Happiness for everyone: working with a disability at Automattic

Have you ever wondered whether you’d ever find a job that was the right fit? Where you’d be able to open your computer and, instead of dread, unhappiness, and a sense of being weighed down, feeling good about being there and excited about digging into your workday?

I used to suffer from those same negative feelings… After a long commute, I’d sit outside my workplace in my car, building up the energy to go in. My uniform was crinkly and had sharp edges, taking a huge percentage of mental energy already. I knew I’d have to deal with the panel lighting causing me actual pain; the corridor conversations that didn’t seem to make sense or that I’d mishandle; the barrage of questions and diversions preventing me from reaching my desk and beginning to transition into my workday. I’d try to switch on ‘work mode’ and survive until I could get somewhere silent, alone, and dark to recharge; then work to gather strength to do another few hours, negotiating with conversations and what they might mean; peering through a sensory hurricane while all the time, pushing down and away all my discomfort.

I was diagnosed autistic as an adult, and until I started work at Automattic, I’d honestly started to think I just had to spend all my working life profoundly unhappy. But here, I’ve found a job that gives me a way to participate in this world, be a useful and worthwhile contributor to my team and the company, and, above all, play a truly impactful role, helping people all around the world. That’s honestly life-changing.

Here, I work from home, in my hoodie and socks (I’ve mentioned these before!). I have the desk, chair, keyboard, lighting and sound environment exactly how I need them. I’m free to choose my own hours in advance. If I need to go to a therapy session or medical appointment, I can. If I need extra help or support to make it possible for me to travel to a meetup, I work with my HR rep to set that up. I don’t have to bargain and wrangle to make the workplace work for me, because Automattic already thinks about the workplace in terms of inclusivity

And with Automattic’s flexible approach to career development and opportunities, I’ve been able to prove myself in multiple ways that were not always available to me at prior jobs. Here, because we are 100% distributed and my physical environment is conducive to my comfort and growth, I’ve been in a position to flourish, and to demonstrate the skills and aptitudes that mean I became an onboarding specialist, a team lead, and then moved into a leadership development consultancy rotation, all within my first two years.

Automattic’s UK entity made this commitment to being an inclusive workplace ‘official’ recently when we became Disability Confident Committed. This means that we’ve made certain promises both to our current colleagues and to future hires, that we will continue to work on our own culture and policies to make sure our workplace is diverse and inclusive of people with disabilities. We’ve done lots of work here already, one of which is forming Resource Groups including Neurodiverseomattic and the Physical Disability ARG, which provide support, advocacy, and resources, both within Automattic and in the wider community. One example of this work is our post, How to Be a Neurodiversity Ally. We’ve also recently been certified as a Most Loved Workplace

As we continue along our journey with DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging), we’re also striving to increase the visibility of underrepresented groups, champion inclusion worldwide, and work towards being a leader in this space. It makes me proud and excited to work here and play a part in such a positive project.

Working at an inclusive workplace isn’t a panacea. I can still struggle with communication, such as giving appropriate levels of detail or interpreting ambiguity, and a complicated interaction costs spoons. I still have to think very hard to parse sarcasm or interpret someone’s body language, or, due to auditory processing issues, to keep up during a group video call. It’s not perfect. But I work as part of the company’s DEI committee to continue increasing understanding and acceptance. For me, that means that increasing numbers of my colleagues know and welcome me as I am (neurodivergent, but belonging), rather than conditionally, and put things in place to help me when I have challenges. I give that back by helping and lifting up others who may be misunderstood, disempowered, or marginalized, whether that’s in the workplace or in wider society.

In 2021, we created the following statement inspired by our creed as an overarching guide for how we approach this work: I will strive to create inclusive spaces along my journey and intentionally seek out different perspectives. If you’re thinking about applying to work here, do it! Perhaps yours will be the next new perspective we gain, and that enriches us all.

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