We are in a moment when it feels like the advertising agency space is starting to face up to its responsibilities around creating a diverse work force and simultaneously discovering the benefits. There is a long road to travel but progress is being made.
More conversations are being had, more people are becoming aware of their unconscious biases and people are beginning to understand that embracing diversity in all its forms; cultural, identity, cognitive and beyond, is not only about fairness but also route to spotting and solving problems in ways that would previously have been passed by.
There is another conversation arising around diversity too, and that is within neuro-diversity and I grabbed some time with Wayne Deakin, ECD at Huge to learn more.
Wayne, whilst keen not to position himself as a poster-boy for ND, has an invaluable perspective on things — working at the top level of a digital agency and being on the ASD spectrum himself.
The first thing we discuss is that whilst neuro-diversity is an umbrella term that takes in any breadth of conditions — dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, ADHD, stammering, to name a few — a commonality is that these are often hidden.
This invisibility makes inclusion at hiring level more complex but Wayne highlights that simply asking the question ‘Do you have any neuro-divergent qualities you would like to share?’ in interview is a good starting point.
He tells me that this is something industries that recruit from the ND pool have been comfortable doing for a while and that big tech and the security services are two of these which have actively courted this talent for some time. At surface level you can see the logical approach in these areas but the benefit of ND hiring should reach well into agency land too. An agency’s job is to solve clients’ problem by looking at them through a different lens. To think different. They have not drunk the company Kool-Aid and so their fresh thinking is what makes them valuable. Is having a work force that naturally thinks differently from one and other within the agency not a powerful way of enhancing this value?
Another question is are existing agency cultures set up to embrace this? There is a cliched agency culture which still pervades some corners of adland that is not complimentary to wide scale inclusive hiring. The noise and the bustle of a culture built in the pub is not for everyone, the ‘agency look’ not for others, nor the idea of finding one’s tribe.
They are critical points to address in diversified hiring as psychological safety is a key ingredient in all successful teams.
Wayne points out to me that the first big step is around normalising the conversation and he is playing his part in that. ND brings with it opportunity and challenges alike but a more open dialogue is a good start in making strides.
He believes, as do we, that there is opportunity for businesses in the creative, digital and comms space to advance their culture and their output through ND hiring and for many the wheels are beginning to turn.