MozFest 2021: Networking and neurodiversity

Basia Godel, Library Assistant Harrogate Library & Customer Services Centre, tells us about her favourite parts of MozFest 2021.

As a first-time MozFest attendee there was definitely a feeling of being awestruck by many parts of the experience – it was big, with so much going on at any given time, and there was a positively bustling atmosphere even though everything took place online. The festival was divided into “spaces”, indicating themes or groups for the discussions and workshops, many of which felt very valuable and worthwhile, but I felt particularly taken by the Neurodiversity space.

As a topic which isn’t yet commonly recognised and understood in the mainstream, it was great to see it given so much time, space and attention at a big conference which scope extended far beyond disability or sociology. All of the events I attended from this space were also led by neurodiverse individuals, in a true “nothing about us without us” spirit.

Out of these, my favourite session was “Networking for the Neurodiverse” led by Wesley Faulkner. Networking is not a skill which is commonly taught, but it should be, and I think everyone could greatly benefit from attending this session, neurodiverse or neurotypical. Wesley started by demonstrating how common topics and questions used when networking are divisive and exclusionary: very often they target education, employment status, job position and wealth.

Instead, Wesley offers tips and advice on how to connect in an inclusive way. The biggest of these is what he calls “the journey”. The one obvious thing both you and the person you’re talking to have in common is the event or space you’re in right now, which offers a conversation topic you both can contribute and relate to. What brings you here? How are you finding it? From there, the journey extends into the past and future – have you attended a similar event before? What workshop are you going to next?

It can be stressful and difficult trying to make connections with strangers, and that challenge is bigger for neurodiverse and otherwise marginalised people. Learning how to reach out to others in ways which won’t make them feel ashamed or “lesser than” is a skill we could all benefit from.