4As Neurodiversity The Future of Work

The 4A’s and Understood on plans to better reach neurodiverse talent in adland


By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

May 9, 2022 | 6 min read

The Drum sits down with social impact organization Understood and US ad agency body The 4A’s to find out more about how they’re working to accommodate neurodiversity in agencies.


One in five employees have a learning difference / Image via AdobeStock

Understood, an organization for those with learning and thinking differences such as ADHD and dyslexia, has unveiled a comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion offering that includes disability inclusion training, as well as workplace assessment and action plan services for employers invested in building inclusive workplaces.

It has been launched with key partners including The 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies).

Over 70 million people in the US have learning and thinking differences, as do around 1 million in the UK. Commonly characterized as neurodiversity, these are invisible disabilities and are often stigmatized and overlooked – particularly in the workplace. Employee wellbeing can suffer as a result and bosses lose out on the best of their talent.

What’s the issue?

“One in five of all of our employees learns and thinks differently, so it’s imperative to shape our workplaces to be inclusive,” says Yvonne Cowser Yancy, chief administrative officer and head of workplace at Understood.

However, Cowser Yancy adds that many workplaces have a long way to go when it comes to accommodating neurodiversity. “A recent study [Understood] did shows that for people who are currently employed and asked for certain accommodations, 50% of them haven’t received it.

“It’s an issue for productivity and it also effects the hiring process. If you’re talking about diversity, equity inclusion programs, you have to also include neurodiversity in that conversation if you’re in fact trying to be an employer of choice.”

Sean McGlade, senior vice-president, talent and learning solutions at the 4A’s, says that these issues undoubtedly affect the advertising and marketing industries. “When we look at the work that advertisers and marketers do, it’s to shape and reflect culture. So it’s really vital we are as inclusive as we can be when we’re looking at our talent pipeline and who we’re bringing in to work in the industry.”

In the past, Cowser Yancy explains that organizations have shied away from discussing learning difficulties with their employees, due to not wanting to appear discriminatory under the Disabilities Act.

However, now the pendulum has swung the other way. “For one thing, because it’s hard to find talented people, and there’s now a recognition that if you don’t cater to different abilities then you’re missing out on a huge section of the talent pool,” she says.

How can agencies accommodate people with learning differences?

Cowser Yancy explains that Understood’s training focuses on reasonable accommodations and allyship in the workplace. “We all have our differences in the ways we like to work and the way we need to structure things in order to get work done,” she explains. “But for people with learning differences, that could look like closed captions on Zoom or speech-to-text tools, which are now readily available and largely free.

“We also train managers on how to make those accommodations, so how to support their employees in the workplace ... Our hope is that after our training, a manager is better equipped to have a productive conversation with their team and to recognize when someone’s actually asking for help.”

McGlade adds that the 4A’s collaboration with Understood is just one aspect of its Agency Enlightenment programming. “Our goal is to help our members look at the work that they’re putting out into the world and make sure that it is not only bias-free but inclusive; that the message intended is the message received, and that it’s reaching the audience the agency is trying to reach.” The programming also includes resources on age, faith, race and sexuality, as well as disabilities.

“We really just want to help agencies internally, within their workplaces, in the knowledge that that work will trickle out into the work they produce.”

Both Cowser Yancy and McGlade concur that, as with all DE&I initiatives, making accommodations for marginalized or specialized groups within the workplace only serve to benefit everyone.

“By making these small changes, I think you’ll find your place of work a much more effective space,” says Cowser Yancy. “And that’s what we all want.”

“As an employer, you want someone who’s really excited to be there and who can really deliver on their value promised. And for an employee, you want to be in a place where you think people care about you and are able to do the work you really enjoy.”

McGlade concludes that we are at a pivotal moment for the future of work and wellbeing, as agencies begin to develop their new ways of flexible and hybrid working. “This is a key moment and opportunity for agencies to really rethink what it means to be accessible,” he says.

“When you bring marginalized communities to the center, it benefits everyone. And I think that’s particularly salient now as our ways of working are continually changing, as you know, as people are continually learning new skills and adapting to new environments. Let’s make those environments and those workplaces as inclusive as possible, and it will just benefit everyone.”

4As Neurodiversity The Future of Work

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