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Cherie Clonan: Being a Neurodiversity Affirming Business (Part 2)

Today I’m thrilled to be sharing Part 2 of my incredible conversation with Cherie Clonan. If you haven’t already listened to last week’s episode with Cherie, I urge you to dive into that before you tune into today’s episode. We chatted about building a strong online brand, and Cherie shared her insights on authenticity in business as a proud autistic woman.

In this episode, Cherie and I discuss all things neurodiversity. We talk about creating a safe space for neurodivergent people in and out of the workplace and how neurodiversity plays out in small business.

As CEO of The Digital Picnic and leader in neurodiversity advocacy online, Cherie generously shares with us her own journey of being diagnosed as autistic. She talks about the sense of freedom and empowerment she felt upon finally understanding the way she is wired, and how it informs the way she runs her business.

We now live in a digital world, which gives us every reason and opportunity to get ourselves educated. Cherie and I discuss the importance of being proactive in our own learning, rather than solely relying on autistic folk to educate us on their experience of living. We talk about having transparent discussions with those around us at work, and how understanding the way we each function not only creates healthier relationships, but mitigates the potential for conflict.

Cherie runs us through her approach to creating a safe space for both neurodivergent and neurotypical people in her business. She talks about her no-compromise attitude when it comes to her own boundaries, as well as protecting her team members from any damaging behaviour that may arise.

At the end of the day, making assumptions about someone else’s way of being can cause so much divide. We are responsible to get curious about one another and find a deeper understanding of our differences. This not only makes us better business leaders, but more empathetic and connected humans.

I could barely bring myself to end this fascinating conversation with Cherie, and I know you’ll find it as inspiring and thought-provoking as I did. May we all do better to truly educate ourselves about others, take what we learn and put it into practice.

Topics We Covered:

Kristy: [00:00:00] Hello boss and welcome back to the Run Your Business Like a Boss podcast. I am joined once more by special guest Cherie Clonan, who is the CEO of The Digital Picnic. This episode is the follow up conversation to last week's episode. So if you haven't listened to part one of this conversation, please jump over and take a listen to that one before you listen to this one.

In that conversation, Cherie shared all her tips, tools, and frameworks for growing your business online as well as building a personal brand. And in this conversation we're talking about all things neurodiversity. We're talking about how you can create a safe space in your business and how neurodiversity plays out in small business. All that and more coming right up. Are you ready? Let's go.

[00:01:00] So we've spoken obviously a little bit about this today, and you speak a lot about this. You are. A leader in neurodiversity advocacy online, Cherie, and you mentioned earlier that being autistic and also with a PDA profile, has definitely informed who you are and how you run your business. [00:02:00] But I'd love to hear a little bit more about what that actually looks like.

Cherie: I guess, you know, once I learnt this about myself, I can honestly say, you know, I did the initial early few months of why didn't I find this out sooner? But once I'd moved, beyond that, because you can't turn back time, and once I've moved beyond that, I just thought, well, I'm gonna start living life with what I know now, which literally changed everything.

My marriage, my friendships, my relationship with my children, my relationship with my dad. There's just no single touch point in life that wasn't changed after discovering my neurodivergency.. And so, um, was work impacted? Yes. Was it positively impacted? Yes. But it's been really full on to figure out this about yourself when you started a business not knowing and you've learnt it sort of halfway through and now you're continuing on knowing what you know now. And it means that sometimes, people that I might've worked with at the beginning, I'm not talking about 

[00:03:00] from an employee perspective, but like literally everything, no longer suit me or The Digital Picnic, um, because I just, I am a different person now in that I'm myself. And that means that some relationships have changed and there are people that I employ now who've been here before my having realised, during and now after. And some stick around, like many stick around. It's, it's honestly been overwhelmingly positive, but I would say there's that for some, there would have to be a, you know, conversations that I had to have and say, this doesn't work anymore. Not us, you and I as a working employee employer, but like we've gotta just change, um, a couple of things about this dynamic because, this was me masking and I'm not doing that anymore. And so I need you to hold like a safe place for me with regards to knowing this now, about me, and if I'm gonna remove this mask, I need you to be on board and hold a safe place for me. Just like I would expect, just like I would hold a safe place for an employee if 

[00:04:00] they, um, removed their mask upon realising they were neurodivergent.. So, it's just changed so much. And I can honestly say, I have never enjoyed life more, right now. And, and pretty much as soon as I discovered, you know, this about myself, I, I feel, um, safe, you know, and free.

I feel like I've broken out of a prison. I had no idea I was in. I feel really empowered. I'm the most confident I've felt in my whole life. Like I would just literally wish this on every person, neurotypical, neurodivergent, just to discover yourself so, so much. It just can't not change pretty much every aspect of your life.

And yes, you'll watch some things slip away that don't work because they're not able to meet you where you're currently at, and that's okay. For the most part, it's just been overwhelmingly positive.

Kristy: I think it's really important that we learn from autistic people. We learn the lived experience, and coming back to authenticity in our choice of what we share, and not everybody is going to [00:05:00] share to the level that you have, but you are such an a powerful role model and sharing your experience. And even when we were setting this up and it was, you know, the message that I got from the team was the things that Cherie wants as part of, or I think it was phrased as her autistic requirements, or, or I can't...

Cherie: Yeah. It would've been autistic accommodations. Yeah.

Kristy: Accommodations. That's right. So, you know, these are, she's autistic accommodations and it's not unreasonable what you are requesting, what you are requesting that others accommodate for you. And I recently watched the All About Women 2023 Sydney Opera House show. It's still online if you wanna go and grab the link I'll tag it in the show notes, actually autistic and, you know, for autistic humans on the stage, sharing their lived experience. If you wanna, if you wanna know more about how you can be safe and how you can, be able to accommodate others. You need to understand what's going on and [00:06:00] no two humans have the same experience, but the more autistic voices you can hear, the more that you are going to be able to better support everybody. The world is so set up, I'm gonna get on a soapbox now, but you know, the world is so set up for neurotypical people that we have to take a stance. Like, we're in a digital world, we're in a digital, uh, generation. There's no reason not to get ourselves educated.

Cherie: Honestly, and I've stopped waiting for others to get educated because I'd be waiting my whole life and I'm not down for that. So if anyone is listening who's neurodivergent or raising neurodivergent children or well, anything really. Don't wait for the world to catch up. Just go so hard on understanding yourself so well, if anyone sets you up for things, that wouldn't be a great feeling for you as an autistic person, you understand yourself so well, um, that you know what you can call out if, if it needs to happen. Or you might just take opportunities to gently educate. So I'm [00:07:00] doing that. As you saw from my team, they know. I'm like, hey, if I'm ever asked to be on a podcast, can you just ask them for the questions prior?

Because my slower processing speed just needs, you know, one or two more weeks to take in the questions and think about my answers. It's not a, you know, outrageous request. And, you know, even with my team, often say for the big decisions, don't expect any now culture response from me.

It's gonna be a minimum of 48 hours. That's what I need and I like, respect you too much to give you an immediate response on something like that. I don't even know that a neurotypical would be able to respond with now unless they were in an industry that required now, like, I don't know, an emergency, um, department, nurse, doctor, you know, whatever, and so on.

But for digital marketing, it's not an emergency, you know, an emergency department. Nothing is required really of us right now. Um, and give me 48 hours and you'll respect me so much more because I'll offer you something so much better than if I was to respond in the moment. A thousand different times. I do that every single week [00:08:00] in a variety of different ways that just set my team up for understanding me better themselves, better for many of my team tha t are neurodivergent also. but it also, uh, sadly does mean that sometimes we've had one or two hires who've come in and really held a very unsafe place for neurodivergent accommodations.

And I'm really sorry to say, but no matter how much education they might have received, it was acutely clear to me that I was like, you'll not see it past six months' probation here. Like it's best you leave now. And so that's one thing I will say don't, for your listeners, don't think that the minute you put down your accommodations and so on, that someone's gonna hold a respectful space for that. Because I've found sometimes, um, the vulnerability kicks in here where I realise some people hear that and think, I'm gonna overpower you cause I can see your, you've got weaknesses. And I say this in inverted commas, um, in this space of X, Y, and Z.

And I have absolutely worked with someone who just bulldozed on that stuff and it was [00:09:00] such a horrible feeling. Uh, I never want to experience that again. I thankfully know enough about disability discrimination to say, no, thanks. I've seen what I've needed to see and this isn't going to work, and you're not only going to be unsafe to me, but the multiple, you know, neuro urgent people that I employ here. Yeah.

Kristy: Yeah, and that's a sign of such an incredible leader. You have described clearly what you want the team to be, how to create a safe space for the team and yourself, and honouring that is, is so important. It takes courage to make those decisions, even though of course it's so obvious, it's still, you're doing the right thing for the greater good of everybody, including that person.

Let's be honest, right? Like this is clearly not the right environment for them. The thing is right, and this is something they said in that presentation I mentioned earlier, is that the second that you start making accommodations for neurodivergent people or autistic people, everybody benefits whether you're [00:10:00] neurodivergent or neurotypical.

This is, this is actually how we can, you know, move away from the script that's written before us. We know so much better. We know so much more than the generations before us. So the fact that you can create an environment that's suitable for everybody is really amazing.

Cherie: Honestly, like, you'd only have to put your kids through the school system to wanna scream from the rooftops, design this school setting for neurodivergents and your neurotypicals will benefit so much and your neurodivergents will not go, uh, well they'll experience significantly less trauma from the school setting than they currently are.

Um, it's the same for TDP. We design our curriculum for neurodivergents, but the neurotypical folk that, to undertake all of our, you know, teachings are just like, everything makes sense. You know, and I'm like, I quietly sit there and I'm like, I know. Um, you know, so, and same with my workplace. I design it, uh, for neurodivergents so that my neurotypicals [00:11:00] benefit, um, as a very happy side bonus.

Kristy: Yeah, I love that so much and agree with you a hundred percent about the school system. That's like a whole other podcast, Cherie.

Cherie: Isn't it?

Kristy: I dropped my pen. I was so excited. But it's true, it's like a whole other podcast. That's a conversation that hopefully someone drives that. I mean, I know a lot of people are trying, but yeah, we definitely need more advocates in that space.

So, The number of people online and in small business that are neurodiverse diagnosed, and I think it's also important to say undiagnosed, is extremely high. And you've mentioned how you have made your business safe and how you've made it inclusive for all humans, including anyone who's neurodivergent as well. How can other people be more inclusive for neurodiversity?

Cherie: I read a quote, I've actually taken a screenshot. I should have had this ready, but I read this quote last night that said, encouraging someone to be entirely themselves is the loudest way to love them. And it hit [00:12:00] me in, you know, all of the right ways, because I just thought it's really that simple.

Imagine if we just all woke up tomorrow with the promise, commitment to our own selves to just be so radically accepting of everyone we meet. We would literally cure the world from itself in a way. Like, I don't mean to go, you know, too deep, but like, it, it's really that simple and also devastatingly difficult, you know?

is it possible? No, but I just think if a much bigger chunk of humans woke up every day and said, I'm gonna be significantly more radically accepting today. I'm, every time I, I go to judge or think that's not how I would do it, or, you know, just whatever it, whatever narrative comes through. I don't know what it looks, feels and sounds like for others, but, you know, any moment where you're just thinking, I'm frustrated because, just say, all right, how can I be more radically accepting, you know? And it plays out in different ways. You know, for me at work, I've seen people feel in meetings like that person wasn't listening to me because they were on their laptop the whole time. And I'm [00:13:00] like, actually, they've just been formally identified as ADHD.

They are freaking listening to you, but it is agony for them to sit in a one hour meeting, maintaining eye contact, showing, I'm saying this in inverted commas, but active listening, to keep up with your neuronormative standards. You know, let's just, let's just be more radically accepting and just think, I'm not gonna let my ego feel like they're not listening to me and instead I'm gonna realise they're showing me so much respect by doing their very best to listen in a way that's true and authentic to their neuro type, you know? I know that's just one example, but it's one of one thousand that I would see every single month as an organisational leader in a workplace that employs a lot of neurodivergent, you know, human beings.

And I just think, let's all collectively do better than this and minimise these microaggressions and, yeah, ableist moments that pop up without us even knowing it. You know, listen, like you said before, to neurodivergent voices, educate, don't rely on just neurodivergent folk to do all of the [00:14:00] education.

Why wouldn't we all just probably put ourselves through a course? And I guess I live in a particular area of Melbourne that's very culturally diverse. Most of my friends are Muslim and we take our shoes off to enter their house. So if we can get our head around taking our shoes off to pay respects to our friends who don't wear shoes inside their house, you know, why wouldn't we just get through a meeting?

Recognizing that an ADHD'er is absolutely listening. It's really that simple. It's as simple as taking off our shoes to enter someone's house. We show our respect that way. Respect that way. But I'd love to see that extended to neurodivergents not being pulled up for just the most ridiculous reasons. It's exhausting and it's so unnecessarily exhausting.

Kristy: There's a couple of words in that that I think that we can pull out and really just think about for us each as business owners. The first one is our own ego. So that expectation of how others should be in our presence, and that may be something that we don't even [00:15:00] realise is even happening. So to your point, an ADHD is in a meeting, an hour long, they've got their laptop in front of them. They're still listening.

The assumption shouldn't be that they're being disrespectful to you. And I think we think about this in the school context all the time. A teacher getting frustrated that a child is fidgeting or not making eye contact, but it's the same for us as adults, right? Like, not letting our ego tell us a story that what we're seeing is anything other than what it is. So that's the first thing.

The second thing, and this is the extension of that, is judgment. To then judge someone for the way that they are being or not being, doing or not doing based on our own set of criteria, right? And so if your criteria is neurotypical, that may not be the right set of, you know, the same set of criteria for the person who may be neurodivergent.

So in the context of say, a client, you know, that could be... yeah actually, I'll throw that to you. Like, what would you say, like, so [00:16:00] I'm thinking about a small business owner who, maybe not in a team context, but like, you know, from a client's perspective, let's say a client is late with getting their things to them. What can we do like, these are the things that we can actually show up for that person?

Cherie: Gosh. Yeah, and I think to that, like it's asking what scaffolding what to use my own team's, um, language. Like what accommodations do they need to help with that? Because sometimes we might not even realise that we're the person that could say, I can be of service to you in this regard. Like, and if they, if that client could drop the ego dance in their own head of thinking, I'm failing because I'm needing help in this space, no, you're not.

You are working and collaborating with someone who might have a particular set of skills as Liam Neeson words, it, you know, um, that can be of use to you so that you can come and play where you are best suited to playing and so on. So I think, yeah, like to come back to your first point, what if we all just dropped our ego, even just a smidge more?

Ego is just so dangerous. And we don't even [00:17:00] know it's there as much as it is, but it is, you know, and I think we all collectively, whether neurotypical or neurodivergent, we just seem to have this incredible way of making life so much more difficult than it really needs to be. And I think ego plays such a big role there.

Let's just find the path of least resistance. Says the PDA'er. But it's just frustrating for me as a PDA auty gal, you know, to look around and say, you're making this so unnecessarily difficult. Here's the path of resistance. Let's go there.

Kristy: Yeah. Oh yeah. I'm, I'm all about, yeah, simplicity, ease. Like, let's not overcomplicate this. I get lost in the complications. So yeah, that's a thing. The biggest takeaway, I think with all of this is that the more that you can educate yourself, the more you'll see this, the more you'll see it play out, the more you'll start to get curious with your own responses and reactions and then being able to question actually, you know, what, what's actually happening for this [00:18:00] person?

And I've always been really obsessed with personality type, but I feel like there's this intersection between personality type and neurotype that's very cool. But if we can just get curious around, you know, why didn't they get that email to me?

What can I do to support this person? Or what is, what's really going on for this person? Is this too much? Was the instruction clear? Like, as a coach, like often, you know, sometimes my clients might not do the work, but maybe they just got lost outside of the call. And so rather than like, you know, coming down and being all this accountability, but actually like checking in, what do they need?

What do they, what's come up for them rather than this assumption that they're in resistance or whatever. So I think we assume a lot and as an assumption is kind of like the culprit of what then activates the ego and then what activates the judgment.

Cherie: Yep, exactly this and a language thing that my team used off the back of a group leadership workshop we did, was you can get so much more clarity on this confusing thing that sits in your own head, uh, by simply saying to someone, [00:19:00] when you did this, the story that I painted in my own head was X, Y, and Z.

Can you me away from what I've painted? Like I could be wrong here, you know? So tell me what is the story, because the one I've painted could be so different, you if that person had been able to say, when you were opening your laptop, the story I was painting in my head was that you didn't respect me enough to actively engage and I just, you know, and then that person would say, hi, uh, two weeks ago I found out I was ADHD. beginning to unmask and I'm very excited. It means that listening looks really different to me. Uh, this is what it will show up in meetings looking like, I would really appreciate if you could, um, you on board and, and take me in a meeting how I am as an unmasked or unmasking ADHD'er, and it just, those two people could have walked away just respecting the living bejeebus out of each other for that conversation. And it really is just as simple as, you know, respectful language. [00:20:00] Hey, this is the picture I'm drawing or painting in my own head.

you paint another one for me so I can understand, so we can come together and just understand each other?

Kristy: Yeah. I love that. It's really interesting because like, wonder actually what the percentage would be of this, but like of the assumption of what you actually paint a picture of your head of these interesting moments. I wonder what the percentage would actually be accurate.

Cherie: bet there aren't many that are, cuz we live in our own heads too much, don't we all collectively? Surely. I bet there aren't many that are actually accurate.

Kristy: No. So even if we enter that perspective that I'm probably wrong with this assumption, how can I get curious around that? Yeah. It's just so interesting. Again, it all just comes back to awareness. How can we just be more aware, more mindful, all the things, Cherie, literally I could talk to you all day, but I know you're running a business and at some point we're gonna have to sadly end this interview. I would first of all, love [00:21:00] to thank you so much for being here. This has just been such a joy to interview you and such an honour to just get inside your brain and just see how you work.

And I love the picture that you painted before about the schoolyard, and I think that that's like 4D thinking, right? Like not many people have the, the opportunity to be thinking in 4D like you do. You're just, you're a very, very special human and I think I speak on behalf of everybody safely to say that you inspire us all and we are very grateful that you are who you are and that you are so openly sharing your story and your experience and all the things so, I've got one last question for you.

As someone who's been in business for eight years and created what you've created, what is the last piece of advice that you would offer our boss who's listening today?

Cherie: Yeah, sure. Firstly, thanks so much for the kind words.That's [00:22:00] so kind, I feel the same. Just love your energy. The advice I would give and maybe I'm influenced here by Covid and economic downturn and just the things that my particular industry is seeing. And it just keeps driving home how important grit is as a business owner. I just feel like the people who succeed have a lot more grit than others.

And I know that might have negative connotation sort of attached to it, I don't mean for it to sound like that. It actually is a really positive thing. Like I, I feel really proud of the levels of grit that I have. You know, I know I've got, a lot of grit. You know, I'm doing like a freestyle and butterfly and breaststroke and all of the grit that I could literally swim through.

So, yeah, that would be my advice to business owners is to just really either own the grit that you have or find ways to grab more, because it's just what I attribute to my success and therefore TDP's success.

Kristy: I love that very sage advice. [00:23:00] Cherie, for anyone who might be living under a rock, where may we find you?

Cherie: I, I just spoke at an event with 700 people where, none of which definitely did not know me, so I'm, I'm sure there's many.

Kristy: Some big out out there. there.

Cherie: No,. Um, you can find us online. The Digital Picnic on Instagram. I'm Cherie Clonan on LinkedIn, and uh, if you head on over to Instagram, you'll find our website too, but thrilled to connect with you.

Kristy: Thank you, Cherie. I appreciate you so much. And to you boss, thank you so much for joining us for these two conversations. I hope that these conversations have been thought provoking. Actually, I have no doubt that these conversations have been thought provoking. In addition, I hope that you can take what you have heard and learned and put it into practice.

That is the most important part of tuning into these podcast episodes, is taking what you learn and applying it. We would [00:24:00] love to hear your thoughts and feedback from these two episodes. So head over to LinkedIn or Instagram, share your thoughts and tag both Cherie and I. Thank you so much for listening to today's conversation. As always, I look forward to chatting with you next week.

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About your host, Kristy

Hi, I'm Kristy, thank you for tuning in to the Run Your Business Like a Boss Podcast. My purpose for the podcast is to help Business Owner’s in the growth stage of business (messy middle) have a sustainable business, they love.


I’m an online business coach, based in Brisbane, Australia. I provide 1:1 business coaching, to Service Based Online Business Owner's and a group coaching program commencing in 2022. I believe whole heartedly that having a Business Coach is what gives you the competitive edge. As your coach I support you to overcome challenges quickly, uncover blindspots and make business decisions with confidence and clarity. All of which keeps you moving forward and maintaining momentum. 

As your Business Coach, my role is to help you organise and formulate your ideas, turn them into a goal and then into an actionable plan! All while meeting you where you're at and providing you relevant tools and support along the way.


Thank you for tuning in to the Run Your Business Like A Boss podcast!

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