“I am woman, I am short, I am Asian, gay and English is my second language - all these characteristics could and often do result in bullying and discrimination in the Ad Land.
However, it wasn’t those visible, obvious traits that throughout the years kept me excluded. I didn’t fit in, I didn’t feel at ease in advertising, because of what I and the others thought was my personality. I always was a hard-worker, good at my job, which involved crunching a lot of numbers and spotting trends, often finding that much needed nugget - needle in a haystack. And whilst being competent in delivering tasks, I felt uneasy in social situations. Sometimes I thought, I was honest, but the others felt - hurtful in my interactions with my managers and senior colleagues. At best I was described as “outspoken”, and at worst - “grumpy and rude”. I felt confused.
Epiphany struck me when many years later, long after I left advertising, Maya Angelou passed away. Her words (now present in every second PowerPoint deck): “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel” made it clear to me that whilst technical excellence is good, it is social glue that makes an impression and gets one ahead
Why was it so difficult for me to understand it earlier? Neurodiversity was not on the advertising industry’s radar then, it wasn’t on anyone’s radar at the time, certainly not mine. Since being placed on the Asperger’s spectrum, I started developing tools to help me make sense of situations and glue socially with people:
- Listen, let others speak
- Don’t try to be the smartest in the room, what you’ll end up being is the most unpleasant person in the room
- When raising a point, make people go “ah, this is an interesting addition to what I’ve said, not “oh, I feel so stupid”
- Don’t respond to criticism and comments straight away, let it sink, leave it until later
- Pick your battles: am I 100% sure I’m right? is it important?
- Remember, everyone is human with feelings, and words can hurt and scar
I hope that, as awareness and understanding around neurodiversity grows, people like me are accommodated, given support and coaching. So nobody needs to stay confused, feeling hurt and hurting others, for long.”