Career Women And ADHD: Does It Help Or Hinder Them?

“All human evil comes from a single cause, man’s inability to sit still in a room.”

Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher said this. Considering he died in 1662 he probably hadn’t heard the term Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but he obviously had some strong opinions on people who can’t sit still.

Though we mostly think of ADD and ADHD only being prevalent in young children, it is actually a disease that adults face too. According to one Harvard study, roughly 4.4% of adults have ADHD — and about 40% of those people are women. “Girls with ADHD remain an enigma–often overlooked, misunderstood and hotly debated,” said Ellen Littman, one of the first psychologists and researchers to focus on gender differences in ADHD and to advocate for a re examination of how the disorder is defined. Girls who have been overlooked for ADHD or ADD or misdiagnosed often carry it into adulthood.

Some of the daily demands that can be affected by ADHD and ADD include tedious and repetitive tasks, trouble with planning and organization. Procrastination is common as well as impulsivity and the tendency to interrupt others. All of those are things that could negatively impact a job.

But some women we talked to said their ADD made them better at their jobs just not in very traditional and typical ways. As David Neelman, CEO and Founder of JetBlue, has said, “If someone told me you could be normal or you could continue to have your ADD, I would take ADD,” says Neeleman, who foregoes medication to manage the condition. “I’m afraid of taking drugs once, blowing a circuit, and then being like the rest of you.”

One woman, who chose to remain anonymous, that works with a notable non-profit said:

“It has definitely helped me in my career in a lot of ways because I see things differently and work at a different speed than most people. On the other hand I do have to work a little bit harder at conveying my ideas clearly. I can come off as confusing but because I was diagnosed when I was younger, I have gotten very used to doing that. The fact that I get to do a lot of field work is also really good for me because I am on the ground really seeing things which helps my thought process.”

Jennifer Bement, a Public Relations Specialist for Southeastern Guide Dogs, said:

“I have found ways of dealing with the symptoms that allows me to be far more productive than I normally would, such as being sufficiently caffeinated, listening to music or dividing my tasks into smaller pieces so that I can move back and forth between them. I embrace my ADD!”

Bement added that her tendency to listen in on other people’s conversation, which is normally a big distraction,  actually ended up being a great career plus as she got the story she heard placed in U.S. News and World Report.

But what about the stigma these women face when a co-worker or a manager finds out they have ADD? Children with ADD/ADHD are often shunned by other kids in school and this type of stigmatization also follows people with ADD/ADHD into the workforce. “Many people with adult ADHD don’t reveal their problem at work out of fear that their employers will think of them as damaged. It’s as though they’re living in the closet,” said Dr. Blythe Grossberg, author of Making ADD Work. “And so, they can’t get the help they need to make big contributions.”

One female lawyer with ADHD, who chose to remain anonymous said:

“I definitely do experience some not resentment but maybe disbelief from co-workers that think this is a child’s disease you are supposed to grow out of. I do get some eye rolling when I take my medication or make reference to it. But at the end of the day I know that I am doing a good job and that is because I am doing what I need to do to deal with this.”

Though people do like to joke that are society conditions people to have ADD and ADHD with our constant influx of stimuli, it is a legitimate thing that working women are dealing with everyday. It does present challenges but it seems that if this women get the help they need either through medication and/or therapy to help manage structureor even just learn to work with their condition, they can excel.

“My learning disability gave me certain advantages, because I was able to live in the moment and capitalize on the opportunities I spotted,” said Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s. “With ADD, you’re curious. Your eyes believe what they see. Your ears believe what others say. I learned to trust my eyes. I can’t write a letter and I can’t fix a machine. My biggest advantage is that I don’t get bogged down in the details, because of my ADD. ”

Photo: DarkOne/

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