Did you know that as little as 15% of Autistic folk are gainfully employed, and remain gainfully employed? … I’m one of those 15% but I also absolutely recognise that a big factor in my remaining “gainfully employed” has a lot to do with my decision to become self-employed almost nine years ago.


For as long as I’ve been self-employed, I’ve recognised that the privilege of self-employment has absolutely played the biggest role in my sitting within that 15% statistic of “gainfully employed Autistic person”.


And then 2023 happened. And I was discriminated, within my own workplace, and the discrimination in question very much so paired back to the fact that I was an Autistic CEO [and not an allistic one].


Long story short? I know what happened to Autistic-CEO-me … wouldn’t have happened to an allistic CEO, elsewhere. I’ll spare the details, because what happened to me this year isn’t for this here blog [or any online publication, really], but what I can say is that it’s put a fire in my belly to represent Autistic leadership well. And advocate for Autistic adults in workplaces, everywhere.


Unpacking the narrative


You see, there’s a narrative out there, one that paints a pretty grim picture of neurodivergence within the workplace. It’s all about deficits, struggles, and challenges. 


And all o’ that is real, I’m not here to romanticise disability: the struggles and challenges are real.  But so too are the advantages … and I think they deserve to be spoken about more.


A different lens for business


Autistic individuals are often renowned for their ability to immerse themselves in details, and I’m not exempt from that. Sometimes it’s my Autistic monotropism, and other times it’s just straight up hyperfocus.


Whether it’s the monotropism or the hyperfocus, this propensity for deep focus enables me, an Autistic CEO here in TDP-land, to excel at analysing complex data, recognising trends before they become apparent to others [we recently generated 90k for our business, thanks to my having recognised a trend before it became apparent to others], and making decisions grounded in detailed understanding. 


In the ever-changing business world, these skills drive success and resilience.


Stability amidst the storm


Wanna know who I’d wanna ride a 2023 economic downturn with? … an Autistic CEO, cos’ “stability amidst the storm”.


Autism really is a spectrum, and I never want to generalise on something that really is such a spectrum [filled with a mixed tapestry of entirely differently wired brains], but Autistic folk do tend to appreciate consistency and predictability. 


My experience as CEO here at TDP has been that this has translated into dependability and steady leadership throughout COVID, and now: an economic downturn. When our digital marketing agency woke up to a client portfolio loss of 76% in the first few weeks of COVID and its associated impacts? I dropped my salary to $0, which saved 1-2 roles from being made redundant, effective immediately.  It was hard.  So hard.  But I’d do it 1,000 times over to achieve the same results that I did back then.


I know that my team can trust this here Autistic CEO to maintain a coherent vision and steady course, a quality that brings stability in the often turbulent small business environment.


Pioneers of innovation


From as early as I can remember? I knew I viewed this world so differently to my peers [I call it “4D thinking”].  Or in other words, I see x200 shades of green to another’s x1 shade of green [a.k.a “life in 4D”].


Autistic individuals perceive the world through a unique lens, leading to innovative problem-solving skills. This ability to ‘think differently’ is a crucial asset in the business world, where disruption and innovation are key to staying ahead. 


I absolutely know the role I play as an Autistic CEO here drives innovation, and it’s contagious and ripples out everywhere, thereby providing our company with a distinct competitive advantage.


The authenticity advantage


Then there’s the authenticity. My journey with Autism has taught me to embrace who I am, quirks and all. And that honesty, that genuine authenticity, translates to how we operate here at The Digital Picnic. 


No facades, no pretenses … just real, raw, authentic social media marketing.


TL;DR? I don’t know how to be anything other than honest.  And I’ve seen the positive impacts my preference for radical transparency has had on my business and my beloved team, but this is especially true this year: 2023.


Champions of diversity and inclusion


Being Autistic also brings a unique perspective to leadership. For me, that has meant hyper levels of empathy, understanding, as well as a radical acceptance of difference. Because I’ve been there, daily, in the shoes of the misunderstood, and the underestimated. And all o’ that has made me more attuned to the needs of our team, and it’s undoubtedly contributed to teaching me the true power of an inclusive, accepting workplace.


Cherie’s final words


Autism is not a hindrance; it’s an integral part of who I am and a major contributor to my success as a CEO. By embracing neurodivergency in the workplace – and neurodiversity in the workplace – we can challenge preconceived notions and truly appreciate the unique strengths and abilities that come with what I often consider to be my Autistic advantage via my work as a disabled leader within my own workplace … as well as the positive ripple effects my disabled leadership has on workplaces elsewhere.