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Social Impact Heroes: “How Margaux Joffe of Verizon Media is helping to smash ADHD stigma and is empowering a lost generation of women”

I’ve received countless letters from women who have felt alone their whole life until seeing their experiences reflected on our website. One story that I’ll never forget is a woman from North Carolina who wrote us saying she was diagnosed at age 50 after she read one of the interviews on our website. She said she couldn’t stop crying while reading these stories because I finally had an answer to what she had experienced her whole life. After recognizing ADHD in herself, she sought a professional diagnosis. Finding our community gave her the courage to speak up, seek help and take ownership of her ADHD.

Margaux Joffe is the founder of the Kaleidoscope Society, an empowering community for women with ADHD that has reached thousands of people in over 100 countries around the world. Margaux is a tireless advocate, featured by Teen Vogue for “Smashing ADHD Stigma for Women and Girls” and named a badass woman with ADHD by PopSugar. Margaux is also smashing ADHD stigma in the workplace by founding the industry’s first Neurodiversity Employee Resource group at Verizon Media. Her work has been featured in Forbes, VICE, Teen Vogue, PopSugar and Fast Company; and recognized by the United Nations Foundation, the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC), the Webby Awards, D&AD Impact Awards and the Shorty Social Good Awards. She has shared her work at the International Conference on ADHD, the Coleman Institute Conference on Cognitive Disability & Technology, Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, Harvard School of Public Health, Cornell University Institute on Disability and Employment, Yale Center for Public Health Preparedness and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Margaux is a graduate of Duke University and is trained in documentary storytelling as a tool for social change.

Thank you so much for joining us Margaux! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started my career producing public health campaigns for the City of Boston and saw firsthand how the media can be a powerful tool for raising awareness of important social issues. I knew I wanted to dedicate my career to making a positive impact on society through the media.

What I didn’t know when I started my career was that I was struggling with undiagnosed ADHD. Unfortunately, my experience was not unique. The majority of women with ADHD go undiagnosed until adulthood with life-damaging consequences, creating what has been called a “lost generation of women.” After years of coping with depression and anxiety, I was finally diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 29. Once I was diagnosed, I started looking for information online, and I was surprised by the lack of relevant, relatable information for adult women like myself. Most of the resources I found were geared towards parents of young children. The messages I saw about ADHD were negative and discouraging. I discovered there was a massive stigma that was causing most women to struggle in silence.

With my professional background as a media producer, I knew I had to do something. I wanted to dispel the stigma around ADHD and create an empowering platform for women to learn from one another. In true ADHD fashion, I embarked on a hyper-focused mission to learn everything I could about ADHD in women. I put my documentary background to work and started interviewing women with ADHD and compiling their stories. This led to the creation of the Kaleidoscope Society, an online community created for and by women with ADHD.

At first, I was hesitant to go public with my ADHD diagnosis because I was afraid it would negatively impact my career. However, showing up courageously and authentically has opened doors I never imagined. It has even led me to work in accessibility full time.

What most surprised me was how common and widespread ADHD and other neurodivergent conditions are in the workplace. Shortly after launching the Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group, a high-ranking executive shared he had ADHD and agreed to be our executive sponsor. Countless colleagues from all levels and all areas of the company have shared their stories with me. Interacting with top-level execs who are neurodivergent has truly changed my perspective on what is possible for myself and for our community. Having a safe space, to not just to talk about mental health and neurodiversity, but the safety to show up as human beings doing our best, has radically transformed my view on what possible inside corporate America. Living authentically is powerful, and is the key to anything you want to achieve.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

ADHD is real and can be life-damaging. Young women with ADHD are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide and two to three times more likely to report injuring themselves according to the American Psychological Association. Almost half have seriously considered suicide at some point in their lives. Women with ADHD face other challenges such as higher rates of eating disorders, substance abuse, and incarceration. Proper diagnosis, support, and treatment for ADHD can literally save lives.

Kaleidoscope Society is helping women with ADHD know they are not alone, and encouraging them to access the resources they need to heal and move forward. Kaleidoscope Society has connected and inspired thousands of women from over 100 countries around the world. We are telling our own stories, to spread the message of hope and empowerment for this community.

After founding the Kaleidoscope Society, I learned the workplace is the epicenter for a lot of fear and hiding not just for ADHD, but for mental health as a whole. I wanted to take what I had learned and apply it to dispelling stigma in the workplace through community building. That led me to start the industry’s first Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group at Verizon Media, with a mission to empower all minds in the workplace. In less than two years we build a network of support for employees with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Depression, Anxiety, and other conditions in 35 offices around the world. We’ve been able to create education and awareness within Verizon Media, and inspire other companies in the industry to start their own initiatives.

For too long, women with ADHD have struggled in silence due to stigma and lack of proper diagnosis and support. Many of us are working to heal years of shame, and manage our ADHD on a daily basis. I also want the world to know that women with ADHD are highly creative, entrepreneurial, passionate and resilient. We are trailblazers and pioneers in a variety of fields. We have unique gifts to share with the world.

Knowledge is power — if you suspect you may have ADHD, I recommend seeking a professional evaluation to know for sure. Girls with ADHD are significantly more likely to attempt suicide or self-harm, and more than twice as likely to die prematurely from an accident. Simply put: diagnosis and treatment can save lives, and is nothing to be ashamed of.

A diagnosis can be valuable information that can help you better understand how your mind works and design your life accordingly. There are many options available for ADHD management including cognitive behavioral therapy, nutrition, exercise, sleep, mindfulness, and medication.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

It is incredibly humbling and life-changing to see the impact the Kaleidoscope Society has had on women all over the world. I’ve received countless letters from women who have felt alone their whole life until seeing their experiences reflected on our website. One story that I’ll never forget is a woman from North Carolina who wrote us saying she was diagnosed at age 50 after she read one of the interviews on our website. She said she couldn’t stop crying while reading these stories because I finally had an answer to what she had experienced her whole life. After recognizing ADHD in herself, she sought a professional diagnosis. Finding our community gave her the courage to speak up, seek help and take ownership of her ADHD.

Can you share a funny story when you were first starting Kaleidoscope Society? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I self-funded the Kaleidoscope Society with freelance work and my personal savings and was still $1,400 short of covering expenses needed to launch. I decided very logically that I would go to a casino and win the money because the world needed this project, and the universe would have my back. Mind you, I do not gamble and I do not know how to play most of the table games. But I felt an irrational absolute certainty that I would win the money I needed. So I crossed the border from California into Nevada and walked into a casino and I looked for the simplest game — roulette. I’d never played roulette before. I chose Red 27 — Red my favorite color, and 27 my lucky number. I walked over to the table and put my entire stack of chips ($40 worth) down as the ball was already spinning around. It landed on Red 27 and the entire table looked at me in surprise. I won $1,400 — the exact amount I needed. I took the money and immediately left the Casino. When I got home, I went to Chase and handed my account manager $1,400 in cash to deposit into my business banking account and launched the Kaleidoscope Society one month later.

While I don’t recommend gambling as a fundraising strategy, I do recommend listening to your gut and believing in extraordinary possibilities. If you have an unshakeable belief in something, and you are putting in the work, the universe will help you achieve your vision.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Shift our mindset beyond the binary of “normal” and “not normal” and embrace neurodiversity. Once we accept this fact, we can do a better job of valuing people for who they are and designing our educational systems and workplaces to better reflect the diverse society we live in.
  2. Employers specifically need to understand that a large segment of employees have a disability or care for someone with a disability but they are not disclosing due to stigma. Half of Millennials and 75% of Gen Zers have voluntarily left jobs due to mental health reasons. HR teams must educate themselves on disability and neurodiversity, including ADHD. It is a business imperative.
  3. Visit kaleidoscopesociety.com to learn more about ADHD in women, and share with someone in your life who might benefit.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is about service. Creating a vision and a mission that is in service of people or the planet. Otherwise, what are we doing here? To lead is to serve. Anyone can be a leader and you don’t have to change the whole world to change someone’s life.

Those of us with ADHD are poised to be powerful leaders. We have compassionate hearts, creative minds, and incredible energy. We have the power to lead our generation to do things in a better way.

I love this quote by Seth Godin, who also has ADHD: “The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.”

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. There is no such thing as a normal brain — Neuroscience is now proving there is a range of neurocognitive functioning in our species. Neurodiversity is part of being human. When we can let go of trying to be “normal,” we can free up that energy for better uses.

2. Build on your strengths — In school we experience standardization, we are expected to conform, to perform equally (as) in all subjects, to follow the rules. However, in the real world, the most powerful thing we can do is uncover and build on our unique strengths. We are most successful when we realize our differences can be our superpowers. Create your own lane.

3. Ask for help — We all need support sometimes. If you are struggling with something that is impacting your physical or mental health, don’t suffer in silence. Speak to a medical professional. ADHD is real and you don’t have to deal with it alone. There are resources and treatment options available that can greatly improve your well-being.

4. Don’t wait for permission — By definition, if you are doing something that’s never been done before, it’s going to be lonely. If everyone understands and agrees with your vision you probably aren’t doing anything innovative. Don’t sit around waiting for everyone to understand or for someone “in charge” to grant permission. Lead the way and teach people as you go.

5. Own your story — We have the power to define our realities. Owning your label and your story will change your life. Sharing your story can change someone else’s life

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Joseph Campbell

The struggle can be the source of gifts — unique perspective, growth and resiliency. We see this in nature. When an irritant becomes trapped in an oyster, its defense mechanism creates a coating that produces a pearl. My experience with ADHD has been challenging but has made me a courageous and resilient woman I am today.

Challenges are also opportunities to innovate and make a positive impact. When we experience a problem in our own lives, we also have the power to create solutions that help others. After my ADHD diagnosis, I was struggling to find resources and community. So I created the Kaleidoscope Society to help myself, and in turn, was able to help thousands of other women like me in the process.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oprah.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Margaux Joffe: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn

Kaleidoscope Society: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook