Study Reveals Strategies for ADHD Women in the Workplace

Carolyn Cage  |  04/07/2020

The Israeli study of 11 women sheds light on key strategies that allowed them to succeed in the workplace.

An Israeli study has highlighted for the first time the specific challenges faced by women with ADHD in the workplace. 

Past research points towards the workplace struggles faced by the ADHD population, such as finding and obtaining work, switching jobs frequently and working overtime to cope with the challenges of their condition. 

The researchers from the University of Haifa surveyed 11 tertiary-educated working women between 25-45 years old, with a documented diagnosis of ADHD and without any other reported disabilities or health issues. 

The range of professions included a teacher, graphic designer and executive secretary. Eight of the women classified themselves as employees, while two were self-employed and one juggled freelance work and a job. On average, they were at their current job for 3.45 years. 

Three major themes emerged from the interviews with ADHD women about their experiences in the workplace. They include job demand, personal strategies and environmental accommodations, and the significance of employment. 

All the women interviewed described difficulties in regulating emotional reactions in their workplace environment in response to stimuli. Ten women mentioned difficulty coping with strong audio and visual stimuli such as loud noises and bright colours, distracting them from their tasks.

The presence of others or conversations in the corridors also led to conflict with supervisors and peers. In addition, many of the women felt restless during long meetings.  They sought activity change and frequent work breaks, which sometimes didn’t align with their jobs. The frustration from lack of stimuli led five women to quit and switch jobs several times.

On the other hand, stimulation can be helpful at work, with one woman mentioning that without strong stimuli, she would get bored easily and go into nap mode.

Eight women mentioned ADHD to be an emotional experience. They spoke of intense overreactions that were sometimes inappropriate, such as interrupting others during conversation. These situations caused friction at work with their colleagues and contributed to their sense of low self-esteem.

Three women spoke of impulsive reactions, with one quitting her job on a whim and moving overseas, only to return home immediately, which was a cycle she repeated numerous times. 

The research also looked at challenges in regulating time and boundaries. Most women in the study said that work tasks took longer than required, which led them to work beyond business hours (often from home) and needing extra time to learn new material. 

Seven women used medication as a way to control their ADHD, with five noting they felt calmer and more focused. However, some reported experiencing side effects of suppressed activity and decrease in creativity.

Other coping strategies included to-do-lists, reminders, and noise cancelling headphones, as well as finding jobs suitable to their needs, with flexible hours, frequent breaks or self-employment. Women had to first develop a greater sense of self-awareness around their strengths and weaknesses.

The advantages of having ADHD in the workplace however, was the ability to think outside the box and harness onto creative ideas. Four women also mentioned high energy levels compared to colleagues, as well as the ability to cope well in chaotic situations.

Overall, the women rated work as a significant component to their identity beyond just making a living. The researchers said that the findings emphasise the importance of personal strategies and environmental accommodations so that women with ADHD can thrive in the workplace.