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Why Kealey hid this secret from her work: ‘You are fair game’

Nearly two-thirds of Aussie workers are hiding part of their identity at work, new research has found.

Kealey Nutt work headshot.
Kealey Nutt experienced weird comments from people at work when she disclosed her neurodiversity. (Source: Supplied)

Kealey Nutt was diagnosed with ADHD and autism a few years ago and struggled when it came to the decision of whether or not to disclose this to her work.

“It was a really big decision for me and I seriously thought to myself, ‘Should I do this? I’m at a point in my career where I’m taking on leadership roles and, if I come out and say I am autistic and have ADHD - because of the stigmas and stereotypes - is that going to hold me back?’,” Kealey told Yahoo Finance.

Even though the Melbourne communications professional said she was familiar with recruitment and inclusivity policies and her Fair Work rights, she was still worried about facing unconscious bias.

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“I worried whether, indirectly, I wouldn’t be considered for promotions or certain opportunities, or whether people would make weird accommodations for me because they thought I wasn’t capable,” she said.

Aussies hiding true selves

Kealey isn’t the only Aussie who has faced this dilemma. New research from Indeed found nearly two-thirds of Aussies felt they needed to hide part of their identity at work - a 17 per cent increase since 2020.

This percentage rose sharply for marginalised groups, including those in the LGBTQIA+ community (71 per cent), people with a disability (78 per cent), First Nations peoples (76 per cent), single parents and caregivers (74 per cent), and first- or second-generation migrants (69 per cent).

Indeed talent strategy adviser Lauren Anderson said the statistics came as companies deprioritised diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives.

“The reality is people are hiding very integral parts of their identity and we spend, on average, 90,000 hours in our workplace,” Anderson told Yahoo Finance.

“Work and life is hard enough, imagine having to additionally remember to omit part of your core identity from everything you do and everything you say. I think that would be exhausting.”

Double-edged sword

Kealey ultimately decided to disclose her ADHD and autism diagnosis to her workplace, and said she felt a sense of responsibility, given she was in a leadership position. But it was a double-edged sword.

“There’s that double side of hiding yourself but, once you are not hiding yourself, you are exposed to people thinking you are fair game to ask questions that are quite inappropriate,” she said.

In addition to getting asked questions about her medication, Kealey also received “odd” comments from previous colleagues, including things like: “You don’t seem autistic”, “But you have so much empathy and EQ [emotional intelligence]” and “I don’t really see that for you. You don’t seem like either of those things”.

“When it comes to hiding part of yourself at work, we’re already hiding part of ourselves lifelong because we are prone to masking and hiding ourselves or behaving in certain ways that don’t feel natural by default because we are looking to assimilate and fit in,” Kealey said.

“If they are not seeing that for me, it’s because they aren’t seeing how hard I am working internally to fit in and make myself seem like I’m not struggling with it.”

Discrimination persists

Half of the 2,210 working-age Aussies surveyed by Indeed said stereotypes, biases and microaggressions were still prevalent in their workplace, with 37 per cent saying they had either personally experienced and/or witnessed discrimination at work.

Worryingly, nearly a quarter of Aussie workers said their organisation took no action following the discrimination, while a further 9 per cent said the incident was never reported to their workplace at all.

Anderson said it was important for people who saw discrimination at work to say something, and for colleagues to listen and support.

“If we turn a blind eye to these things, the standard we walk past is the standard we accept, and I think we all have a responsibility to do better at work,” she said.

For employees in marginalised groups, Anderson said the most important thing was to keep yourself safe. Employees can also seek support internally within the organisation, such as through HR or senior leadership, as well as externally through organisations like ACON for those in the LGBTQIA+ community and Disability Australia for people with a disability.

Kealey also recommended people have self-support and self-care strategies in place, as well as being aware of their workplace’s policies around inclusion, discrimination and flexible work rights.

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