A blog from our friends at Facebook
“I have dyslexia and autism. It’s something that’s not obvious to others, but it’s significantly important,” shares Andrew S., a manager on the Workplace team at Facebook. “Growing up, I was defined by certain stereotypes that come along with this, like being a bad kid or a bad student. Usually, the pace at which I can consume material is different; I can’t yet contribute to the conversation because I’m still consuming information. These are things people can’t see, but there are impactful and differing behaviors associated with being neurodiverse.”
Andrew joined Facebook at the start of 2020, hopeful for an opportunity to build at scale. What he found was a company that moves quickly, is radically transparent, and is a place where he’s able to bring his authentic self to work.
“For the first three decades of my life, I knew I was different,” Andrew recalls. “I often didn’t fit in, I was challenged by things that were routine for others, and honestly just really struggled to meet the expectations of a neurotypical world.
Then, one of my Facebook colleagues who is also autistic helped me understand that this has more to say about the constraints of the world than it does about me as an autistic person. We all need the support of others to thrive in life—this is true for autistic people too and we all need to realize that we don’t always have to be the ones changing or adapting, it can be omnidirectional.”
Andrew enjoying a coffee to decompress between meetings while working remotely.
Bringing people together to help effect change
Soon after joining Facebook, Andrew discovered the Differently Abled@ Facebook Resource Group, a community for anyone who self-identifies as having a long-term health condition, physical disability, or mental health condition; as being neurodivergent; or as an ally to these groups of people. And for the first time, he felt like he was in a safe space to share his personal story.“
When I joined, I had no idea the Differently Abled@ group existed. Prior to Facebook, I never talked about my personal experiences at work. I feel safe here,” Andrew said as he smiled. “Here you can be open and say ‘this is really challenging’ and there will be others who are going through the same thing and can lend support. There are no walls and it’s very vulnerable.”
Kara M., Head of Global Marketing, Travel & eCommerce, has had dyslexia her whole life. But it wasn’t until she took an assessment as an adult that she discovered she also had an issue with numbers. “Throughout my career, when reviewing my written work, people would highlight words that were misspelled or sentence structure without correcting it,” she explains. “This gave me a recurring story that I wasn’t good at my job or that people thought I was stupid. It’s hard to explain to people what you need when you have always created hacks to make life work for how you see it.”
In 2020, the Differently Abled@ group held a speaking event. Afterward, Kara decided to join the board in London. “After talking to a team member who was also dyslexic to learn more about neurodivergence, I wanted to do more to help others who were struggling with the same challenges,” she added.
Kara has taken a variety of approaches to bringing more awareness and supporting others with disabilities. “I helped come up with a three-part plan that involved rethinking our approach to hiring, offering support to interviewers and interviewees who are differently abled, and finally, providing support to those who choose to join the company. This final pillar included building out a pilot program with adult assessment tools and stronger HR support for people with disabilities.”
Pilar has found positive affirmations, which she displays as art on her wardrobe, to be a source of inspiration.
Making space for people to bring their authentic self to work
Pilar A. started her Facebook journey as a contractor during a period of her life she wasn’t feeling well—a time she describes as gray. The care she felt from team members at Facebook inspired her to join the company full time.“
I was surprised to find that I could bring my whole self to work. I’m really outspoken about feminism and mental health,” Pilar explained. “I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and I am really open about that, too. I was used to working at more traditional companies where if I would start crying or have a breakdown, it would influence the possibility of me taking on a leadership role. At Facebook, I’m never discriminated against because I’m facing mental health issues. People listen to me here.”
Now an operations specialist on the Global Operations team, Pilar joined Differently Abled@ to bring more awareness of mental health issues to others. She emotes a great deal of passion when talking about being an advocate for mental health.
“I started to create different events to bring people together. Every month I post about what it’s like to work with BPD in order to help normalize it. For people with mental health issues, it feels bad when you are triggered by things and people don’t understand,” Pilar recognized with deep care in her voice. “For women, it plays into the stereotype of women being weaker. So I have become an ambassador for mental health because I think it’s important for people to know I can be really good at my job while having mental health issues. You are able to be both things.”
A culture of care that embraces inclusivity
So far, the majority of Andrew’s time at Facebook has been remote. Like so many others, he has had to adapt to new ways of building an inclusive environment.
“There’s something interesting about a remote work environment. It’s challenging for some people but it’s almost more helpful for others,” he shares. “In the office, people sometimes describe me as quirky or awkward. The remote environment is like a level-setting ground for a lot of people. It’s almost more inclusive because video calls in a work from home environment close doors to bias. You don’t see a lot of the things that would otherwise be thought of as unusual, such as stimming, which often looks like repetitive movement or constant fidgeting.”
As a people manager, Andrew has gotten used to forming relationships with his team members when they’re sitting near him, but he also finds it more challenging. “I personally struggle with small talk, but, while working remotely, we’ve been far more purposeful about making and growing connections. It makes me more intentional and my conversations go much deeper. It’s a welcome change.”
Kara is also passionate about advocating for creating an inclusive workplace. “A big part of that is having leaders who advocate for their team,” she begins. “I was struggling with anxiety and depression once I realized how much my job was relying on written communication, and I knew I needed time away to process and think through solutions.”
“We had a new director join our team, and I was honest with her about why I needed to take short-term leave,” Kara continues. “She was so supportive! She checked in with me a few times to see how I was doing and to see if there was anything else Facebook could be doing, and she carved out a path for me to be a part of the pilot program that included the adult assessment for dyslexia.”“Because different peoples’ brains work in unique ways, we need to understand and harness those differences to solve complex problems,” Kara explains. “It’s a challenge we are working hard to solve. If we want to show diverse representation at Facebook, it’s critical we get this right by taking the time to understand what each person can bring to the table.”
Pilar has also experienced that level of care and support from her manager. “I once had to take short-term leave after having a breakdown and when I came back everyone was so supportive and adaptive. After this experience, I deeply felt how supportive Facebook leadership is to people who are experiencing a difficult time. They prioritize well-being rather than the impact of the work that you were going to do in that moment. Managers are spending a lot of time creating the resources people need to be successful in their roles, with mental health being a critical piece of that. A plan was created to support me on my return, and it makes me proud to know that Facebook wants to support both me and others, who may have gone through similar situations.”
“In order to build products that address the needs of all of humanity, you need all of humanity represented,” Andrew added. “Our head of diversity and inclusion always asks, ‘How are we going to build products for everyone if we don’t have representation from everyone?’ This includes autistic people. At Facebook, we’re focused on representation and building products to serve all of the people who use our products and services. That’s really important to me.”
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