Neuro-inclusive workplaces fostering innovation and creativity
The transformative power of a neurodiverse workforce
Rachel Lowenstein (RL), Global Head of Inclusive Innovation at Mindshare in the US, and Jarred Trembath (JT), Global Client Director at Wavemaker and Enable Lead (Neurodiversity ERG) in the UK, discuss industry-changing work, diversity fostering innovation and creativity, and their optimism about the future of neuro-inclusive workplaces.
RL: One of the things that we launched at Cannes Lions this year was a project with our pro bono client Hiki and Getty Images. Hiki is an app that connects autistic people to friendships, relationships and community. As an autistic woman and leader of the project, I encountered frustration every time I looked for imagery of autistic people. Every image was either a stereotype or a positively harmful image.
Most representations of autism are usually young white boys, and sometimes girls, but mostly young white boys. There's no representation of people of colour; very, very few girls; no women; and no LGBTQAI+ people – even though the autistic community is much more likely to be queer and/or trans. There were just very monolithic images of what it means to be autistic.
So, we partnered with Getty Images to create #AutisticOutLoud. This is the first mainstream and large-scale initiative to shift autism's representation in media. It enlisted about a dozen autistic content creators to capture self-portraits that represent their autistic experience in the way that they would want other people to see them. And it's been incredibly successful. Google and IBM have both pledged to use the images in their media and advertising.
JT: This is amazing and such an important initiative. I do think we are starting to see brands taking more of an active stance on inclusion, and I think it all boils down to consumer demand. I feel consumers today are more socially conscious and they value brands that align with their own beliefs and values.
RL: Definitely. The clients that I have had conversations with around neurodiversity have been interested because there's a lot of excitement around it. It’s a term that is new to many people so there's curiosity about it. This excitement and desire to embrace neurodivergent talent makes me optimistic and believe that brands want to support this community.
Companies and organisations are recognising that diversity fosters innovation and creativity as well as a broader perspective. This leads to better decision-making and problem-solving, and a healthier balance within the workplace.
Do you think there has been a shift around conversations on inclusion and diversity in the workplace as well?
JT: I think companies and organisations are recognising that diversity fosters innovation and creativity as well as a broader perspective. This leads to better decision-making and problem-solving, and a healthier balance within the workplace. It's taken a long time for big companies to realise that, and I think with the shift in thinking, they're taking a more serious tone. However, we know that to change someone's thinking, and to change someone's perspective, is a tough challenge. Not a lot of staff are going to embrace this change.
It's all about recognising the equity part of DEI and that, when we enter the workplace, we are not all entering it on the same footing. And it's about making reasonable adjustments for neurodiverse talent in order to harness their true potential.
Time and again, company leaders rank creativity as the number one skill they’re seeking. Neurodivergent people experience the world differently, so we think differently. And what is creativity if not thinking differently?
RL: Agreed. It baffles me that companies aren't falling over themselves to find ways to embrace more inclusive practices. Time and again, company leaders rank creativity as the number one skill they’re seeking. Neurodivergent people experience the world differently, so we think differently. And what is creativity if not thinking differently? My suspicion is (although I have no data to back this up) most of the world’s most creative people are just undiagnosed, divergent people.
I'm not saying that you must be neurodivergent to be creative, but I am saying that there’s a lot of research that links creativity, problem-solving and artistry to being neurodivergent.
I think we're going to see more research coming out that shows this because, as Jarred said, we are problem-solvers to our core. The world is not set up for us. We've had to problem-solve our entire lives – just to exist. And we are some of the most creative people that you'll ever work with. So, if you want creative teams, build neuro-inclusive environments and have neurodivergent people in them.
26 September 2023
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