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By  James Chesters 18 March 2024 4 min read

Key points

  • Mark Woodcock is a team leader at our Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness.
  • As someone who is non-binary, queer and neurodivergent, Mark understands the importance of support and belonging.
  • They say actively listening combined with small and consistent actions help people feel included and welcome.

In their own words, Mark is non-binary and queer – or "trans non-binary bi-ace [bisexual-asexual]" to be more specific. They're also neurodivergent, and Mark describes their ADHD diagnosis as a "lightning bolt moment."

"The intersection of those aspects of myself was the binding of alternate pages in the manual for my brain and mind," Mark says.

"It's reassessing what you think you know about yourself, your values and how you interact with the world."

Interwoven through Mark's queer and neurodivergent identities, you find almost limitless compassion.

Mark is a team leader at our Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) facility, and says their work sharpens their communication and collaboration skills.

"I've learned the importance of actively listening and understanding a range of perspectives. I’ve learned that being open and transparent often yields more meaningful results than reactive quick fixes," Mark says.

"It’s highlighted the importance of seeking help and learning from successes and mistakes."

Non-binary and neurodiverse joy

Mark is driven by a "deep commitment to animal welfare and the pursuit of sustainable scientific practices in human and animal health projects."

Mark Woodcock wears a white lab coat
Mark Woodcock volunteered as a mental health champion, supporting CSIRO employees marching in Mardi Gras.

They grew up in rural central Scotland, where their curiosity about the relationship between health, agriculture, and biology took them across the UK.

In 2017, Mark’s curiosity and compassion took them 17,000 kilometres across the world to Geelong, Victoria, where they joined our ACDP team as a research scientist.

Working with ACDP's animal carers and researchers, Mark aims to minimise our dependency on animals in research and diagnostics.

"It’s so rewarding to witness the positive outcomes of our work on ACDP's science and its contributions to health on both a local and global scale," Mark says.

Mark's journey has also been internal. Their diagnosis and lightning bolt moment has helped them better understand their memories in the context of being a non-binary and queer neurodiverse individual.

Mark says when they were growing up, they felt most comfortable using gender neutral language, reflecting on their experiences in the context of what they saw as 'female' as well as 'male'.

"Trying to see myself only as 'boy' felt wrong. It was like being made to wear an itchy sweater all the time," Mark says.

Things are better now, and Mark feels "a joy beyond belief" in situations that align with different aspects of their identity, which profoundly and positively impacts their life.

"These experiences show me that the place I’m in and the direction I'm heading are right for me," Mark says.

They reflect on an occasion of having a casual lunch with a few other queer, neurodivergent colleagues.

"The way we naturally got along, the depth of conversations, and the perspectives we each brought all challenged my perception of what is possible. That outlook is a gift," they say.

Visibility and compassion

Mark understands visibility is important, and how CSIRO's events like Mardi Gras drive inclusion. Embracing a spectrum of perspectives and experiences enriches everyone’s lives, they say.

They marched with CSIRO in the Mardi Gras parade in 2022, and again in 2023, hoping to inspire others to find the same level of comfort, satisfaction and creativity in being themselves in the workplace.

This year, instead of marching in the parade, Mark's compassion drove them to volunteer as a mental health champion. They helped nurture a welcoming and supportive environment for marchers.

Meeting other non-binary people at their first Mardi Gras sparked something for Mark, even if they didn't understand it immediately.

"As I learned more, it gelled with how my experience of self sits across a spectrum of femininity and masculinity," they say.

"Sharing  LGBTQIA+ stories strengthens their significance and empowers the storytellers. It improves peoples’ rights, mental health, and inclusion in society.

"Visibility reveals the hollow power of stigma and discrimination and demonstrates to others what is possible and what they are capable of."

Allyship and empowering the people

Mark holds a rainbow Pride flag, and a paddle showing the CSIRO logo on a rainbow background. Mark is smiling with joy.
Interwoven through Mark's identities, you find almost limitless compassion.

Mark says supporting others empowers them too.

"Whether that's by promoting their safety, reducing actual or perceived barriers, building their sense of community, or simply celebrating them for themselves. Soon, everyone is lifting each other up," Mark says, 

"That seems much more efficient than trying to make our way through this world alone."

And they know first-hand the difference this makes. Mark has met countless people who have supported them and had a significant influence on their life.

"I have a friend I call my 'hero person'. They've spent many hours listening to me and being there for me through tough and joyous times," Mark says.

"They've shown me the importance of building and respecting your boundaries, and our inherent value in simply existing."

Sense of belonging

The community and belonging Mark finds in CSIRO's Pride network and an employee network for neurodivergent individuals have shaped their approach to work. Being part of this has introduced them to new peer mentoring and learning opportunities, and helped them prioritise being inclusive and proactive.

For under-represented groups, small, consistent actions create more inclusive and welcoming spaces than big gestures.

"Listening sincerely to the experiences of trans and non-binary people without questioning their identities is key for effective allyship," Mark says.

"Celebrating neurodiversity is vital to challenge the stigma and discrimination associated with neurological differences."

Mark Woodcock with their greyhound
Mark enjoys spending time with their greyhound.

Mark feels grateful for CSIRO's resources and supportive work environment. These have allowed them to openly share their experiences and work freely.

"By learning from others, I've built ways to manage myself and changed my work schedule and surroundings to fit how my brain naturally works best, not the other way around," Mark says.

Actions like these help us recognise neurodivergent experiences as natural variations, moving us towards a more accepting society.

For Mark, this recognition embodies empathy, support, and a commitment to challenging societal norms, ultimately driving a more inclusive and equitable society.

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