Neurodiversity: the hidden diversity

A Future of Fairness includes a roadmap for companies to follow no matter where they are on their diversity and inclusion journey.

More than any of the diversities addressed in A Future of Fairness, neurodiversity is the hidden one, because it’s very unlikely to be the first thing you notice about someone.

The term neurodiversity describes a whole range of individuals whose brains work differently from the neurotypical brain, including dyslexia, autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, ADD, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and Tourette’s.

Neurological conditions can be isolating, because people who have them might not immediately exhibit the personality traits that are traditionally valued in society and in the workplace. As with all aspects of diversity, employers understand that it’s valuable to their businesses, but they don’t always act on this knowledge.

Some do, however, as Lucy Hobbs, founder of The Future is Neurodiverse, points out. "GCHQ has been positively discriminating for neurodivergent people for about 20 years, because they can crack codes, do amazing things, join the dots. Companies like Microsoft are starting to wake up to the idea that they need people who think differently, and with the advent of AI and automation the skills of neurodivergent people are going to be even more important in the future."

The value of neurodiversity

Agencies are starting to value neurodiversity. Media agency m/SIX launched what it claims is the first internship programme designed to actively champion neurodiversity, and it’s been such a success that it was extended from two months to three. Likewise, Brixton Finishing School, with Creative Equals, is planning a course for the neurodiverse.

If your wiring is different, the things around you will need to be different, which means that it often helps to subtly adapt environments and work patterns to suit the neurodiverse.

Many of those changes, however, could suit everyone. These might include adjusting working hours so that a person can arrive without the sensory overload of rush hour; adopting more sensitive interview scenarios; and designating quiet workspaces.

Leadership in particular needs to be more accountable for creating an inclusive environment, and that goes for how we set up the physical space too, so that we can manage neurodiversity. We should be talking about that.

Ete Davies, CEO, Engine

At Wieden + Kennedy, there is a commitment to maintaining spaces in the agency that are conducive to people who want to work more quietly, and neurodiverse speakers have been brought in to aid a wider understanding of the issues surrounding those who are differently wired. Helen Andrews, the agency’s managing director, says, "We want to continue to hold ourselves accountable, and to push that conversation with best practice and a commitment to hiring diverse talent at all levels."

Neurodiversity and creativity

Talented applicants will not be hard to find. Neurodiverse creative stars include John Lennon (dyslexia), Greta Thunberg (autism), Sir Anthony Hopkins (Asperger’s), Whoopi Goldberg (ADHD and dyslexia), and Billie Eilish (Tourette’s). Who wouldn’t want these game changers on their team?

The industry needs breakthrough ideas and technologies more than ever in these times of enforced, accelerated change, which means there’s even more reason to celebrate neurodiversity. The creative industries need to accept and embrace unlike minds, instead of relying, as they have done for too long, on people who think and act in more conformist ways.

"It’s no surprise that the creative industries have a high percentage of Neurodiverse people, especially dyslexics," comments Dr Chris Arnold, founder of Creative Orchestra and The Garage Innovation Lab (he is also Dyslexic and ADHD). "The key is to see the talent, the ability to think differently - not to see it as a disability. Some of the greatest minds are ND, from Steve Job’s to Einstein. In today’s disruptive times companies, more than ever, need brilliant minds that think differently."

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Last updated 04 May 2021