Neurodiversity at Meta and Beyond: Insight from Shawanna Rouse

This article was originally published on PowerToFly.

Before 2019, Shawanna Rouse only had a hunch that she might be neurodiverse. As a child, she remembers paying close attention to how she moved, spoke, smiled, held eye contact and moved her arms when she talked. She remembers struggling socially but thriving academically in school. Despite her best efforts, she didn’t graduate from college.

What she found, however, was that she excelled in the workplace. She explains, “I really excel when I have frameworks, training and rubrics surrounding everything. I became a master at learning those things and the way to use them.”

It wasn’t until early 2019 that she was officially diagnosed with autism. “It was a transformative year for me and the way I viewed myself. It allowed me to really forgive myself for things I thought were shortcomings,” she shares.

Now, Shawanna is thriving as she leads the integrity review operations team within global operations at Meta. We sat down with her to hear her story and how Meta is actively creating a workplace that values neurodiversity.

A psychologically safe space at Meta

Thanks to a sponsor who believed in her, Shawanna got an interview at Meta. One of the things that impressed her the most during the interview process was that, at the final stage, she met a neurodiverse individual. She recalls, “Once I realized that they valued those who show up differently, I needed to figure out how to join Meta.”

Shawanna is grateful that when she received her diagnosis, she was already part of Meta’s inclusive culture.

“If I weren’t at Meta at that time of the diagnosis, I’m not sure if I would have felt as psychologically safe to open up. Thanks to work benefits like flexibility in work schedule and location, mental health resources, and Meta Resource Groups, especially the affinity groups for neurodiverse and autistic communities, I have been able to see a proper specialist about my diagnosis.”

She emphasizes the importance of having a psychologically safe space where neurodiverse people can be themselves and elaborates that such a space provides both external mental health resources as well as internal ones like resource groups and robust conduct policies with remediation.

“If you try to show a little bit of yourself and you’re rejected, mocked, or if you feel like people might treat you differently after you self-identify, you’re going to be reluctant to do so. I can admit there are times in my career when I was pretty sure of the diagnosis, but there was no way I would have shared that with anybody. I was too busy with my mask and pretending to be like everyone else. I was my business self and I couldn’t be my true self.”

Masking, or forcing oneself to behave according to societal norms, is exhausting for neurodiverse people and can even have serious health consequences. It wasn’t until Shawanna started working at Meta that she realized what a psychologically safe workplace really meant.

“My old way of masking and showing up wasn’t going to work anymore, because people wanted to know me. I can’t be me and also hide parts of me, even if they’re not visible. When you’re in a truly psychologically safe place, those walls come down and you realize that you’re there because of what you can contribute and the impact you can have on the company. The culture at Meta fosters diversity, inclusion and equity, meaning, people are incentivized to prioritize DEI as well as be an ally for people who don’t look like them. Leaders understand that diversity in thought is a value prop.”

The tools to succeed

Since receiving her diagnosis, Shawanna feels that she has gained the language to share her experience as well as identify the tools necessary to create a workplace that values neurodiversity.

She explains, “What’s important is what you contribute, not the eye contact or communication, but your performance and what you do. You should not be penalized for being yourself, but rather rewarded for your contributions.”

Meta has provided Shawanna with multiple benefits that have helped her develop and better understand her identity as an autistic woman. Some of these benefits include autism coverage, which provides various types of therapy, counseling and coaching.

Additionally, Meta offers a wide range of health benefits, internal and personalized accommodations to support disability inclusion, and a culture and resource group where Shawanna has shared her story with fellow autistic coworkers and parents of autistic kids.

Remote and flexible work

In addition to autism-specific benefits, Shawanna credits remote work as central to building a workspace where she can thrive. Though her job position was located in Austin, Texas, Shawanna was given the opportunity to choose where to live.

In 2020, she and her wife, who also identifies as neurodiverse, moved to a small community in northern California. Instead of being in the hustle of the city, she enjoys the quiet and privacy of her day-to-day life, dedicating quality time to people and coworkers. “I consider those connections to be more fluid when I’m outside of a physical building,” she explains.

Hand in hand with Meta’s remote option, Shawanna highly benefits from the flexible work policy. “As a neurodiverse person, it’s important for me to have control over how I work. I can control my room temperature, work barefoot, take breaks according to my energy levels and help my family when they need me,” she says.

By Alice Song
Alice Song Career Advisor