Talking privilege and neurodiversity

Talking privilege is a blog series for MiQ employees to discuss different kinds of privilege and the ways they affect work and life in general. Privilege can be a hard topic to discuss. Many people who benefit from privilege on a daily basis aren’t aware their privilege exists. And people with less of the unearned power that privilege affords often have less power within their business too.

We started this blog series to reflect on the different types of privilege we all need to be aware of in MiQ, in our industry, and in society at large.

By Clare Martin, Director of Talent, EMEA & APAC, MiQ

Kayode, my colleague in London, recently wrote about the internalised pressures people can put themselves under – without knowing – in order to “pass” as a result of being a minority or not having a privilege others around them have. This really resonated with me, as I’m becoming more and more aware of where I put unnecessary effort in, and have done for years, as I mask my dyslexia.

I’ve known I am dyslexic since I was about 8 or 9, and am lucky to have been incredibly privileged in many ways outside of how my brain works. I grew up as a white middle-class north Londoner and with a loving family, meaning I could have additional tutoring and support: to learn how to learn, and work around some of the different ways my brain works. It also offered encouragement when I thought life wasn’t fair and no one else had to do extra homework. This meant I could keep up with my classmates as long as I put in extra effort outside the classroom or learnt to ignore when I noticed I was trailing along at the back of the class. Or in one case, told to “sit quietly at the back and let the others get on”!

These experiences have unintentionally taught me to mentally minimize the ways in which I am different. To say things like “oh I’m only a little dyslexic” or “I’m dyslexic but I don’t notice it most of the time”. The second is true: I don’t notice it because I’ve internalised the rule that I must always work harder and longer than others in order to mask the things I find hard. Because if I struggle with them, it means I am not good enough, not bright enough, that I should not be recognised for my strengths that come from my dyslexia and benefit the business because I can’t measure up in other areas.

I think and read very fast, which is the opposite of what’s often said about this “learning difficulty”. I can often see issues further along a project plan, or come up with alternative future options others don’t which is a great strength. However, I don’t always do that in sequence, which can make it confusing for others to follow or frustrating when I have to slow down to explain it. I can’t spell very well or tell my left from my right. I also have terrible short-term memory – because I’m thinking about more distant things or processing information differently to others around me. This often looks like I’m being forgetful, not knowing data I should have at my fingertips. This meant I lost confidence as a child, not answering the teacher quickly or saying what I think at all because it may be wrong.  Or losing my possessions. In my 5th week at MiQ, because I was in a new office, in a different city and overwhelmed out of my normal routine, I lost two phones… In 72 hours! Which is a great, funny story – when taken away from the context that this was a symptom of hiding my dyslexia from others in order to pass like ‘everyone else’.

As I grow in my career and start to listen to the feedback from my peers and leaders about my strengths, my confidence is growing and I can appreciate my differences and find other ways to work to my strengths. I know that I am hugely privileged to have had the support and education that I have had to get to where I am, and know that there will be many others out there who haven’t had that privilege. I wish that when I was younger there had been more successful business people, successful business women, talking about how they succeed and where their dyslexia is a strength and not something to be ashamed of. Something to cover up or waste energy trying to hide, and instead to go and use that energy and creativity in areas that I could be brilliant in.

I wish that I had known then about the idea of privilege, and that my brain working differently does not make me less. Different, but not less than my peers.

You can read more in the Privilege & Race blog series by following these links: