A Year On with Onyinye Udokporo
Conversations around Neurodiversity and the Importance of Representation
When we last spoke with Onyinye Udokporo, her business Enrich Learning was thriving and she was becoming a prominent voice in the importance of neurodiversity and inclusion.
Just over a year later, she opened up a consulting company taking her perspective and expert advice into some of the top businesses around the world and had her first book “Dyslexia & Me’ published, in which she tells her story of growing up neurodivergent.
We caught up with her to chat about her incredible achievements, and just see how she’s been.
Jemma: I guess starting off it's nice to chat with you again after over a year at this point! And I was wondering what your initial thoughts were after seeing the report last year?
Onyinye: I was shocked at the statistics because as a Black person, you're often told you'll have to work harder than your non-black peers and things will be more challenging for you. And that's a narrative that you are brought up with. So it's almost the norm.
So but when you look at the stats, you can actually see the difference! “Only 29% of black Gen Z report feeling satisfied with their chances of securing a promotion compared to 52% of white Gen Z.” That's scary! That statistic particularly stood out to me because you are not gonna feel you can get the promotion if everyone at the top looks nothing like you. And whether we like it or not, seeing is believing, it is a real thing. We can manifest all we want, but if we're not given something to look up to that, it's very difficult to make that dream a reality.
Jemma: Obviously last year was the first time we conducted this research, and so one of the things we wanted to improve upon is making it more intersectional, and looking at not just the Black experience as a whole in almost a general light, but also looking at the intersections between like gender, ethnicity, neurodiversity, sexuality, etc.
So what are your thoughts on that, especially being such an advocate for neurodiversity as you are?
Onyinye: Well, you're only gonna have a transcript, not the actual recording, but on the transcript, just put down that when you said the word neurodiversity, I grinned from ear to ear!
To a certain extent, we are all neurodivergent because the word simply means that we have different minds. But when we're talking specifically about neurodiversity, we're talking about the conditions on this ever-changing spectrum. People are constantly debating what's on the spectrum so that in itself is an evolving conversation. But just to help with our chat today, the focus tends to be on autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and Tourette’s syndrome. And those are just a couple of the more well-known conditions that are associated with neurodiversity.
Now, when we come to talking about neurodiversity and being Black - how long have we got?
I say that because so many different factors come with being Black and neurodivergent. The first is there is a big cultural block to neurodivergence, which is due to a lack of education about what Neurodivergence is.
So what it is not, is a correlation. There is no correlation between being neurodivergent and not being intelligent or clever or academic. There is none. I am dyslexic. I have written a published book. I have two degrees, and I had an English scholarship at school. Dyslexia affects your reading, writing, spelling and a whole host of other things that people don't talk about - but it doesn't mean that I'm not intelligent.
So those two things aren't related. But because there is this lack of education about what it is in Black communities, there's this misconception that if you're neurodivergent, you can't be intelligent. Or if you're neurodivergent, your future isn't very bright.
So that is something that I've been working really hard to change. I understand that I'm in a very privileged position to be able to change it, just because naturally as a person, I am both neurodivergent and academic and I would like to think that I'm fairly intelligent. And so that myth can be broken.
It just means that things have to be done slightly differently for them. They see the world slightly differently.
Jemma: You talk about making accommodations for someone who's neurodiverse and I think it’s important to get businesses to understand that accommodations don’t necessarily have to be massive. Could you talk about the consulting work you do with organisations?
Onyinye: So for my other business, I go into organizations and help them become inclusive, safe spaces for neurodivergent people. You are right in the sense that accommodations are an individual thing, but there genuinely are basic things that every business could do across the board that would increase inclusivity. It's not going to be perfect. It's going to be very difficult to create perfect conditions because everyone's neurodivergence is different. But there are things you can do across the board, particularly in businesses that are people-centred and event-centred. So I worked with Google on something called The New Project. And I was one of the consultants behind a guide written to help people create neuro-inclusive events.
Now every business regardless of their sector, whether it's tech, finance, or catering - it could literally be anything - can do the things that I and a couple of other consultants have written. Simple things like having dimmable lights as opposed to a light switch are how to make something neuro-inclusive because you promote choice.
Jemma: it's such a simple thing, and I think that’s the amazing thing. It's these small things that make a big difference.
Onyinye: As I said, it's been understood as a defect. And I'm not gonna sit here and say being neurodivergent comes with lots of superpowers and gifts and blessings. It does for some people. But, 9 times out of 10, it makes your life 10 times harder. So I can understand the negativity associated with it. But I also have this incredible photogenic memory, which means I could literally tell you what last year's report looks like without even looking at it. I'm an excellent communicator. It's made me a good writer, and it's also made me a fantastic public speaker.
But I've recently invested in a smartwatch and I have to set reminders for everything. And Alexa has to tell me when to call someone. I kid you, not my phone, my laptop, my watch all ping five to 10 minutes before I have to do something. And this is a lot of extra work. I have to spend hours creating my systems before applying them. And that's not a blessing for me.
Jemma: I can also imagine if you're having to go into a business with the systems not set up to be inclusive of neurodivergent people, then you have to do the extra work to make sure that you can function in that space.
So around the consultancy business, you started. What prompted you to do that? Like it's something you're incredibly passionate about, but what prompted you to take the final step into it?
Onyinye: Oh, where do I start? Well, I was inspired to do it because of my own book actually. So I finished writing it and the book is something of a memoir. I go through my life, through primary school, secondary school, and both degrees at University. And then I got a job at one of the “big four professional firms” but I wasn't suitable for working in that environment. And I so quit on the day I was meant to start. But that was the best decision I ever made. And because of that, I became very interested in not just neurodiversity in the workplace because there are loads of people doing that actually, but how to redesign workplaces, and the world in a neuro inclusive way.
Jemma: You already kind of touched on your book a bit and, to publish a novel is an incredible achievement. And I wanted to ask about the process of that and how that achievement felt for you?
Onyinye: Where do I even begin? I can't even believe I've written a book. I was doing a book signing last week. And I've actually done an interview with the BBC about it, which I still can't believe, it’s huge. All I wanted to do was empower neurodivergent people, but more importantly, let the world know that neurodivergence doesn't look one way and that it's not taboo. Even when I was growing up in my teens at school, some of my teachers made me feel othered because of my neurodivergence. And I don't think it was intentional, I think it’s a generation thing.
So I wrote the book because when I was a teen and I was still a child and I was told about my dyslexia, there was nothing culturally, remotely similar to me that was shown to me as an example of dyslexia. And I cannot tell you how damaging that is. You grow up thinking that you are not a member of your race or your community because of your neurodivergence. The audiobook starts slightly differently, it's got an author's note and I talk about when I heard that I was getting an audiobook. Because you don't always get an audiobook. So I was very privileged to be able to have one, which is pretty cool. But when I found out about it, I ran down the stairs to tell my mom who was making one of my favourite meals, jollof rice. Now another black person will listen to that and there will be a relatability. Because how many times is jollof rice actually written about? There's lots of it in the media, but how many times do we see it in print? Hardly ever.
I talk about my cultural food. I talk about my background. I talk about being from Edmonton which is a place that has little to no additional funding. A place that is full of poor housing. Largely immigrant communities are forgotten. And so I come back to that ‘seeing is believing’ thing. I know that people have picked up that book from a similar background to mine and it's given them hope.
Jemma: And then I guess to finish off I mean, for the next year, like what are you most looking forward to? Personally or professionally?
Onyinye: Well, I'm gonna be 25 this year. I've achieved a lot for 25 and I'm so grateful. It's the first time in my life that I'm not feeling any pressure to achieve more. And, by not feeling pressure to achieve more, I'm achieving more which goes to say that there's no point in putting yourself under all that pressure anyway.
I'm also very excited to take my work international. So I love the UK, the UK will always come first. It's my home. But I'm very excited to be going across the ocean with my work. I have been working with an assessor on a new form of assessment for people who suspect that they have a learning need. It will be a more accessible price point. And she's qualified to write you a report that doesn't give you a diagnosis, but it does give you an understanding of who you are, what your strengths are, what you need support with and how you need support.
This information is crucial for all teachers, lecturers, and employers. I'm excited about coming up with this solution because the average cost of a full dyslexia diagnostic assessment for a child is around 650 pounds. That's the average. And for an adult, it can cost up to a thousand pounds. And now in a cost of living crisis where most people have to choose between heating and eating. It's just not viable.
Now, I'm not saying that what we are doing is cheap. But, it's far more accessible. And again, that solution was inspired by the book because I write about the cost of assessment and how troubled I am by the cost of it. So I'm very excited to actually roll that out formally.
I'm not writing another book this year, but I am starting to think about the other book. And I’ve Doing a TEDx talk at Winchester in June. So I'm very excited about that as well.
Jemma: You've got a fair amount going on, it's just so incredible! As I said, I've watched you on LinkedIn over the last year and it's just all the things you're doing, o think it's so amazing how much you're achieving.
Onyinye: But also likewise for this organisation. But the Black challenge is so big and it's getting worse. I definitely think Diversity and Inclusion regarding race in these corporate settings are getting worse. But I also think in a more positive sense, Black people, we're not putting up with this corporate nonsense. They’re saying ‘I'll just start my own business.’ And you know, there is something quite empowering about that. But the fact is it should be a choice, not a must.
To keep up with Onyinye,
Onyinye’s LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/onyinyeudokporo
Onyinye’s Website: onyinyeudokporo.com
Enrich Learning LinkedIn Page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/enrich-learning1
Enrich Learning Website: enrichlearning.co.uk