After 21 years in the police force, UK-based Caroline Turner founded Creased Puddle, an organisation that offers advice, support and training for neurodivergent people in the workplace and their employers. She was also diagnosed with ADHD last year. She talks to us about living life “with the lid off”, bringing her whole self to work and creating an inclusive workplace.
“I felt stifled before and I didn’t even realise it. Now I feel free.”
NeuroWork: How did you come to set up your organisation?
It started when I was still in the police force and my son was diagnosed with autism. I started to realise there were a lot of people in my workplace with autism and you would have thought that in an organisation like the police force, where they deal with members of the public all the time, that they would have procedures in place for autistic people and training for management, but they didn’t at all. I started training staff so that there was more understanding of autism and it just went from there.
When I left the police force, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I wanted to use my transferrable skills and help neurodivergent people but I wasn’t sure how to do it or whether there was a market for it. I took six months off to think about it and then I started Creased Puddle. I was lucky that in the past two years there’s been this explosion in the neurodiversity movement in the UK and suddenly more people are disclosing at work that they’re neurodivergent and companies are trying to create neurodivergent policies.
NeuroWork: Can you tell me about your ADHD diagnosis?
Two years ago, I was talking to a prominent neurodiversity expert and she said to me, “You know you have ADHD, don’t you?” It was something I think I had thought about before, but it was still a bit of a jolt.
I then went and got diagnosed. I don’t dwell on it but it helped me understand how my brain works and it’s explained a lot of things. I don’t talk about it very much because I don’t want my organisation to be about me. We employ so many amazing people; some of them haven’t worked for years because of their neurodivergent conditions and now they’re able to.
NeuroWork: What challenges did you face at work because of your ADHD?
In the beginning, when I first started out in the police force, it was fine because the work is so varied. No day is the same, you can work all different shifts at different times of day and night, you’re doing different things in all different places. It’s a high-octane, high-energy environment.
But I struggled when I was promoted and the work was more office-based. I’m not very good in those kinds of environments. I would have people telling me I was too loud or I was talking too much and I’m not very good with people saying ‘no’. If I think something’s wrong, I say so, and it wasn’t the kind of environment that embraced differences. You had to conform to their way of doing things.
NeuroWork: Have you found positive changes since starting your own company?
I always tell people I feel like I’ve had the lid taken off. I felt stifled before and I didn’t even realise it. Now I feel free. I can bring my whole self to work. I’m trying to create an environment in my organisation that is inclusive and respects difference. We all work the hours we want, from the place we want and, where possible, in the way we want. It doesn’t come without its challenges but I’ve always felt more comfortable around the atypical, so why shouldn’t my working systems reflect that? Two of my immediate team members are autistic and one has ADHD and dyslexia. Life hasn’t been easy for them but they bring all their expertise, passion and commitment to building Creased Puddle, which benefits us all.
NeuroWork: Do you think neurodivergent people are often more suited to starting their own businesses?
Yes, there are the famous examples like Richard Branson, who started Virgin, and Ingvar Kamprad, who founded Ikea, both have dyslexia. People with neurodivergent conditions are often more creative and think outside the box but often, they also become entrepreneurs because they have to; they can’t get a job any other way.
Where it can fall down is that the systems and processes in place to support young businesses aren’t neurodiverse friendly. It’s hard enough to know what’s out there to support you as a neurotypical person; try doing that if you are neurodivergent and already feel like the world is set up to exclude you. More needs to be done to recognise this and the services need to be more accessible.
NeuroWork: How does your organisation help and train people?
It’s amazing to see the differences you can actually make with individuals and organisations. For instance, we recently helped a man with autism who was applying for a promotion at a very large company, with about 3000 employees. He did really well in all the other aspects of the recruitment process but struggled in his interview and because of this, the company couldn’t give him the job.
He raised a formal complaint, on the grounds that he had been discriminated against because of his autism and had struggled to understand several of the questions and had felt under pressure to answer them quickly. Amazingly, the company didn’t go on the defensive but actually said, “This is terrible. We need to make our hiring process more inclusive. How can we do this?”
We sat down with them and just by making a few small, reasonable adjustments – for example, the employee was given the questions 20 minutes before the interview to prepare and was allowed to clarify if he didn’t understand something – he completely aced the interview.
When we do training in a company, we try to educate everyone, to bring all the discussions to the table and tackle the stereotypes and clichés of neurodiverse people. We’ll discuss statements like, “We’re all a bit on the spectrum” and talk about where they come from.
We work on the principle that it’s not about a big, sexy recruitment campaign but about recruitment, retention and progression. Starting a conversation when you don’t know the words to use is scary; we understand that. Our services look at where the gaps in your knowledge are and we can provide you with the necessary tools to address them properly.
NeuroWork: What are your top tips for neurodivergent people looking for work?
I can’t give my top tips but I can give some advice. Focus on your strengths and what you’re good at. If you can, work with an independent career adviser, who can identify those transferrable skills you have honed from your hobbies and interests. What other people see as a strange quirk or obsession can actually often be valuable to an employer. Have a cognitive strengths profile done by a psychologist, who can help you with this process.
There are organisations out there that offer help for neurodivergent people to find work. In companies, the hiring process often discriminates, job descriptions are often just cut and pasted from old job ads and managers don’t always know what the job actually entails. Organisations can benefit from having someone to challenge and support changes, which means that, from the design stage, they have inclusivity at the heart of the role.
See success in understanding. If you are the neurodivergent individual, their manager, wife, friend or teacher, being able to understand the gaps that both sides have, and how to fill them, is a huge step in the right direction. This is about education, not awareness. Truly advocating for long term, embedded and committed understanding leads to success for everyone.