Women With ADHD Face Specific Workplace Challenges

"A lot of women are not meeting their potential"

Below is the second edition of A Plus' new series, Mind The Gap: Women, Wages, and The Workplace... We're all familiar with that statistic oft seen in headlines — on average, women who work full-time earn 80% of what their male peers do — but many professional women and entrepreneurs are still working their way to the top, despite adversity. This series, published over the course of 10 months, or 80% of the year, will dig into the nuances of equality in the workplace — and the brilliant and entrepreneurial ways women are making their mark.

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The stereotypical image of a person with ADHD is a young boy who is disruptive, can't sit still, and causes trouble. This stereotype ends up leaving girls and women at a severe disadvantage because they tend to be misdiagnosed with anxiety and/or depression. Going misdiagnosed (or undiagnosed) can lead to a lifetime of unfulfilled potential, missed opportunities, and low self-esteem. Research from the American Psychological Association has even shown that "anxiety and depression turn into low self-esteem and self-loathing, and the risk for self-harm and suicide attempts is four-to-five times that of girls without ADHD."

In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, you need to present with 9 out of 18 symptoms. Half are symptoms of hyperactivity, and the other half are symptoms of inattentiveness. Women and girls are more likely to present with inattentive ADHD and be labeled as a daydreamer, forgetful, lazy, spacey, selfish, and even stupid. And the outcomes for girls are drastically different than for boys, and not in a good way.

"A lot of women are not reaching their potential, they have a hard time, many of them getting through college, because if they're not diagnosed, and therefore not treated, they are going to have a terrible time focusing in class, getting their work done, listening, being organized enough to even study for exams and write papers," Terry Matlen, a psychotherapist, and author of Queen of Distraction told A Plus. "What happens is these very bright women often don't finish college or they go down a track that may not be that appealing to them, but they have such a lack of self-confidence that they don't reach for their dreams. And they lose out on that potential."

People with ADHD are more likely to lose jobs, switch jobs frequently, be consistently late, and even lose days (meaning they are physically absent, or they can't be physically and/or emotionally engaged), costing the U.S. economy around $77 billion dollars annually. If you are a woman with ADHD and undiagnosed, the gender wage gap may be that much wider due to the fact that you struggle with the neurobiological disorder that is often times left undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for decades. 

"I think we have a lost generation of women who are diagnosed with ADHD later in life, who have had to manage the condition on their own and deal with it on their own for the majority of their lives," Michelle Frank, a clinical psychologist, and ADHD expert told Quartz.

Women with undiagnosed ADHD often feel overwhelmed with life and feel out of control, are unable to keep organized or the house clean, suffer from "imposter syndrome," and can't understand how other people seem to lead consistent, regular lives.

So, what do you do if you are a woman who may have ADHD? The first and most obvious answer is to get help. Consider getting an evaluation from a doctor.

 "So, I would say one piece of appropriate treatment for a woman with ADHD would be going for counseling," Matlen told A Plus. "By the time a woman goes in for an evaluation she's had anywhere from 18, 20, 30... I [even] work with women who are 80-years-old, and if you think about all those years of undiagnosed, untreated ADHD we tend to see women who are also struggling with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem because they didn't know why they were having so much trouble. So they're bringing with them, into an evaluation, years and years of hearing things like: 'Well, what's wrong with you?', 'You are just lazy', 'You're incapable', 'You're not very bright'. And those words stay with a woman forever."

Consider getting an ADHD coach and talk to your doctor about where medications would be helpful. "I would say, for the majority of women medications help. And it could mean also needing an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication along with the ADD medication. Because again, if you've lived a whole life feeling like you're worthless, or you're incapable, you might be dealing with depression and anxiety." Matlin told A Plus. 

"It's important to find somebody, a coach, who does have a background in working with ADD clients," she continued. "It's very very important because their issues are very different than someone else who is just searching, for let's say, a life coach… So that coach could help the person with coming up with coping skills. So, for instance, one that I use for my clients… who are continually late for work, is we break down their morning routine, really like within five-minute increments or fifteen-minute increments, and we write it all down, and we tape it on their bathroom mirror."

And the last thing is to know that you are not alone. Millions of women, all over the world, struggle with ADHD. There are support groups and resources that you can tap into. CHADD is a worldwide nonprofit that gives parents of children with ADHD and adults with ADHD local and online resources. There are Facebook groups like Moms With ADHD, that you can tap into. And if you're honest with your friends about your struggles, you might be surprised at who steps up to help.

Cover image via KREUS  | Shutterstock

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