Agency Leadership Marketing Diversity & Inclusion

Including neurodiversity in DEIB mix could help counter the industry backslide


By Nathan Friedman, Chief marketing officer

February 28, 2024 | 6 min read’s Nathan Friedman believes Adland has to broaden its definitions of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) if it is to succeed in implementing them. He believes the neurodiverse are underrepresented.

Neurodiversity needs included in DEI mi

DEIB are not just trendy buzzwords. They are what should define a company culture. However, some are not only taking their foot off the gas when it comes to progress in the DEIB space, but they are kicking it to the curb. Most recently, tech giant Zoom laid off its entire DEI team – disinvesting from the commitments it made in 2020.

Attacks on DEIB are forcing executives to step back and reconsider how to approach these initiatives. During this time, we must double down on our DEIB efforts, including accessibility – a critical aspect of diversity that affects 20% of all people and is frequently missed – as a key pillar of these initiatives.

The 70 million neurodivergent individuals in the US, for example – a group defined by learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia – remain largely unseen. This needs to change. It leaves gaps in workplace inclusivity and equity.

The overlooked dimension of DEIB and adding to the marketing mix

A recent McKinsey report revealed the more diverse a company is, the more likely it is to outperform its peers. It’s simple – teams built upon different perspectives, including those from people who learn and think differently, offer more creative and innovative ideas. Yet, the unique talents of neurodivergent individuals are often underleveraged – and frequently hindered by inadequate support and a lack of recognition.

The push for brands and advertising agencies to incorporate neurodiversity extends beyond mere ethical imperatives. The distinct viewpoints, novel problem-solving skills, and inventive flair of neurodivergent talents are unparalleled. For marketers intent on crafting genuine connections across diverse demographics, showcasing neurodivergent narratives within campaigns is not just advantageous – it is vital.

Adding neurodiversity to a company’s DEIB strategy signifies a pledge towards inclusivity on a larger scale. It propels us to question and redefine traditional benchmarks of creativity and innovation and supports equity and representation. This mission requires a unified effort to eliminate obstacles and nurture an ecosystem conducive to the flourishing and contribution of neurodivergent insights and abilities.

As leaders across the marketing and advertising sectors, we have a distinct opportunity and duty to set a precedent. By embracing neurodiversity and accessibility, we lay the groundwork for a more inclusive, innovative, and just industry – but we need to do it on a bigger scale.

Last month, we launched the NeuroEquity Fund at the World Economic Forum in Davos, marking a pivotal step toward inclusivity and fairness. It is the first fund aimed at creating equitable conditions for neurodivergent individuals, regardless of race, gender, or economic status, providing opportunities to empower women in the workplace. This initiative is a call to organizations to not only recognize the importance of neurodiversity but to foster its growth actively.

However, according to an MIT study, to fully and truly embrace neurodivergent talent, we must establish the right processes and protocols.

So how can we get there?

For starters, the fundamentals of neurodiversity integration start with the education and enlightenment of our teams. We need everyone on the same page. Therefore, it is crucial to organize employee resource groups (ERGs) and training sessions focused on understanding neurodiversity, its implications, and the distinct experiences of neurodivergent individuals. These workshops are essential for debunking stereotypes and spotlighting the capabilities and contributions of those with neurodivergent profiles.

On top of this, modernizing our hiring practices and office environments to accommodate neurodivergent talents better is vital. This includes reimagining recruitment, job listings, interview methodologies, and the office experience to meet the varied needs of all staff members. Introducing flexible working schedules [such as a hybrid approach to RTO], establishing quiet zones, and offering various support tools will create more welcoming workplaces. Finally, offering company-wide training in universal design is key to accessibility. Making these changes and designing a workplace for neurodivergent talent helps the whole team thrive. To put it simply, everyone benefits from accessibility.

Nurturing inclusivity starts by changing the corporate fabric

Elevating our corporate culture to one of inclusivity and belonging transcends simple policy adjustments – it’s also about a fundamental transformation in attitudes and behaviors across every layer of an organization. Promoting transparent dialogue, ensuring clarity in directives, adopting positive language, and promoting a network of support are critical for fostering a work environment where every individual feels valued – and one where everyone feels understood.

Accepting this challenge means we usher in a new age of marketing that authentically represents the world around us, characterized by narratives and campaigns that resonate profoundly across all societal segments. Let us navigate forward with boldness and inventive spirit, crafting a future where inclusivity forms the foundation of our industry spirit.

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Agency Leadership Marketing Diversity & Inclusion

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