As a first-time marcher in the Mardi Gras parade at Sydney WorldPride, trying to learn the choreography for the dance has stretched Eleanor Ingram.
Eleanor is the Diversity and Inclusion Manager in our Space and Astronomy business unit. She received a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 18 months ago. It’s helped her understand that the way she learns can be different from her colleagues.
For starters, she tends to ask a lot of questions.
“When I am presented with things to do, my brain wants to map out all the steps involved. I tend to jump straight to where I have gaps in my understanding. And I often need more information up front, which helps me a lot,” Eleanor said.
“I believe this is what makes me a good disability ally and someone who can help other people when they are writing instructions…or choreographing a dance!”
During the online dance rehearsals for Mardi Gras, Eleanor chose to be open about her ADHD. She requested her colleagues teach in a way that made it easier for her to learn. For instance, ensuring that upcoming moves were demonstrated first and that counting and mirroring were used when appropriate.
“No one there is a dance teacher but they’re all trying, doing a great job and I felt really supported,” Eleanor said.
After the rehearsal, a few others who had also received a diagnosis of ADHD as adults approached her. And this validated her decision to be open.
An equitable workplace
Previously, Eleanor worked with the police in Western Australia as the Manager for Community Diversity and Substantive Equality.
In 2016, she was instrumental in having them participate for the first time in uniform in the Perth Pride Parade. She remembers people in the crowd responding so positively, with some weeping openly as they watched the police walk by.
“It really demonstrates that when you are courageous, you can make that kind of positive impact. Especially, when you consider Pride’s history and how the march started in protest against laws in which the police played a significantly negative and damaging role,” she said.
Joining Australia’s national science agency, Eleanor was confident she was stepping into a workplace that would welcome her. She noted we performed consistently well on diversity and inclusion metrics, including on the Australian Workplace Equality Index. She identifies openly as queer and is now an active member of our Pride@CSIRO Network.
“I knew of the reputation of CSIRO, but I was most excited about the opportunity to show up every single day as my full self. The excitement of space and astronomy research literally reaches into the farthest galaxies – there’s a clear analogy there for the infinite possibility of diversity and inclusion,” she said.
Focusing on outputs
Eleanor has seen how neurodivergent people are heavily stigmatised and judged. In her experience, that judgement shows up in the workplace around work performance. Formal evaluations, in particular, can be intrinsically ableist and discriminate against people with disabilities.
Being open about her ADHD and asking that her needs be recognised is part of Eleanor’s advocacy and change making.
“Being open in the workplace can feel terrifying,” she said. “All the shame and judgement you’ve grown up with and how society has and still does exclude you can be overwhelming. You know people will have an expectation upon you to change to fit in with the norm rather than considering how they may need to change their expectations and attitudes. There is always that tension present.”
Eleanor said it helps that her colleagues seem to be genuinely trying to understand and support her.
What does that look like in practice?
Flexible working hours are critical. Eleanor tends to be her best in the morning. She is using this to help understand how to best manage her time and her commitments. It can be as simple as focusing on work outputs and processes to manage prioritsing.
“Having a non-judgemental working experience where people understand flexible work in terms of the benefits it brings is great. That’s what enables people to work differently and be able to find support and accommodate their individual needs,” Eleanor said.
Then there’s building a sense of community. Being part of Sydney WorldPride with her colleagues will be a special moment.
“Anything that helps with de-stigmatisation is an amazing step toward creating an environment where people can ask for what they need,” she said.