Women and ADHD – challenging the stereotypes

Hester Grainger
Hester Grainger

ADHD coach and co-founder of Perfectly Autistic

Mental Health at Work has partnered with Simply Business to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing. Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and break the stigma surrounding mental health at work.

The 8th of March was International Women’s Day, and the week beginning 13th of March is Neurodiversity Celebration Week, where we are encouraged to challenge stereotypes about all forms of neurodiversity.

But what is it like to be a neurodivergent woman? We know less women tend to be diagnosed with ADHD or autism than men – but does that mean that women are less likely to be neurodiverse, or just less likely to have it recognised? And while being neurodivergent isn’t a mental health condition in itself, we know the challenges it presents can have a negative effect on our mental wellbeing.

Hester Grainger is an ADHD coach and co-founder of Perfectly Autistic, a consultancy that offers neurodiversity strategies, training and awareness webinars to organisations. Hester was diagnosed with ADHD later in life when she was 43. She is also mum to her two autistic children who have ADHD, as well as her husband and business partner Kelly who is also neurodivergent. Here, she shares her experience of being a neurodiverse woman, and shares her tips for those who either have been diagnosed already, or suspect they too might be neurodivergent.


When you think of ADHD, what do you imagine? It may be a boy at school being disruptive, answering back, or even throwing chairs across the classroom. Yet ADHD isn’t something that just affects children – there is a big movement in adults being diagnosed later in life and a large increase in the number of women seeking an ADHD diagnosis.

With over 3.1m hashtags for ADHD on Instagram and videos about ADHD traits all over TikTok, more and more women are starting to wonder if they have ADHD too. So if you think you may have ADHD, what should you look out for?

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What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a complex brain disorder that impacts approximately 11% of children and almost 5% of adults. People with ADHD may have trouble with impulse-control, focusing, organisation, inattention, lack of focus​Focus PDF This one-page PDF from Unilever explores ways of helping you to regain your focus, allowing you to give tasks your undivided attention.Free By: Unilever View resource, poor time management, exaggerated emotions, hyperfocus, hyperactivity and more.

To be diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, you have to have had a certain number of symptoms​Complexities and challenges: working with multiple health conditions PDF This report explores the impact of managing multiple health conditions, both for the individual and the employer.Free By: The Work Foundation View resource present. Looking back you may realise that the traits were there as a child, but that you didn’t realise or have been masking. Talking too much, regularly forgetting to unload the washing machine or finding some things overwhelming, doesn’t mean you have ADHD.

People with ADHD need to show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity–impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.

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Types of ADHD

There are three main subtypes of ADHD – hyperactive, inattentive and combined.

Some typical traits that someone with hyperactive ADHD may have is fidgeting or finding it hard to sit still, tapping their feet a lot or fiddling with something. They may also talk a lot, interrupt others and blurt out answers.

When it comes to inattentive ADHD (formerly ADD) people may make careless mistakes, lose things regularly, have difficulty following detailed instructions, or find it hard to organise ‘simple’ tasks. Combined ADHD is a mixture of the two subtypes, so you may have all these traits and more.

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Women and ADHD

For many women, they didn’t grow up knowing that they had ADHD. They may have felt unloved, not valued, or been told that they were stupid and useless or felt that they had no purpose. Women are often misdiagnosed with conditions ranging from borderline personality disorder to bipolar and anxiety​Workplace anxiety and work-related anxiety Web page Anxiety can be caused by issues inside or outside the workplace, and it's worth employers making efforts to look out for signs that an employee might need support. This page from Acas has a range of tips.Free By: Acas View resource, as clinicians and specialists are missing the ADHD symptoms. Women are known to mask more and can often ‘get through life’, which is where ADHD is missed.

It’s often when women have children themselves and they are diagnosed with ADHD too or when they hit peri-menopause​The menopause at work: guidance for people professionals Web page The menopause can affect performance and attendance at work. CIPD have put together a web page to help HR staff and leaders to understand the menopause, their legal responsibilities around it, and advice on creating a menopause policy in your workplace.Free By: CIPD View resource and conditions like brain fog, feeling disorganised and overwhelm hits anyway, they are often exacerbated by the ADHD symptoms.

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What next?

If you think you have ADHD start keeping a note of things you may do. For example, losing your keys or purse and how often this happens. Or think about times you were unable to concentrate during a meeting or when you’ve blurted something out you’d rather have not shared.

If you are looking at getting assessed, start with an online test. Then read about Right To Choose and book an appointment with your GP. Ask for an adult ADHD assessment and then you will be able to choose where you go for it. If your GP isn’t supportive, remember you can go and see someone else. You can also be assessed privately through a number of providers. And most importantly – trust your instinct.

Hester shared her tips and tricks for those of us who experience ADHD. But what if you are an employer with ADHD or autistic staff members? Colleagues who are neurodiverse can be excellent additions to your teams, brining new perspectives, empathy and enthusiasm for your projects. Check out our toolkit on making your workplace friendly for neurodiverse staff here.

Visit Simply Business to find out more about the challenges facing the self-employed and small business owners, along with practical resources to support you.

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