AWE Panel Discussion: Attract a wider talent pool by becoming more Neurodiverse friendly – DMA Talent

IMG_6408The DMA’s, Kate Burnett, is challenging how we hire, train and retain the neurodiverse. As an industry that pushes for creativity, why are we sticking to such an outdated mould when it comes to employing people?

It is estimated that 20 per cent of the population are on the neurodiverse spectrum. This includes those diagnosed with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.

Kate was joined by a panel of neurodiverse industry leaders and an expert autism consultant:

Akama Ediomi-Davies Director, Global Solutions, Xaxis

Laura Chamberlain Managing Director, Now Advertising

Lucy Hobbs Founder, The Future is ND

Wayne Deakin Executive Creative Director, Huge London

Matthew Trerise Autism consultant – training and liaison lead, NHS Bristol Autism Spectrum Service


Kate kicked off the discussion by asking the panel what sort of working culture we should be creating.

Lucy Hobbs:  Openness needs to be addressed and we need to be making adjustments. If 20 per cent of the population is neurodiverse, what sort of quota are we filling as an industry?

Companies like SAP are an advocate for positive discrimination, they changed their whole HR process to recruit, we should be taking a leaf out their book.

Akama Ediomi-Davies: Leaders need to be embracing change, but we are organisations that are so scared of getting it wrong.

Laura Chamberlain: We place such an emphasis on strong leadership – for the neurodiverse to thrive, we need to open up conversation on being vulnerable.  Ask what people need and how we can help.

Matthew Trerise:We are still in the awareness raising stage, people are still not disclosing their diagnoses due to fear and discrimination.

Wayne Deakin: People with a neurodiversity are still seen as being problematic. We need to cut through the stereotypes first, if you have met one person with autism you have met one person with autism. We are all different, just like neurotypical people.


Kate Burnett:What are the long-term aspirations for what changes can we make as an industry?

Matthew Trerise : Firstly it can be hard to get a diagnosis, so this needs to change, then we need to be making practical solutions. We need to be offering flexible work space, open plan offices can be very difficult and overwhelming, offer people the option to work from home, to travel in at different times, offer people a decent sensory environment. And not just for the neurodiverse, these are all things that the neurotypical will benefit from.

Laura Chamberlain: Companies are scared of reasonable adjustments, we need to be creating safe spaces, and as a leader, don’t be selfish with your time. And please put your brand in a readable type face.

Akama Ediomi-Davies:  Businesses need to move away from focusing on the method of delivery workload, and focus on outcome.  Think about what happens in induction. Everyone has areas which complement each other, utilise this.

Matthew Trerise: Common adjustments are so simple, bring in quality training for people. Understand cognitive differences.

Lucy Hobbs:  People know what they are capable of, the tests we set may not, so ask everyone.


Kate BurnettThe neurodiverse excel at certain tasks, and in creative industries we should, of course, be aiming to hire those that think differently, but how do we include the neurodiverse without exploiting them?

Wayne Deakin: Innovation comes from the edges, from the people that think differently, from the people that don’t fit in boxes, from people who are tuned in a different way. If you can align their skills with a strong task mentality you are on to a winner. Hire people to compliment the team, businesses get a competitive edge by hiring this way.  If you keep hiring the same people, you will keep getting the same results. The neurodiverse are a beautiful mixed up pallette of colours. Embrace it.

Lucy Hobbs: The neurodiverse are reliable, resilient, egoless life-hackers, living in a world that was not designed for them.

Akama Ediomi-Davies: Mind-sets need to change. Don’t hire for the CSR check box or because it looks good.  Look at Marvel, We don’t need another team of avengers, we need DR Xavier’s X-Men.

Laura Chamberlain: The neurodiverse possess an ideal and varied set of skills that we want.

Lucy Hobbs: It’s important that we don’t stereotype and cliché them. Some autistic people hate maths and are very sociable – so it is important that we don’t pigeon hole them, see people as individuals as we find them different roles.

Wayne Deakin: We need to focus on resourcing not casting. Embrace the positive madness, clients buy into culture, so sell it to them.

Matthew Trerise: Keep people included in different aspects of the work culture – don’t tuck the brilliant tech guy in a corner and ignore him. Do not shoehorn people and allow specialism to happen.


Kate BurnettOnly 16 % of autistic adults in the UK are in full time employment. How do we help change this and how do we recruit?

 Akama Ediomi-Davies: Rethink the value we place on the interview. It’s a theatre so let’s treat it as such, let’s not judge people on their ability to rapidly answer quick fire questions.  Tell them the questions in advance, allow them to prepare. This is such basic awareness of neurodivergence.

Lucy Hobbs: Just be clear on what you are looking for.  Is it necessary for every single person to have impeccable face to face communication skills If that is nothing to do with the role you are hiring them for? Also, we need to stop looking for the mythical unicorns, why are we recruiting for ‘big thinkers with impeccable attention to detail?’ You can hire good talkers and you will get good talkers, but who will do all the work?

Laura Chamberlain: Hire for the job specifically, not for a unicorn.


Kate Burnett: Is this a watershed moment for neurodiversity?

Wayne Deakin: We are definitely at the edge of a tipping point.  I met someone quite recently who claimed not to believe in neurodiversity, this is a rare case, but it happens.  The more people that talk about it, the more we will get through to people. We need less cliché and more acceptance.

Laura Chamberlain: I used to hide my dyslexia and hide being vulnerable, which is a very scary thing to do, especially as a leader, but now I feel compelled to talk about it.  I can be a vulnerable leader and a good one.

Wayne Deakin: Now I have a son, I feel more compelled to talk about my neurodiversity, I want a world for him to grow up in where there is more understanding.  We want a world that celebrates it. One size does not fit all, let’s not focus on what people can’t do and focus on what individuals can do.


Read more about The DMA’s Neurodiversity Initiative here




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