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Creating a more inclusive workplace

To mark this year’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week, Melissa Henderson, who recently qualified as a solicitor at Muckle LLP, shares her experiences of working as a neurodivergent lawyer at the leading North East law firm.

Can you tell us a little about your neurodiversity?

I was first diagnosed with ADHD and autism while working at my previous job, around four or five years ago. I remember finding it really difficult to manage my workload, and I would get distracted easily. It was my partner, who works with children and adults with disabilities, who spotted the signs and encouraged me to get my diagnosis. The whole process took around a year.

What sort of barriers have you had to face?

I’ve had to adapt to certain ways of working, and I’ve come to realise making small changes can allow me to still work to the best of my ability. In a previous role, I was becoming stressed and struggling to manage my workload. I often found I would become extremely burned out following periods of extreme busyness – this was often more debilitating than regular burnout, as I would suffer from autistic burnout. Autistic burnout is unique to autistic individuals, as it’s brought on by stressful periods and from masking autistic traits, which is something I would automatically do at work. Recovering from autistic burnout takes longer – in some cases, months or even years. I’ve learnt a lot about myself since experiencing this, the most important of which is not to mask my autistic traits.

How have you adapted to working life since your diagnosis?

The biggest impact is learning it’s okay to ask for support or help when facing challenges. I’m gentler on myself in tough situations, and instead of assuming I can’t do something, I’ve acknowledged some tasks might be more challenging for me – and that’s okay. Although I’ve been open to exploring different ways of working in certain aspects of my job, I’m also aware of the importance of meeting certain expectations and targets within my role. The most important thing that has helped me has been learning to find a healthy balance between the two. This way, the work still gets done, and I still get the support I need.

What advice would you give to SMEs trying to be more inclusive?

The most important thing a business can do is carry out training courses to gain a basic understanding of neurodiversity. There can be a lot of misconceptions around the term; many people think it’s either a learning disability or mental illness – that’s not the case. It’s a neurological difference in the brain. There can be a lot of different branches, meaning not every single person needs the same type of support. Just like neurotypical individuals, no two neurodivergent people are the same. We should learn to celebrate our differences and champion our unique personalities and skills. I think many employers might be a bit wary, and believe they will have to make costly adjustments when hiring someone who is neurodivergent. But these accommodations can often be as minor as allowing someone to wear headphones to help with concentration, or allowing them to work from home.

How has Muckle LLP supported you?

It has been incredibly supportive from day one. Ever since my first interview, when I spoke about my involvement with the Neurodiverse Lawyer Project, my colleagues have been very accommodating and have allowed me to continue working on an issue I’m so passionate about. Having regular check-ins with my colleagues and management helps keep me focused on my work. Having the flexibility to work from home on certain days, and allocating thinking time before and after meetings, also helps. Although these adjustments may seem minor, I appreciate Muckle’s respect and mindfulness towards my needs.


A comfortable working environment

In December 2023, Muckle LLP was the first law firm in the North East to receive B Corporation® (B Corp™) status.

This groundbreaking achievement reflects Muckle LLP’s unwavering commitment to its ESG strategy and continuous improvement, leading the charge in ethical and sustainable business practices within the legal industry in the region.

Jason Wainwright, managing partner, says: “We pride ourselves in creating a working environment that’s effective and comfortable for everyone – an environment where each individual can fulfil their potential.

“Providing comfortable workspaces that are quiet, creating breakout rooms and allowing work-from-home days are some of the small adjustments we’ve put in place that have helped support Melissa, and which benefit all our people too.

“These are just small adjustments, but they make a huge difference and are definitely something other businesses should consider to be more inclusive.

“As a people-centred law firm passionate about inclusivity and diversity, encouraging and supporting people to be themselves is crucial.

“Attracting and retaining top talent within the profession is a priority, and embracing diversity and celebrating individuality is the foundation for getting this right.”


May 9, 2024

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