’s a phone call, maybe it is like a Slack message with a like important question or like maybe it’s something in the subject line that says response requested. I’ve noticed actually that I know someone that I’ve been corresponding with does that to me sometimes. And, and I appreciate it because it flags it as yes. I need to respond to that. Right. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah. I had a coworker who would do this thing. It was so helpful where she would send an email and in the subject line it would have like an estimate for how long she thinks the ask is going to take. So she would be like two minute ask, such and such interview cancellation and it would just be like, hey, like so-and-so canceled. Can you send me an email really quick and check on this or that? And I’m like, okay, that’s going to take me two minutes. So she’s not asking me for something that’s going to be like a sit down work—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Faith Saenz: —through this, figure out this problem, or she’s going to send like info on a project we’re doing so like need by end of week, need by Thursday afternoon, like that kind of stuff was what she would put up in the subject line. So I would know, like to flag this like, oh, this is a two minute one, I can knock that out right before lunch. And because sometimes it’s just about my executive dysfunction is making me feel too overwhelmed to look at my inbox, right? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah.

 

Faith Saenz: To open my inbox. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Like I can’t open any email right now. They’re all scary. So when you see one that’s like quick, easy question or like two second response required. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: Like something that’s like that, then you already know like, okay, this is a low pressure task I can knock out. And for people dealing with executive dysfunction, in case anyone is listening, I know this person wasn’t the person struggling, but completing one or two easy task like that is really, really helpful as a motivating factor. It gets you going. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: It’s the on ramp. 

 

Faith Saenz: It’s the on ramp. Exactly. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: So that’s a really a great way to sort of personally manage. But obviously you you don’t know what is going to help other people. So. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: You know, it’s just about working closely with that person and reminding her that it’s okay to bring up her ADHD too like. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Faith Saenz: If you’re struggling with executive dysfunction or blah blah blah, like I’m happy to help. Like how can I help you? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And not making it like a big like we’ve noticed you’re struggling with your ADHD and your new role as manager, right? 

 

Faith Saenz: Yes. That’s is going to crush them. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Just casual casual. So I was going to ask you in closing, as like some things that workplaces can do just generally to make life better work culture better for neurodivergent people, but instead, because we’ve covered so much, I’m just going to ask you to come on again so that we can talk more about details instead of giving generalities. So I hope that that happens. 

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, I would love to. Definitely. That sounds great. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Where can people find you on the Internet if they want to hear more from you? 

 

Faith Saenz: Yes. So I know how boring and old I sound, but I am on LinkedIn. Super active over there. So— 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: You’re a recruiter. Like, you know, like, that’s where the recruiters live.

 

Faith Saenz: Yeah, It’s my corner of the Internet. I creep. So. So that is always a great place to find me. Also, NeuroTalentConsulting.com. I have a page on LinkedIn as well for NeuroTalent Consulting. I’m also @NeuroTalentConsulting on TikTok. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Amazing. 

 

Faith Saenz: Don’t make a whole lot of videos, but we make some talking about different like opportunities, things that we’re doing. We’re starting career coaching for autistic people, which is another really exciting thing. And then I’m launching half day seminars for talent acquisition teams to learn how to hire accessibly. So really exciting stuff happening. Check out NeuroTalentConsulting.com for all of that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Amazing. Thank you so much for coming on today. 

 

Faith Saenz: Thank you so much. Anne I really appreciated it. It was awesome. It was a lot of fun. [music plays] 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Thanks for listening to Work Appropriate. If you need advice about a sticky situation at work, we are here for you. Submit your questions at WorkAppropriate.com or send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at Crooked.com. We love building episodes around your questions and you can stay as anonymous as you like. Don’t forget to follow us @CrookedMedia on Instagram and Twitter for more original content hosts takeovers and other community events. You can follow me on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen and you can sign up for my newsletter Culture Study at AnneHelen.substack.com. And if you like the show, leave us a review on your podcast app of choice. It really helps. Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producer is Kendra James. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. [music plays]

 

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