update: HR says I have a moral obligation to tell everyone I’m autistic

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day — there’s still more to come.

Remember the letter-writer who was told by HR that they had a moral obligation to tell everyone they’re autistic? Here’s the update.

Firstly, thank you so much for your response to my letter, and to all the commenters. It was incredibly reassuring and did give me the strength to raise the issue with the interim CEO. One of the commenters, also autistic, said that they felt autistics could be especially vulnerable to emotional manipulation and the feeling that we are always in the wrong — I think that’s partly why I was so twisted up about it and unsure what to do.

I think a lot of people wanted some serious consequences for Jane, which didn’t happen as I didn’t really want that. I could see that she was doing good in some other ways (I’ll explain further down!). I spoke to the interim CEO, who suggested a mediated conversation with an autistic counselor. They were able to express the issues in a much better way than I could have, and Jane apologized. I think she also got a warning from the CEO. She’s since been on a training course with an autistic charity, and we’ve had some really good conversations about autism and how it affects me.

As I said in the letter, the company had a lot of issues relating to discrimination against neurodivergent and black employees especially, and a lot of it stemmed from two members of senior management. Even while the above was going on, Jane was starting to work on that. Those two individuals have now both left the company — one was fired, and one saw the writing on the wall and resigned. It was a stressful period (the one who was fired raised several retaliatory grievances, including against Jane and the interim CEO) but now thankfully is over.

With them gone, we’ve started a DEI audit which will hopefully lead to new policies and training for all staff. I have started to be a little more open about being autistic, but haven’t yet made any company-wide announcements!

Part of Jane’s frustration came from hearing real distress from some of our employees, and feeling that I was part of the senior management and not doing anything about it. I know she was definitely in the wrong to let this lead her to tell someone I was autistic and then telling me that I had a responsibility to share this (and she now agrees and has apologized!) but I do also want to try and be stronger in future in challenging discrimination if I’m in a similar position again (hopefully not).

Thank you so much again for your reply. I was feeling really low but speaking to the interim CEO and Jane, while stressful at the time, ended up with everything in a much better place – and I’m not sure I would have done that without you and all the comments!

{ 74 comments… read them below }

  1. Sloanicota*

    Wow OP it sounds like you’ve been super gracious and focused on moving forward – kudos to you!

  2. Irish Teacher.*

    I’m really glad things worked out and that Jane seems to have been acting out of good intentions and appears to have learnt from her mistakes.

    Thanks for updating us.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      “Good intentions”
      Yes, the road to hell is paved with them.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        Yeah, true, but in this case, it seems to have meant that at least Jane did back off eventually. So it might not justify what she did but it definitely led to a better outcome than might otherwise have been the case.

      2. Festively Dressed Earl*

        At least it sounds like Jane pried up a cobblestone or two from that road and threw them at people who were making LW’s workplace suck. She learned and then acted on what she’d learned, which gives me a tad of hope.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Sounds like Jane was a typical imperfect human. What made her a bit above the norm was that it seems like she was willing to learn and get better. At the least she was willing to learn and get better with regards to one condition – while trying to actively root out discrimination.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Thank you. All the metaphors I could use here are explicitly Christian, so bear with me, but in actual scripture the imperfection of humanity is stressed as something that we should understand and thus try to forgive. Forgiveness and reconciliation don’t cancel out or erase the negative things someone has done (and neither mean that the LW here needs to welcome Jane back into her orbit as if nothing has happened), but they both make it much easier to find proportionate and rational responses to that issue rather than just condemning someone out of hand.

            It’s not easy — it’s not meant to be. I’ve had a lot of therapy surrounding my own issues with anger at other people and ultimately, someone just saying ‘Jane did you wrong’ is…futile. It’s comforting to know you’re in the right on that score, but it doesn’t actually help much beyond that.

            How do we hold Jane accountable while still trying to work with her? My mother has few boundaries when it comes to me because, due to my neurodivergence, she has had to look after me more than some people have to care for their adult children. However, this quite often breeds resentment and anger in me which means I avoid her and end up missing her company and the good stuff in our relationship. My therapist isn’t able to ring her up and give her a piece of her mind on the boundary issue! She has, however, worked really hard with me to help me set my own boundaries with her and recognise why she’s angsting about things she worries about with me when those anxieties often have a negative impact on our relationship.

            It’s hard when you feel like you’ve been wronged and thus see things in sharper focus than another person might. But maintaining relationships and thus social, collective cohesion is as important as personal satisfaction, and in the long run things get better if you can take the emotional heat out of these situations and work with those who admit their guilt and fallibility and work to resolve matters. It’s the cornerstone of reconciliation and restorative justice, and building society into a place where justice and equality can thrive. Treating people as completely disposable if they transgress is not going to achieve that; it’s contributed to a massively counterproductive tribalism that can be more stressful sometimes than outright bigotry. You can deal with the unsalvageable bigoted assholes, as LW’s company has done — but dealing with the Janes of this world is harder precisely because you want to be able to bring them back on board and not just lump them in with the actual bigots.

            1. Another Use of the Identify Spell*

              Thank you for sharing the condensed version of what are likely hard-won therapy successes. (I was able to do similar recently and it feels good to realize you’ve actually come so far!) This is all so true, and so much more work than a blanket condemnation or clever online clapback. Hopefully more people can learn this and retain/grow allies instead of knee-jerk instant cancelling and retaining the grudge forever, no matter how much the person improves.

      3. ferrina*

        Luckily, Jane turned back from that road. She started walking down it, but OP said “hey, um, do you know what road that is?”
        Jane apologized and turned back, and is now walking down a better road.

      4. Double A*

        I mean, only if you don’t change course when you realize your good intentions aren’t taking you in the directions you want to be going. Sounds like Jane is learning and adapting.

      5. Quill*

        Yeah, if OP were less senior or the company less committed or anybody who was told more of a jerk this could have gone much worse, and the fact that Jane, in HR, either did not know or did not realize that it wasn’t hers to share is not a good move. Hopefully she has learned that her priorities should be confidentiality, not volunteering people to be good diversity examples.

      6. Mango Freak*

        Similarly, it might be well-intentioned to go guns-blazing after an HR person who’d done the wrong thing in one instance, but overall was working towards an important cultural shift and was already doing good, difficult work to improve things. That could definitely be a road to hell.

      7. Lydia*

        Well, if we’re doing adages, don’t let perfection get in the way of good enough. This outcome was good, Jane came away knowing a bit more than she did starting, and overall, there is improvement. Nobody learns if no mistakes are made.

      8. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        When Jane was telling OP to out themselves she was well-intentioned and that was a route to hell. But sometimes good intentions do actually lead to good things happening, and it seems that here Jane has learned a lot from the autists’ charity. She has apologised, and hopefully will have learned from her mistake. Which, given human imperfection, is just about the best we can hope for.
        So I for one think this is a very satisfying update!

  3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    HR are talking ableist bollocks.
    There is no moral obligation to disclose – it’s not like your coworkers could catch autism from you!

    1. BubbleTea*

      That wasn’t the basis for the ostensible obligation, though. Not that it actually existed anyway, but it wasn’t as egregious as that.

    2. JSPA*

      It wasn’t about contagion. Jane was (misguidedly and ham handedly) trying to force an autism mentorship / support network / action committee into being, to push back against anti-autist bigots in positions of power.

      We can deplore the tack she took, without concurrently mischaracterizing the (extremely valid and welcome) goal behind it, right?

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I was being sarcastic about why on earth HR would think it a moral obligation to disclose autism.

      1. Zeus*

        Did you read the initial letter? That was pretty clear on why – and it had nothing to do with contagion.

      2. Roland*

        The letter was very clear on the actual intention so this just makes it seem like you didn’t read it past the headline, even if that’s not the case.

      3. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        FFS, I don’t understand why everyone is taking exception to your posting, here. It was perfectly obvious to me that you were using some sarcasm. People here are usually smarter than that, too. Hmph.

    4. GythaOgden*

      As an autistic person myself who does feel an obligation to put back into the system which has helped me a lot over the last decade…please don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

      We’re all fallible human beings and we’re all works in progress. Your posts here are pretty antagonistic in what can be a very delicate process at times and it needs much more finesse than you’re giving it. It’s totally appropriate that the actual problem people were shown the door, but this kind of belligerence only really contributes to tribalist antagonisms that have held us neurodivergent folks back in the workplace.

      If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like nail. If you’re a nail, everything looks like a hammer. I’ve totally been there! But actually, going on a rampage here is the way to destroy any good work actually being done here and just convince others that we’re the unreasonable ones. Coalition building, allyship and working together will, in the long run, pay way more dividends than anger and taking no prisoners. There are a range of tools in the box — we need to use them all.

  4. H.Regalis*

    I’m glad this worked out, that Jane apologized, and that she stopped being a jerk to you. I’m glad your company was able to get rid of the bad/racist/ableist managers, and I wish you all the best with the DEI audit and doing what you can to make your company a better place for all employees.

    1. ferrina*

      I’m surprised and delighted that everything went so well! I thought for sure this was going to be bad, or, best case scenario, Jane would be fired. It was such an awful situation for OP in the first letter.

      Big kudos to OP for speaking up, and I’m so glad Jane understood what she did wrong and apologized. And so, so glad that action is being taken to create sustained positive impact

    2. Paint N Drip*

      Seems like OP’s company should be an increasingly good place to work, and I applaud their dedication to assist in that change

  5. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    I’m astonished anyone in HR could be so ignorant, let alone the bloody HR head.
    Another reminder why it’s usually best not to disclose anything at work, unless you need accommodations.

    1. Mango Freak*

      It seems from your comments overall that you didn’t read the original letter. (And perhaps not this one, at least not carefully?)

      1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        I read them, but I disagree with most commenters – including maybe you – in excusing Jane and praising her for (hopefully) having learned to avoid such basic mistakes. She’s the head of HR and should not need training in the basics of her profession.

        I also think it unwise to disclose to HR unless you need accommodations, because the OP had to go through this stress – and it could so easily have ended badly, as in the other update today when HR were told something.

        1. Mango Freak*

          Ah, okay. Your comments seemed to suggest that you’d missed LW’s reasons for disclosing to HR and Jane’s rationale for disclosing further.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      In a couple of early jobs, I experienced how ignorant HR could be be about tackling racism. Even if they had learned from that, I didn’t feel they deserved praise for no longer being a large part of my problems.

      After that, I was never sufficiently trusting to confide my Aspergers, even at FinalJob which had pretty good HR.

      1. Mango Freak*

        What do you want here? A result that would’ve been worse for LW and their coworkers, because you have no sense of harm reduction or the options actually available to people?

        No one’s saying “Jane is amazing and all of this was good.” We’re just glad things worked out.

    3. Dris*

      I fully agree. I’m glad OP is happy with the result but if it were me I’d still be very cautious around this particular HR head because this is such a serious lapse in judgement.

      I’m not astonished, only because nearly all of the horror stories I have about workplace discrimination and outright legal violations have centered on HR. My advice to everyone new to the working world is: HR is not your friend, and too often can be a work-life ruining enemy. At my current (progressive! currently Pride-themed! pronoun pins abound!) job I have not disclosed being autistic or being trans, and hopefully I’ll never have to. Based on what i’ve seen happen to others, I never will.

      1. Janeway, Her Coffee In Hand*

        Based on my own unfortunate experiences as a fellow trans autistic person, I’d say yes, be open, but always document when you are. In the past I spoke about being autistic but only one on one – and that worked great until my manager and grandboss decided that being discriminatory jerks was their new favorite thing. Since we just had conversations about it, they lied and denied I’d told them. Now I send emails after those conversations summing up what we talked about and save those emails to my personal cloud, so if someone decides to lie in the future, I can produce receipts.

  6. Mom2ASD*

    I’m so glad that things worked out for you, and that Jane has genuinely learned from this situation.

    As the Mom of a young adult who has autism, it’s so difficult and frustrating to hear about these situations. I struggle with how to advise my son – should he disclose his autism (which is fairly evident but could be just initially seen as him being a bit socially awkward) in order to NOT be discriminated against in hiring, or will it entirely kill his chances to be considered (due to illegal discrimination). How should he handle himself in the workplace? Etc.

    All the best to you in your career – great job of advocating for yourself!!

    1. 1LFTW*

      I wish your son the best of luck!

      I’m neurodivergent, and the job-hunting advice I’ve always received has been to disclose any need for accommodations *after* I start working. Even then, my doctor doesn’t disclose my actual disabilities.

    2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      I can’t say how your son SHOULD behave. I can say that the best outcomes I have seen generally come about when people disclose and find workplaces that are understanding and willing to accommodate, when needed. (But run your own calculus on how the hiring market is going, and whether your son should just try to get any job at all, and decide to disclose/not once he’s established and has built up some capital.)

    3. Tatiana*

      It’s funny how often I’ve heard that exact sentence from parents of autistic teens or young adults preparing for the workplace. I’m an experienced autistic office worker (mid senior level), but only a brand new parent (my daughter is two, and I can only imagine the desire and frustration that must come with wanting to prepare your child for discrimination that you can’t protect them against.

      I will say what I always say when asked about this. I don’t think you should be advising them whether to hide or disclose their diagnosis. I think you provide them with information about what could happen (best and worst case scenarios either way) and if they need accommodations, let them read stories here about when to bring that up in the hiring process. But then step back and let them decide how they want to handle it. It can feel infantilizing, even from a loving parent (especially from a loving parent?), to be given a playbook on how to handle your own career. Besides that, the answer to your question is nuanced and situation-dependent. How and when I disclose has changed with experience and age due to more internal reasons than external. His real world experiences will be a better marker than your research.

      You sound like an amazing parent. I hope everything goes really well.

    4. Autistic Letter Writer*

      Hey! Thank you, it was stressful going through it but it’s very much been worth it.

      I didn’t disclose my autism earlier in my career, and I’ve never mentioned it on an application form. Earlier in my career I just tried to find ways to cope (not always successfully). I’m not sure this was the right approach because I definitely struggled (mentally/emotionally more than with my career) for a long time.

      It was really when I got into management that I started telling people. I had a report I was apparently making really anxious because I always looked really blank when she told me things, didn’t seem friendly and so on. So I ended up sitting down and telling her that I was autistic and that was why. And then I think as I got older I got a bit more confident, started to realise my skills were valuable, and so felt like I could tell my manager and ask for adjustments and have that confidence.

      I would also recommend that he thinks about the kinds of jobs that will suit him? Not just what he will enjoy, also what the working environment will be like.

      I don’t know if any of that helps but tell him it is possible to have a job you enjoy with (mostly) understanding colleagues and it gets easier as you get older!

      1. just some guy*

        I also started disclosing around the time I got into management, because it felt like a worthwhile way to use some of the social capital I’d built up at that place. I remembered how hard it had felt, being a new starter, just coming to terms with my own autism, and being unable to see any autistic role models in that org, so I wanted to make things a little bit easier for the next lot. (Plus, white male with a bunch of performance awards, so it felt safer for me to stick my neck out than it might’ve been for some.) I heard that it did indeed make things easier for some people – not only the juniors I’d been thinking of, but also peers and even higher-ups who’d been masking.

        I have only once disclosed on a job interview. I was considering moving to a new org but wasn’t sure how autism-friendly they’d be, and I decided that I’d rather be rejected for the job (and stay where I was) than get hired only to find out afterwards it wasn’t a supportive workplace. Happy to say, they hired me with knowledge of my autism and it’s been pretty good.

        Disclosing is probably always going to be a risk. Some people just have deeply ingrained toxic ideas about autism and other neurodivergences. But there are positives too, especially if one’s fortunate enough to be in that position of “I can afford not to get this job if they’re not okay with my autism”.

    5. sparkle emoji*

      As an autist who recently finished a job hunt, I personally never disclosed in an interview. However, I’m also able to mask well enough in an interview and was interviewing for “social” jobs. If your son is looking in a field that’s less “social” or he doesn’t feel he masks well, there is some research that disclosing can lessen the negative perception of any autistic traits vs letting people assume it’s just awkwardness. Most of the research I’ve seen was interpersonal though, not work setting, so grain of salt. I’d recommend looking for advice from either a job agency that works with autistic people(hire autism, mentra) or an autism network(AWNBN, ASAN) for specifics about the field he wants to pursue.

    6. Irish Teacher.*

      I feel it’s often possible to explain one’s needs without explaining a diagnosis. I don’t know if I have autism or sensory processing disorder or what, so I don’t have any diagnosis to explain my oddities, but I do tell people “I have sensory issues around being touched,” “I’m a very picky eater,” “I may be just a little bit obsessive about this” and so on.

      I’d also just point out that your son’s autism may be nowhere near as evident to most people as you might think. A lot of people know little or nothing about autism. A few years ago, a friend of mine, a teacher, was telling me about this student she worked with and I asked if he was autistic and she said “no, he has Asperger’s syndrome. People with autism are quiet and withdrawn whereas people with Asperger’s syndrome have behavioural problems.” I’ll admit I didn’t even try to correct her because I wasn’t sure where to start. And this was a teacher, who had at least gotten a basic introduction to autism in teacher training. I have another colleague who insisted that one of our students isn’t really autistic because she is “very self-aware” and wears nail varnish. (I have honestly no idea what they are thinking.) And our school has an autism class and on the whole, I would say the staff I work with have a relatively good understanding of autism, but…there are still one or two.

      The general population, who don’t work in education or medicine or social services or child care or similar fields, probably know significantly less.

      I’m not sure how much use that is, but just to be aware that his telling people he is autistic won’t necessarily give everybody an understanding of his needs

  7. Festively Dressed Earl*

    An update where the offending party admits they were wrong, apologizes for it, learns from their mistake, and is committed to cleaning up the beehive? Wake me up, I must be dreaming! I’m so glad this worked out, LW.

    1. Autistic Letter Writer*

      When you put it like that, it does seem amazing! Thank you, I’m very glad too.

  8. TKC*

    I’m somewhat skeptical of DEI audits and evaluations as a rule, but the fact that these two senior people are gone because the company took actual action is promising.

    I remain unimpressed with Jane’s response even with the context given, but I’m really glad there is a path forward for you and her, and hearing that she’s taken concrete steps to prevent it from happening again is great.

    Sending you the best wishes moving forward, OP. It sounds like you’re in a much better place and I’m so glad for you.

  9. Dasein9 (he/him)*

    What good news! And good leadership. LW, I’m glad you supported Jane in making better choices. DEI is often only given lip service but it sounds like your company is figuring out how to make a real difference.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Yup. I’m in a wonderfully supportive company and I agree. Cultivating this kind of approach can take time and effort to get right, and there will be setbacks along the way — this is true of any human endeavour. That does not absolve Jane of accountability, but neither does it make her unsalvageable.

  10. LoV...*

    Sometimes I read things like this and wonder why people ever talk to HR. Granted it seems like it worked out in the end, but even so.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      It worked out in this case, but in others it hasn’t, e.g. in the update today after informing HR of an old relationship.

    2. Ms. Murchison*

      We go to HR before we know better. Then we learn it was a big mistake and write in to AAM.

      Or you’re given advice by someone we trust who is ill-informed on this topic. The amount of bad advice I’ve heard from advice podcasts… smh. Case in point: Hank Green, who is very knowledgeable in a number of areas, advised on Dear Hank & John that a listener go to HR with their problem, but he has never been employed by a big corporation and thus held the mistaken belief that HR is there to help employees (rather than protect the company).

      1. Another Use of the Identify Spell*

        It can depend on context. HR should be interested in protecting the company from slam dunk discrimination lawsuits. It sounds like Jane did that, where previous HR and other leadership clearly did not. You have to judge if your interests and the company’s align in dealing with a problem. If they do (or should) it can turn out OK.

  11. Space Needlepoint*

    You showed class all the way. I’m glad Jane apologized and admitted she was wrong and it sounds like the organization has taken some good steps. I hope they follow through and make changes based on that audit.

  12. Pita Chips*

    I remember cringing when I read the original letter because I have been out about a medical condition, and then learned it was unsafe for me to do so–I was subject to harassment. I’m glad there’s a resolution here.

  13. Autistic 30 something female*

    Hey OP, I’m not sure if you’re reading comments, but can I ask how you have been navigating being autistic in the workforce? (Other commentors, feel free to jump in).

    I was recently diagnosed as autistic and am a 30 something female in a senior management adjacent position (basically one promotion away from senior management). A lot of my autism traits are things I have found ways to compensate for. For example, I describe my special interest as human behavior and am incredibly good at predicting human behavior, even with very limited information. However, I struggle lots with small talk and tend to default to mimicking other people’s behavior vs. expressing my true self, and I am working with a therapist with all this.

    I don’t think I’m yet comfortable being “out” as autistic at work given all the negative stereotypes of autism, and I am afraid of negative backlash at this point in my career. However, I also want to make space for neurodivergency in the workforce.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I’m neurodivergent and I do not feel any obligation to be “out” as such at work, given the fact that it would not lead to greater accommodations at my workplace and would likely lead to less interesting work assignments due to bad assumptions. You are making space for neurodivergency in the workforce by existing in the workforce. If you want to do more, keep learning about your and other types of neurodivergence (there are lots), encourage that learning to be a part of the DEIA efforts your workplace, and advocate for your staff to get the accommodations they might need to be most successful. You don’t actually have to be out to do any of those things. You can be, if that’s comfortable for you. But it’s not a requirement if the goal is making your workplace more welcoming.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      As somebody who does not know whether or not I am autistic, but who certainly has traits, I’ve found that simply speaking in terms of traits works quite well for me. I am a learning support teacher who works in a school with an ASD class (and who is often given a lot of the autistic students to work with as I get on very well with them), so I work with a lot of people who have an understanding of neurodiversity and I suspect a couple of my colleagues (and possibly a couple of my students too) have their suspicions that I may not be entirely neurotypical, so that helps.

      I have mentioned to colleagues that I am not very good at small talk and reassured them that I do usually know when they are joking; I just don’t know how to respond and explained that I dislike crowded places. My colleagues are pretty awesome about it all. They get quite protective of me when we have staff parties because they seem to have realised I find situations like that a bit confusing.

      But in general, I think it’s often easier (and can even be more helpful) to say stuff like “I find small talk difficult” rather than giving the diagnosis.

    3. Autistic Letter Writer*

      Hey! I wasn’t ‘out’ for a long time, till my mid-thirties. I first told someone because I was apparently making one of my direct reports really anxious. She always thought she was doing something wrong because of my face and lack of reaction while she told me things (this is just my processing face!). So I ended up telling her because I wanted to reassure her, and then ended up telling other people I managed, and eventually my own manager/HR, but I was in senior management by then.

      Getting more senior has really helped because I have a lot more control over my environment and working patterns. I can just make a lot of adjustments for myself without needing someone to approve them. So hopefully that is something you will find too.

      So I think I would say that you don’t have to tell anyone if you’re not comfortable, but be aware that if you manage people (and maybe this wouldn’t be an issue for you with your special interest!) and you have power over them, be aware that they could be interpreting you in a way you don’t mean – this was something that really upset me when I realised.

    4. Diagnosed at 29*

      It’s been a few years since I was diagnosed now, and in a fit of enthusiasm I disclosed to HR and my manager. I’d been at the company for a few years and earned a good reputation already, and the company has a great track record for supporting other disabilities, so it’s been a non-thing.

      Depending on how recent it is for you, it may be a bit early to be thinking about how to impact the workplace. Like other newly-discovered identities there’s the risk of being over-zealous before you’ve settled into your new understanding of yourself, and given the ease with which many autistic people can burn out “without warning” (thanks to alexithymia and poor interoception) starting with activism right off the bat feels like a recipe for a bad time.

    5. GythaOgden*

      Autistic person in the workplace here — approaching 45. I’m finding that people are increasingly aware of autism around me in other parts of their lives and what has benefited me is being on a team of people who have grown up with the concepts of neurodivergence embedded in their upbringing, and who are bringing kids into the world who are also neurodivergent. It’s a big shift towards support and empowerment and seeing it as just something else about an individual person rather than the sum total of their identity. (And yeah, I agree, we can be good at predicting human behaviour; I studied politics/international law at uni and participated afterwards and it’s uncanny how I could anticipate things before they happened. And, truth be told, a bit scary. I stopped writing fiction when my ideas started mirroring real life geopolitical specifics a little too much. Like, plague and Russian sabre-rattling kind of predictive.)

      Basically, just keep on being a good colleague and a supportive person. Respect work needs and see the workplace as a collective. Easier said than done, and it’s tempting to be of the dog-eat-dog, everyone for themselves rat race, but it’s important to maintain your own integrity if you want standing to hold others accountable.

      Kinship matters to me as well — because I’ve been open about things, I find I’m trusted with other people being forthcoming about their issues and being able to help them in return for what I get from them.

      Remember that you’re not going to be the only one with issues or struggles — it took me longer than you might expect to know that I wasn’t the only one with issues in an otherwise perfect world (and that made me feel less alone than I had before). Do as you would be done by; I’ve had a lot of support from other people and I’ve trained myself to be a supportive, safe person for others to come to. You don’t have to declare your own issues to be there for a colleague with anxiety or who is having a bad day; mental health awareness campaigns in the workplace IME emphasise people engaging with others over social activities in order for people to pick up cues to people’s moods and emotions and get to know them on a more fundamentally human level. My boss does camera on meetings because she can pick up from people’s faces if anyone is struggling, and she models looking after her own mental health, taking leave when necessary, and tells us that she can support us if through other personal issues. It’s happened with me before and it was lovely to know that she /cared/ (and could let me sit out a meeting in order to sort the situation out), even if she couldn’t do much to directly assist. One of my colleagues who is on the spectrum has difficulty masking and so cameras on mean she can support him when she can see he’s not in a good place.

      Basically, what goes around comes around. Be a gentle person who shows they have time for others and the ability to listen as well as be heard. Know that even the big guy in the suit in the head office has their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. For example, one of the managers I support got stuck in the interest rate trap with her mortgage that has conversely benefitted me with my husband’s legacy, and suddenly had to get used to being short of money at the end of the month and having to ask her adult children for help. Beyond the sharp dress and the nice car she was struggling financially and missing meals. I offered her help just as a fellow human who lucked out on the money front; she declined (payday was only a week or so ago), but I was prepared to go into a shop and get her basic groceries. It was offered as a friend having something she didn’t have, the same way my mum sent a small stipend to a fellow teacher she knows in Uganda who was caught during the pandemic without a safety net and becoming ill from a lack of a good diet, or how on Christmas Day last year, while dropping me off at my husband’s aunt for dinner, she saw a guy in the otherwise deserted street looking anxious and talking into a phone and asked if he needed a lift anywhere. (She’s totally done that before. We got a free tour guide and recommendations on how to save money off the tourist trail when on holiday once because she offered a random guy a lift between towns. I suspect trust breeds trust; later in that trip she got bitten by a large dog because she got too close to someone who wasn’t all that trustworthy — she didn’t just trust any old person, but being proactive about helping out when needed paid for itself in what we saved by finding road motels and seeing more of the actual country that were in with s local context rather than just hopping from place to place. I definitely know all too well that some people can abuse your trust — someone swindled me back in March and I only got the money back because of laws mandating banks to help victims of fraud out — I’m not stupid, but quite often to do some good in the world you have to take some calculated risks.) It’s not Lady Muck stooping to help out the peasants; it’s a fellow human who has trying to help out someone who hasn’t.

      Also try not to make any one person the embodiment of your anger. No-one is at fault for just being who they are; none of us chose our bodies and none of us can change them. What we can change is our attitudes, actions and approaches and seeing each other as individual human beings with talents and weaknesses helps put actions into context and discern who’s trying but failing and who is simply /not trying at all/. The trap social justice falls into is often making heroes and villains out of messy, ambivalent/equivocal situations and unnecessarily pursuing the sort of over-aggressive justice that leaves everyone worse off in the end. (As they say, an eye for an eye and we’re all blind.)

      It’s hard, but being a good person and a responsible colleague is just generally good all round. Be the change you want to see; be the responsible one and the forbearing one and in the long run you will have a bit more grounding to ask for help when you need it.

      Best of luck and I’m rooting for you. Above all else, take care of yourself. I’m sending you all the best vibes in the world and all the solidarity a virtual fist-bump can bring.

    6. Nightengale*

      I’m in a strange position because I’m an autistic doctor who mostly takes care of autistic patients. I’m not openly autistic at work although I am sure some people know. I have other disabilities/neurodivergences and generally describe myself as disabled and neurodivergent without giving specific diagnoses. This is partly due to autism stigma and partly due to my belief that cross-disability advocacy is overall the better way to go. Oh and my field, of supposed autism experts, is pretty hostile towards autistic people.

      Ways I try to improve things for other neurodivergent people without disclosing: In my workplace (aimed at both patient experience and supporting other workers)
      –speaking up about initiatives that tell us how important eye contact is
      –trying to make everything available by text portal rather than requiring phone calls
      –not requiring intake paperwork (many doctors do in my field and this places a burden on neurodivergent parents as well as people with less educational or language privelege
      –consistently asking for text transcripts and captions for recorded things
      –consistently quoting autistic over non-disabled experts
      — explaining why many people prefer “identity-first” language
      — speaking out against ABA

      Ways I am trying to improve things for other neurodivergent people without disclosing, in my professional society
      — all the above things
      — pushing for a reminder to conference speakers that there may be participants with the conditions we are describing
      — education on disability culture, neurodiversity rights
      — bringing fidgets to conferences to share

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        As a teacher who may or may not be autistic, I very much agree with this and have done a number of the same things (including getting in an argument with those developing the curriculum for a national course for older students with intellectual disabilities because they had making eye contact as one of the goals; I don’t think I got through to them).

        I have also used myself as an example with students without divulging anything. Like this one time a student asked why two other students who probably have ADHD were using fidgets in class and I simply held out the marker I was fidgeting with and told him, “I know you don’t but some of us need something in our hands to help us concentrate.” The teacher of our autism class has also occasionally used me as an example. I don’t know if she suspects me to be austistic or not (I’d guess she might and I sort of implied it to her in passing) but she will sometimes tell one of her students that I am also a very picky eater or share one of their special interests.

        1. Nightengale*

          oh yeah I tell people all sorts of things

          I have a book called “Ask and Tell” edited by Stephen Shore about self-advocacy and disclosure. He calls this “partial disclosure” where you might mention a particular trait or need without a whole diagnosis. This may not work for formal workplace accommodations but actually works well for a lot of things. Like “please turn the music down because I’m sensitive to loud noise” without adding “BECAUSE I’m autistic.”

          How that tends to look in my exam room is the parent will say something about the kid, expecting me to empathize with the parent, and instead I identify with the kid. About handwriting expectations or hating to go on vacation or etc.

    7. broccolini*

      Heyo, late-diagnosed autistic person here. I had to step away from my job for health reasons recently, but I was not out as autistic at work at all. Like you, I always framed my traits in terms of strengths and weaknesses which seemed to work okay. I did quite a lot of research into potentially unmasking (and maybe coming out) at work, and I still remember watching a webinar that featured a panel of autistic professionals talking about their experiences. I’ll link it in a separate comment, in case it helps:-)

    8. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Things I’ve admitted to having in the workplace: Major Depressive Disorder, phobias and PTSD.

      Things I’ll never be open at work about: the schizophrenia, OCD and autism. It’s a choice I’ve made to balance what I need versus what’s going to change other people’s opinions of me. Sadly that knowledge only comes by bad experience.

      Both me and my husband are autistic but he’s different to me and at a different firm so with him they actually are okay with him asking to have quiet space and lowered lights etc.

  14. Ms. Norbury*

    What a great update! I’m happy it all worked out well, OP!

    I don’t disagree with the commenter who said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I always find that updates that show the AH in the original situation actually listening, learning and changing their behavior to be particularly heartwarming. Not only because that usually works in the OP’s favor, but also because it means the world just became a tiny little less crappy, and helps me remember that people can and often choose to grow and do better.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Agreed. There’s a difference between trying and failing and not trying at all. Intent is not magic (if you tread on my toe by accident or in the course of foolishness it hurts as much as if you did it deliberately), but it can be used as a way of handling the aftermath of a situation and being able to show mercy to someone who is repentant and does seek to change (if you trod on my toes accidentally, I’m more likely to be forgiving if you apologise and take steps not to do it again than if next time you bring your football cleats because you enjoy stomping on other people’s toes).

  15. Michelle Smith*

    Thanks for the update and the reminder that people can and sometimes do change for the better. While I certainly want people to be held accountable for their bad actions, it sounds like she was – she apologized and has changed her behavior. Good.

  16. Mimmy*

    So glad everything worked out and that your company is taking actual steps to improve inclusion overall. I wish more workplaces were like this and not just paying lip service.

  17. Polly Flinders*

    I hope this went as well as the LW thinks it did.

    Here’s the thing. As a fellow autist… I’ve had this happen more than once.
    1. Someone does something they should know better than to do
    2. Consequences to me become untenable
    3. I explain to them, very nicely, “hey, perhaps you didn’t know that that thing you did has [fill in the blank]-ist consequences, and here are the company guidelines about it”
    4. They go, “Oh dear! I have indeed erred!”
    5. They appear to promise not to do the thing, though on closer examination they have written “lol jk I’m totally going to keep doing it” in invisible ink right after it
    5. They build a case for doing the thing x 10 (may require removing me from the company)
    6. They do the thing x 10
    7. I suffer consequences x 10, or constructive dismissal, or both

    Why do I think this could be the case? Because it isn’t just that it’s bad advice to tell LW to out herself, it’s the motivation for doing so which LW themselves spelled out: other people have gotten harassed for being neurodivergent, and if LW outed themselves, then… that would help who, and how? Would it help the people who were getting harassed, knowing that they had an ally who agrees that they should have outed themselves sooner because of the moral support of knowing that even people at the top have to put up with ableism…? Or something? Or would it help the company because they’d be able to say, look, we’re not ableist, some of our senior staff are neurodiverse!

    I think it’s the latter. It’s bad logic, but it’s also a thing people do, it has a name: tokenism. The former just doesn’t really make sense in any terms.

    However, there are reasons for hope, that I can see. The fact that two individual troublemakers that LW mentions have been forced out, together with the suggestion by the interim CEO that a mediator explain it to Jane, gives me hope that the company as a whole may seriously be trying to change and that Jane doesn’t represent the company’s actual values. If that’s true, then Jane may toe the line whether she’s sincere or not.

    Anyway, I really hope that all this is as LW describes it and that the situation can be taken at face value: person speaks out of ignorance and bad habits rather than malice, person takes correction, person apologizes and tries not to do it again.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      I think the fact that LW is senior management may help them here. It seems like they are more valuable to the company than Jane is and it is unlikely Jane would have the power to ensure constructive dismissal here, even if she wanted to.

    2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      Jane may simply have been banking on the idea that LW’s social capital at the company would make the problematic managers hesitant to cross or anger LW, in a way that they weren’t hesitant to cross or anger people with a lower status in the hierarchy, and thus curb their behavior across the board. This was a bad solution, for privacy reasons and because LW’s social capital isn’t Jane’s to spend, and a better one was to get rid of the problematic managers. But it wasn’t necessarily cynical in the way you’re suggesting.

Comments are closed.