How Freddie Mac’s Neurodiversity at Work Program Gave Francine Heisler Space to Bring Her Whole Self to Work
Francine Heisler, currently an Associate Engineer II at Freddie Mac, avoided computer science in school. But when she went to university to pursue a degree in special education, a friend encouraged her to give computer science a try. “I discovered I really enjoyed the logic,” she explains. Shortly thereafter, she decided to change her major to computer science.
The path wasn’t without bumps, however.
“I was afraid of math, and I didn't do so well in the beginning,” she shares. “I'm on the autism spectrum. I have ADHD and I suffer from anxiety and depression. So there was a lot of fear involved—I didn't think I was capable of doing it.”
But she didn’t let that fear stop her.
“Not only did I major in computer science, but along with minoring in English, I minored in math as well!” she shares.
After graduating with honors, Francine applied that same grit and determination to her job search. She applied to the federal Workforce Recruitment Program where she discovered and joined Disability:IN. This led to her recruitment for Freddie Mac and its Neurodiversity at Work program.
We sat down with Francine to learn more about her experience working at Freddie Mac, and how feeling a sense of belonging at the company has enabled her to do her best work.
Being Her Whole Self at Freddie Mac
Much like her unexpected introduction to computer science, Francine didn't think she would end up working within a large corporation.
However, the Neurodiversity at Work Program at Freddie Mac expanded her options and helped her feel welcome in a new work environment—one where she was accepted from the moment she started.
Freddie Mac first launched its Neurodiversity initiative as an internship program in 2012. It was so successful that it became a program for full-time employees in 2020.
As Francine continued her work at Freddie Mac, she felt secure knowing that she had control over when and how she would share different parts of herself with her employees. “I was assured that I did not need to say anything about my disability to anyone,” she shares. “ [Having that] support was extremely important.”
And as a result of this initial support, Francine eventually spoke her truth within the Abilities Business Resource Group, Freddie Mac’s employee-led group for people with invisible and visible disabilities.
“I told my story, that I was on the autism spectrum,” she shares. “It was the first time I’d said it out loud, and I got all this support because of it,” she says with pride. “Now when I meet new people or when new people come onto my team, I automatically say, ‘This is who I am.’”
Feeling this acceptance has empowered her to do her best work and not waste energy hiding parts of who she is.
“When you're hiding things, you’re using energy that you can’t put towards doing the work,” she points out. “I can actually do my best work because I don't need to worry about how people are viewing me.”
Thriving at Freddie Mac
When Francine was first hired as a Technology Analyst, she was quick to tell her manager that her skill set reached beyond coding. Francine, who describes herself as honest, wanted to make sure that her manager would know how to best leverage her unique skills.
“One of my three top skills is working with people,” she shares. “I think because I spent most of my life watching how people behave and wanting to connect with them, it became a strength.”
She also highlights her organizational skills and ability to ask the right questions as important strengths. Francine has been able to put all these skills to use and advance into other roles at Freddie Mac.
Within 18 months, Francine is on the way to achieving her goals, “I am the scrum coach for my team and was promoted to Associate Engineer II,” she shares. “I was also just made a project manager for another project that's going on.” At the same time, she is the Operations Coordinator for the Abilities Business Resource Group.
Francine attributes much of this success to the support she’s found at Freddie Mac in her managers and coworkers, and the Neurodiversity at Work program leaders.
“Everyone is accepted for being the individual that they are,” Francine explains. “[With my managers] there are no preconceived notions. There's just, ‘This is who you are, and we can work together.’”
The management team has set an example of positive leadership for all its employees.
“[My manager] mentioned that he works for me and when I first heard that I thought it was funny,” she shares with laughter. “Then I realized he's not my boss. He's a leader. I like the way I feel after I talk with him. I like the way he handles things. So I am learning so much about how to work and talk with people [from observing him].”
3 Tips for Finding a Company Where You Can Be Your True Self
Showing up as your full self, especially for those who are neurodivergent, is not an easy task. Despite her current success, Francine had her doubts when starting her career.
“When I first started at Freddie Mac, I thought that I was going to fail,” she admits.
And despite a challenging start, she continued, didn’t waver, and is now very successful. “I know that things are difficult and sometimes you do have to walk away from things but try to stick things out if possible. Believe that it can work out for you,” she encourages.
It certainly makes it easier to persist, if you’re in an environment where you feel supported.
Francine offers three key pieces of advice for anyone looking for a company committed to fostering inclusion and belonging:
- Look for companies with Business Resource Groups. A company with Business Resource Groups shows that the company is invested in its employees’ well-being.
- Do your research. Francine suggests paying attention to how the employees behave and interact with each other during your interview, and don’t hesitate to reach out to current employees on LinkedIn with questions. “Try to find out if they are talking with each other, if they feel comfortable, if they’re happy… because that branches out into everything.”
- Advocate for yourself from the start. This could mean disclosing information about your ability early on. “Coming in as who you are can be helpful,” Francine encourages. How a company asks for and utilizes this information early in the interview will tell you a lot about the company’s culture and what support they’re able to provide.
If you are looking to work for a company that will accept you for who you are and help you to grow, check out open positions at Freddie Mac!