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Leaders Voice: From invisible to leading change
Helen Needham was in her forties when she was diagnosed as autistic, three years after her son’s diagnosis.
As a senior leader in a global organisation, Helen felt compelled to make a difference. She wanted to shift perceptions around different ways of thinking and build a ‘neurodiversity’ network to support and empower people with autism and other neurodevelopmental differences such as ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourettes, OCD and bipolar mood disorder.
But when it came to articulating that vision, Helen felt stuck.
Ginger’s founder Sarah Lloyd-Hughes said: “As soon as I met Helen, I was inspired to work with her. Her incredible thinking and passion for driving positive change shone through. But she suffered with social anxiety and felt invisible in her career. We couldn’t let her vision go unheard – we had to help her find her voice and share it with the world!”
Helen joined Ginger’s Leader’s Voice Programme, which is specifically designed for senior female leaders who want to drive change in their company, industry and beyond.
“I went into the programme with a fuzzy idea about making a difference in my company so that neurodiversity is valued,” said Helen. “That quickly developed into something much bigger. I learned how to identify, connect with, and articulate my vision into something actionable that really resonates with people.
“The programme was a challenging experience at times, as it meant opening up to our vulnerabilities. But with the positive support of the trainers and participants, my confidence really grew.
“I’ve worked hard on my self-development over the years in a bid to address some of the challenges I faced connecting with people and working out where I fit into the world. But here I became part of a community, with a sense of belonging and valuable ongoing support.”
Sarah said: “Helen’s ability to grasp every opportunity really blew us away. She leapt fearlessly into every challenge and the difference in her was astounding. During her talk at the House of Commons, she had us all transfixed – we were crying one minute and wetting ourselves with laughter the next!”
Helen is not only leading positive changes in her own organisation, she has gone on to campaign for neurodiversity on a national scale and has become a powerful TEDx speaker.
Helen continued: “Since the programme, so many people have taken an interest in what I have to say. And that’s humbling, overwhelming and exciting all at the same time. I’ve even had to buy a new calendar to keep track of the events and engagements I’ve been invited to attend!
“I’ve accomplished way more than I set out to achieve. After the first retreat, I registered the domain name ‘Me.Decoded’ – a new platform to champion the value of neurodivergent thinkers. I’ve successfully launched a neurodiversity network at my company and made other positive changes at work. I’ve spoken at Speakers Corner and the House of Commons and recently did my first TEDx talk.
“I’m speaking to 1000 people in Paris next month (alongside some very big names) for the Women’s forum global meeting. They invited me after seeing my Leader’s Voice speech last year. I am also one of 20 people selected from 800 applicants to speak at the Aspire Trailblazing event in December."
“The reality is that being on the Leaders Voice has done so much more for me than just helping me spread awareness of Neurodiversity. It has given me confidence in the workplace and has helped me in my day job. I have gone from feeling undervalued to being asked to represent Capco on a panel discussion about The future of Data, alongside senior data officers from a number of banks. This was as a result of being seen as a confident communicator. Something that I hadn't had the chance to demonstrate until I had been on The Leader’s Voice. The programme really has given me a voice.
“People’s perceptions of me have changed dramatically. But I still struggle with the concept of being a ‘leader’. I guess I’m an example of what you can do if you put your mind to it. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by how many people come up to me and tell me how I’ve made a difference in their lives. If that's being a leader, then I guess I am.”
“I’m immensely proud of Helen for taking an idea and turning it into a tangible force for good. For starting from a place of being hidden, to stepping out on the global stage. We’re really lucky that Helen comes back to talk at some of our events to inspire the next cohort of female leaders. She’s a shining example to us all.”
Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, Founder and CEO of Ginger Public Speaking
The Leader’s Voice is an eight-month experiential and transformative leadership development programme focusing on the capacity to influence and inspire change.Find out more