Posted 08 Apr 2021
Activist Business Leaders Leading The Way In Flipping The Neurodiversity Narrative
The neurodiversity movement is benefiting from a injection of dynamism led by activist and advocate Directors, who through personal experience understand that the world of work must become more neuroinclusive. Charlotte Valeur, ex-CEO of the UK’s Institute of Directors has established an institute to influence business, after coming out as Autistic. Dan Harris of Deloitte has spearheaded Deloitte’s commitment to Neurodiversity following his experience of parenting an Autistic child. Sir Richard Branson has demonstrated his commitment to dyslexia inclusion for many years.
More recently, Kirsty Giordani, the CEO of the UK’s chapter of the International Advertising Agency expressed her commitment to understanding how the corporate world of advertising could champion inclusion. I asked Kirsty why she had chosen to focus on the topic for a campaign.
“Our mission is to highlight a range of topics within diversity to our members and the wider industry. As you know, Neurodiversity is (mostly?) a hidden disability. It affects so many people – as members of society, in their work, as consumers and as parents. In the context of the advertising industry, neurominorities represent a part of the world’s population that cannot be overlooked. It’s also something that can be hard for people to understand, unless they have personal experience. By talking about this topic, we hope to help educate people and prompt them to consider how they might approach their employees and their work in a way that brings out the potential in everyone.”
Giordani makes a strong point here. Estimates of neurominority prevalence, once we incorporate all different neurotypes, are around 15-20% of the population. Given this, any industry that doesn’t include reaching out to this group are missing customers, a recent study indicated that the discretionary spend of adults with cognitive disabilities alone was over $1Billion per annum.
Like many CEOs advocating for inclusion, the campaign is also personal. Dan Harris, being interviewed for BBC Radio last week said that since changing to fit into the world isn’t always possible for his non-verbal son, he feels compelled to “change the world to fit his son.” That’s a powerful motivation. I asked Giordano about her personal motivations.
“I am a proud parent of a neurodiverse child and I want to do whatever I can, no matter how small, to help make the world a more accepting place. I feel very strongly that EVERYONE has something positive to offer the world, without needing to fit into a social mold that is designed to make neurotypical people feel comfortable. Everyone should be able to lead a fulfilling life, without having to mask their true self.”
Both Giordani and Harris have commented on the lack of support, flexible education and the drain this puts on even well-resourced families. I asked Giordani what employers need to do to support families with ND children navigating the special needs system.
“Navigating the system is the right phrase for it. Going through the process of getting a diagnosis and setting up the right support is stressful and draining, albeit incredibly worthwhile and ultimately positive. From an employer’s perspective, I would say compassion and flexibility are key. Hopefully this will be a good thing to come out of a year of working from home – we’ve all had a window into people’s personal lives.”
Creative Industries Need Inclusion
Ultimately, Giordani understands that strict and rigid instruction in education does not serve neurodivergent children or future citizens and employees. In all sectors, creativity is a skill sought by employers, but advertising is built on creative industries. She says:
“The success of our industry is built on creativity and innovation. The creative process requires diversity of thought, in order produce work that really represents our true society. I can’t claim to be an expert myself – I am learning too. What I’ve been really heartened by has been the positive response to the sessions we have offered. It seems to me that individuals and companies in our industry ARE already making changes. There are already internal groups established at some agencies to champion this topic and many HR teams seem to be undertaking their own initiatives to ensure they have all the best resources available to them. I think people are listening.”
People are listening. As a consultant, psychologist, management scientist and advocate in disability inclusion for over twenty years, Neurodiversity inclusion currently feels like pushing on an open door in the corporate space. My note of caution, however, is that to avoid Neurodiversity being a fad, or a fashion that fades when we have run out of interest, we need to move beyond token projects and disrupt the social infrastructure of our businesses. We have some powerful company in this work right now, and I for one am welcoming them to the table where we can discuss the research, innovation and action needed for lasting change.