I’ve been with Co-op for the last 18 years, starting as a weekend baker and working my way up to my current position as a Store Manager. I’m also neurodivergent, which includes having autism, dyslexia, social anxiety, and dyspraxia.
Yes, there are a variety of challenges to being neurodivergent, especially having multiple conditions. These include sensitivity to noises and light, a reading age of 9, as well as difficulty reading black text on a white background. I can sometimes become overwhelmed with unplanned changes and situations, causing me to have a bit of a meltdown and get emotionally tired from coping with these challenges. However, there are also many qualities to being neurodivergent – and I’d like to tell you about a few of them.
Finding opportunity in challenge
Throughout my challenges, I’ve had to find coping mechanisms and strategies. I’ve been able to transfer the skills I’ve developed into my role and when working in listening groups to come up with ideas for the business to improve processes. I’m able to really break processes down, visualise them practically, and look at them from different perspectives to make my recommendations. I use this to help resolve any issues, and with retail being fast moving, I can look at the best ways to resolve an issue efficiently.
I have a great visual memory that I can see in 3D format. This means I can walk around my store and tell you exactly what needs to go out on shelves and where. I know exact locations and have great attention to detail, so I can see if there’s an error with the plan. This also allows me to train colleagues effectively – I can give them accurate guidance on any queries they may have without being on the shop floor.
Part of my dyslexia means processing information can take longer for me. However, once I’ve retained it, I’m able to recall this information accurately, which means I can bring together a lot of data from different sources to create a bigger picture for my team to understand where their focus needs to be.
An open and supportive workplace
Since starting at Co-op, my line managers have always supported me. My current manager gave me a great opportunity to share my experience with fellow peers. This openness was the first step to reducing the isolation I had felt, especially when I received the most recent diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum. Since then, my colleagues have been very supportive – from note taking and helping with reading, to talking problems through with me.
The business has given me extra hours within my role to support with the amount of information that I need to read and relay to my team, along with colour paper, and a colour computer screen overlay to make reading more manageable.
I’ve also found groups through Represent, our network for disabled colleagues, where I can talk to others with similar conditions. I volunteer with the network, working with other colleagues and teams to help provide support and raise awareness across the business. This led to me volunteer with Aspire, our network for women and allies, and recently I completed a 9-month course to undergo some self-discovery as a leader. Both have given me the opportunity to work as a Diversity and Inclusion Pioneer for the business.