January 24, 2024
Neurodivergence in tradespeople is slowly entering the spotlight, with one landmark study finding that 52% of tradespeople identify as neurodivergent. The term “neurodivergence” is polarising. For some, it is a label that is liberally applied to everyone. For others, it is an explanation for years of sensory overwhelm, isolation, and masking.
Women are the minority in the trade industry, making the neurodivergent experience all the more isolating. But despite the barriers, many neurodivergent women enjoy successful careers, albeit with appropriate accommodations.
Hollie is a self-employed heating engineer who works all over Kent. She received her ADHD diagnosis two years ago at the age of 33. In this interview, we look through a retrospective lens to talk about some of the more common traits of ADHD, including rebelliousness, independence, and socialising.
I was diagnosed with combined-type ADHD at the age of 33, and I’m 35 now, so I’ve only known for two years. I’ve also got some traits of autism, but I’ve not been diagnosed. I also have Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), so I’m not very good with hearing. That’s it for neurodiversity!
One side-effect of ADHD is rebelliousness. I’m a good girl, I’ve always been a good girl, and I try to do everything by the books. But at the same time, I don’t like being told what to do. I’ve got a bit of a, “Go away, I won’t do what you tell me to do” attitude.
In retrospect, I can see that I found it hard to be a team player in work settings. But at the time, I didn’t know I had ADHD. Perhaps I would have had a different experience if I’d known sooner.
I knew I didn’t want a boss because I didn’t like being told what to do. I wanted to be on my own because I’m not very good at team playing, and I wanted to create my own schedule because mornings are terrible for me.
When this career choice came up I thought, “Wow, that’s a bit different, not many women do that.” I had tried everything else in careers, so I thought I’d try it. At least I’d be up and outside and moving. Most importantly, I wouldn’t be stuck in an office all the time.
Right now, my job gives me the novelty that I need. Just having that little relationship with a customer every year is so much more rewarding than trying to be with the same person or team of people day in and day out. I do struggle with fitting in within places like that.
Of course it does, it’s part of my personality and it’s part of who I am.
The positives are that I’m very good at diagnosing problems. I’m very patient with problems because I like to get to the bottom of things. It’s a good challenge. It’s nice to be needed as well.
I also think my sparkling personality keeps customers coming back. I’m not boring, put it that way.
But neurodiversity also has a negative impact on my day-to-day work. I get overwhelmed very easily, especially if the phone is ringing. Sometimes, I don’t get back to people as quickly as they might like.
I’ve had to make things up as I go along.
My accommodations are going to look slightly different from someone who is employed. It sounds funny, but I make the business pay for Audible so I can keep entertained while driving. I travel across the whole of Kent, so I do a lot of travelling.
I’ve also gone from being paper-based to digital-based. I store all the invoicing, oil boiler certificates, and servicing stuff on an app now. This accommodation is important to me because it streamlines the frustrating things.
The most important accommodation is the support of my partner. My partner joined my business as a Director two years ago, when I was completely overwhelmed with work and I didn’t know what to do.
My partner takes a lot of the emotional strain for me. When I can’t decide who to see first and how to organise my day, he steps in. He also has access to my emails, which I find quite overwhelming.
It’s important to have someone there to spread the emotional burden of running a business. When I get too overwhelmed I shut down, which isn’t good for business.
I’m very privileged to have my partner. For other people, that might look like a friend or a relative.
Just more awareness! The fact that I’m a woman in this industry is like me being a unicorn anyway. A woman with a neurodivergence… my God, I feel like I’m asking too much in terms of awareness!
Awareness is very important. People who have ADHD can get overwhelmed and might not reply as quickly as customers like. This can lead to people thinking we don’t care, or don’t take our jobs that seriously. We do care, we care very deeply.
Do it! There are a lot of aspects of this job that cater to our neurodivergent traits, especially for people with ADHD.
I can only really talk about people with ADHD. Most of us need to be outside and working with our hands all the time rather than sitting down in an office. The trades are great because you are learning something every day.
The only thing I recommend is to be kind to yourself, know your limits, and know that you can’t please everyone. ADHDers try to stretch themselves too thin and take on too much. It’s good to be aware of what you can and can’t do. Don’t be afraid to say to someone, “No I can’t do that. No, I need support because of X, Y, and Z. Do you mind helping me with this?”
The trade industry has been so samey for years. A fresh pair of eyes and a different perspective can really make a difference. Neurodivergent people can bridge that gap. We see things differently and do things differently than someone who is neurotypical.
Ultimately, I think that the trade industry can only be a good thing for neurodivergent people
We also interviewed Rosie, a painter and decorator who has ADHD.
While the world moves on from the assumption that everyone is a white, straight male, the trades remain firmly male-coded. When you book a tradesperson, who do you expect to see at your front door?
Rosie talks about her ADHD diagnosis, her love of problem-solving, and the lack of business support for independent tradespeople.
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