Neurodivergents – those with dyslexia, autism, ADHD or dyspraxia – make up about 10% of the population. Yet, just one in 10 organisations include neurodiversity in their people management practices, according to a 2018 poll by CIPD, the professional body for HR and people management. The fact is that, in the war for cutting-edge creativity and innovation, neurodivergents are the creative industries' best weapon.
Why? More than 35% of company founders are dyslexic, including the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver and Lord Sugar. In creativity, some our best-loved stars are neurodivergents, including Victoria Buchanan (executive creative director, Tribal DDB), Wayne Deakin (executive creative director, Huge Inc) and James Hilton (AKQA founder and now founder of Native).
Creative Equals’ Equality Standard data suggests that our industry has twice the number of neurodivergents compared with the standard population. Creative, data science and account management departments as well as senior leadership are 20-30% neurodivergent. Some people struggle to self-identify in the workplace or gain the work adjustments they need. Last year, Creative Equals and The Hobbs Consultancy put this on the industry’s map with Campaign with the #DiverseMinds conference.
"In 2017, I said that the neurodiversity conversation had yet to happen," says Mark Evans, Marketing Director at DirectLine Group. "Following DiverseMinds 2018, the topic moved centre stage. Many people took notice and the subsequent impact across the industry has been resounding."
The first conference supported by Campaign and the IPA, was held at the Internet Advertising Bureau. And, off the back of it, the industry’s first neurodiversity network was launched by Lucy Hobbs.
"It put me way out of my comfort zone speaking at #DiverseMinds last year. But I’m so glad I did, as it propelled me to start up The Future is ND. It’s been an amazing journey and I’m thrilled to able to make a difference in an area that is in so much need of attention," Hobbs explains.
Nancy Lengthorn, head of diversity, inclusion and future talent at MediaCom says: "For us, #DiverseMinds changed things. After attending, it made me realise this wasn’t something I needed to tiptoe through for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. No action was worse than possibly making a couple of mistakes.
"So, since then, we’ve had autism training in the agency, we’ve taken on an intern who has autism and we are in the process of changing our talent pipeline to ensure we are targeting neurodiverse talent. We co-host the brilliant The Future is ND sessions, which has really helped to boost the sense of inclusion within the agency."
Sam Phillips, chief marketing officer at Omnicom Media Group, agrees: "Triggered in part by the brave and brilliant #DiverseMinds 2018, invisible and visible disability inched its way onto our industry’s inclusion scene. As the UK government appointed an Advertising Sector Champion for Disability, a mother of children with disabilities and a businesswoman who sees the sense in representing this 20% of the population in workforces and outputs, this year is about actions."
However, due to a lack of awareness within UK organisations and the way that most organisations are physically and structurally set up for "neurotypicals", many workplaces do not enable neurodiverse individuals to perform to their full potential.
"Everyone is after the ‘data guru’ or the Einstein-like genius," Roxanne Hobbs, chief executive of The Hobbs Consultancy and conference co-founder, says. "That’s stereotyping. The fact is you probably have many undiagnosed autistics working in your company; some with ADHD and many dyslexics who may not even enter your company if you discard CVs with typos. Reaping the rewards of their strengths means acknowledging the very real challenges people face in our workplace.
"My son Leo is autistic, which is why I wrote Diverted – and received a heartfelt response. It opened up so many conversation with other parents and with those who are neurodiverse within the industry. As a consultant, I’ve been working to help people self-identify and remove the stigma; we’ve seen struggle, determination but also pride. It’s these people who are poised to act as bridges and create a more inclusive workplace for everyone."
Xavier Rees. chief executive of Havas London, added:"If we better understand the diversity of how people’s minds are wired, we can bring a broader, better range of skills into our businesses. I also think it’s important that businesses wise up to the role they can play in society. DiverseMinds 2.0 brings another chapter to the story of how businesses can be a force for good".
Vital for the industry
"Last year’s conference provided an inspirational and educational starting point for both greater awareness and action as well as the necessary culture change needed for understanding and accepting neurodiversity and its value to employers," Leila Siddiqi, head of diversity at the IPA, one of the event’s partners, explains. "Ensuring diversity in all its forms is at the heart of our industry at all levels is vital for us if we are to both win the war on talent as well as remain relevant and representative of our clients, consumers and audiences in the future."
Liz Nottingham, executive HR director at R/GA, calls on all HR staff to attend: "HR have a key role as the change makers and influencers in agencies to encourage business to pay close attention to this broader approach to the diversity agenda and to disrupt employment in all places and spaces."
While last year was about raising awareness, the focus on this year's #DiverseMinds will move from insight to action. It will include hands-on training, inspiring keynotes focused on transforming the workplace, thinking about inclusive marketing and creating role models for people within the industry, including neurotypical parents with non-neurotypical children.
#DiverseMinds 2019 will take place on 13 March and tickets are available here