Embracing Neurodiversity: Grace's Unique Journey

“Neurodiversity is not a problem to be solved; it’s something to be embraced…” In conversation with Grace Erin Reid

Neurodiversity is an essential element of the equity, diversity and inclusion agenda. But what does it feel like to be neurodiverse? Grace Erin Reid, founder of urlifeurbusiness, reflects on her unique set of skills – and navigating most of her career without knowing she had dyspraxia.

“Don’t get hung up on finding your purpose. There’s so much press about being successful, having a million followers, and working on the next big thing. But I wonder if people forget to enjoy the journey. It’s okay to have multiple incarnations before you find out where you’re meant to be.”

Grace Erin Reid is looking back on her career. She has navigated multiple professional paths and personal challenges to reach her lightbulb moment. It’s been a journey of running and hosting nightclubs and bars, through the third sector, and into higher education; building partnerships, solving problems and coaching leaders. Now she works with businesses to help them turn good intentions into actions as a diversity and inclusion consultant.

Grace has weaved together a unique set of professional skills and experiences. But it has taken time to appreciate how they all link together. Just four years ago, she was diagnosed with dyspraxia, a developmental condition which affects coordination and cognitive processing, but is also linked with increased creativity. She always sensed something was “out of kilter” but didn’t know it had a name.

She remembers her “atrocious” hand-eye coordination; she struggled with left and right and would often leave the house with items of clothing inside out or back to front. She found spreadsheets, maths, or following instructions, difficult. Presentations were also a source of anxiety and stress: she found it difficult to read her notes, click through slides, and speak to the audience at the same time.

But the diagnosis has unlocked her “superpower”. She has developed strategies to help cope with her neurodiversity. For example, boxing has helped with her co-ordination, and she has learned to accept that having “15 tabs open” in her brain is part of her process. When she makes a presentation, Grace is upfront about her neurodiversity. She treats each one like an informal conversation and allows creativity to be her guide. Her diverse professional experience has also helped her to ask more probing questions: What if? What if there could be more inclusive workplaces? What if there could be better cultures?

The lightbulb moment

Wherever Grace goes, change happens. As a consultant and executive coach, Grace often found clients seeking additional services, such as leadership and change management programmes – and this is when she had her own career epiphany. Because, at its heart, diversity and inclusion is about change management and cultural change. “If you don’t change the behaviour, you aren’t going to change the culture,” she says. “When I started doing this work, I felt as if I had come home. Everything which had happened beforehand had led to this moment in my life.

“I’ve always been able to read the room; I’m blessed with an abundance of emotional intelligence,” she adds. “I use it to help people think differently and push them outside of their comfort zone. When I was younger, I didn’t understand it; I never went to university, and I had a bit of impostor syndrome. But now I proudly use my lived experience and soft skills to guide my clients through change with empathy and wisdom.

“My neurodiversity also enables me to adopt a creative and innovative approach to problem solving. I am very visual; I use this skill, and my coaching experience, in my diversity and inclusion work. My workshops are thought-provoking, interactive and allow people to have light bulb moments. I want to keep them engaged and create the right kind of tension to help them feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Embracing neurodiversity

Conversations about neurodiversity are creating positive change, but Grace believes businesses are still nervous about it. People with autism are making their way into roles which play to their strengths – such as railway logistics, or working in tech, for example. But she recognises that the younger generations will drive the conversation where it needs to go. They are more self-aware than those generations before them and unwilling to suffer in silence; awareness of autism and ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactive disorder) is at an all-time high, following in the footsteps of dyslexia and, of course, dyspraxia. Grace’s voice will only amplify theirs.

“Neurodiversity is not a problem to be solved; it’s something to be embraced and celebrated,” she says. “Businesses should ensure they have more inclusive recruitment and onboarding frameworks. This means exploring alternative job boards and diversifying their networks so they can build a more diverse talent pool. They should educate employees and ask teams to educate themselves; each neurodivergent person will have their own set of needs to ensure a safe psychological space.”

Grace’s career proves that when it comes to embracing a diverse skill set – and neurodiversity – “a one-size-fits-all approach will not work”. She concludes: “My advice to anyone is enjoy the journey, take risks outside your comfort zone, and let the magic happen.”

iGROWW is Protiviti’s internal women’s network group and stands for ‘Initiative for Growth and Retention of Women at Work’. It has a strong voluntary membership which tackles women’s professional issues through forums. It also facilitates networking events and community service activities. For more information, please contact Rhianne Williams [email protected].