Meet adland's new neurodiversity network
A view from Ellie Gerszt

Meet adland's new neurodiversity network

Being neurodivergent in adland can feel isolating, but a new advertising industry network is hoping to address that challenge head-on.

Last week a group of 50 neurodiverse adlanders and their supporters got together to launch our industry’s newest network: The Future is ND. The evening immediately took a different tone from the usual adland get-together. The group’s founder, Lucy Hobbs, a freelance creative art director, asked the front row to wave their hands or click their fingers if she speaks too fast or goes off on a tangent. Because of her ADHD, Lucy’s processing speeds are off the charts and while this means she hyperfocusses on briefs that cross her desk, it also means her mind can sometimes go off in a direction unrelated to the topic at hand.

But the introduction proceeded without a hitch: no waving or clicking was necessary as Lucy described the numerous gifts that the neurodiverse bring to our industry. As she explained: "neurodiverse people think outside the box, and some of us don’t even know where the box is". In an industry where creativity and innovation are the lifeblood, it’s no surprise that the audience was captivated. 

Neurodiverse people think outside the box, and some of us don’t even know where the box isLucy Hobbs, The Future is ND, group founder

A quick note on terminology: neurodiversity is a term used to refer to individuals with Dyslexia, ADHD, Dyspraxia and Autistic Spectrum Disorder, amongst others.  The group was created following the #DiverseMinds conference, organised by the Hobbs Consultancy and Creative Equals, to bring together neurodiverse individuals and their supporters from across adland.

The launch event, which was hosted by the Dentsu Aegis Network, very much embodied the group’s philosophy of ‘by the neurodiverse, for the neurodiverse’, with the evening’s speakers all openly discussing their own neurodivergence.

Each of the speakers shared their stories and while the journey of each was unique, there were certain threads that ran through the evening. All talked about the  adversities they faced and how they found the strength to persist.

Chrissy Levett, founder and creative director at Creative Conscience, told of career-ending typos, such as addressing a letter to ‘Huge’, a mortally obese client (or as he was generally known, Hugh).  While Neli Urruela, a junior creative, talked about her emotionally abusive childhood, of three unfinished degrees and of multiple periods of mental ill health. But adversity creates resilience: Chrissy’s commitment to bravery and Neli’s story of finding her calling as a filmmaker were inspiring.

Finding strength in your authentic self

The group also touched on a current adland buzzword: authenticity. Chrissy noted that while she had hidden her dyslexia and dyspraxia for years, once she became more open she realised that masking her learning difficulties had been harder than the effects of the difficulties themselves. My own talk ‘The Jewish Bisexual Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome and her relationship with coming out: a journey in five parts’ (I know, it’s a catchy title) almost entirely dealt with how being authentically yourself can be challenging, especially when your diversity is almost entirely invisible.

There were humorous moments:  Edward Butler, a musician and producer with Dyspraxia told of the upsides of being socially awkward, including a hilarious account of setting up no less than a dozen couples through an awkward "you’ll never guess who fancies you…"

There were also a few, more rueful ‘yup, I totally understand that’ laughs as the audience sympathized with some of the trials and tribulations recounted. While the narrative surrounding conditions like Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia can be overwhelmingly negative, the positivity and lightness the speakers brought to a serious topic was admirable.

By the time Rachel Barber finished her stand-up set to uproarious laughter, the atmosphere felt charged. The duty of closing the evening fell to me, and while I’d written a closing speech, none of my notes felt appropriate. Instead, I spoke from the heart. Being neurodivergent in adland can feel isolating. And in society at large, the narrative is often so dispiriting. But at the end of the evening I don’t think a single person in that room felt downbeat. Instead, we all left feeling inspired and motivated to move this conversation forward. 


If you want to be part of that conversation, please contact us at @thefutureisnd, @lucykhobbs or @ellie_gerszt. We would love to hear from you.

Ellie Gerszt is senior partnerships executive at NABS

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