Where #DiverseMinds Thrive

Clare Dyckhoff

#DiverseMinds – The Neurodiversity Conference 2018

On 1st March, conference attendees trudged through the snowy (read: slushy) streets of London to the IAB for The Neurodiversity Conference 2018.

Hosted in partnership with Creative Equals and The Hobbs Consultancy the conference was designed to deep-dive into how businesses and HR teams can best approach the importance and benefits of diverse minds and fully embrace the art of difference in the workplace.

From hiring tactics to empower all those both neurodiverse and neurotypical applying to jobs and attending interviews to the simple but effective changes companies can physically make right now to create a better, more-inclusive working environment, the aim of the day was how to best unlock the power of divergent thinkers in the workplace. And why so? Research from Creative Equals found that “employees are 45% happier and 48% more likely to stay in a business if their teams are diverse.”

What changes can be made to create a comfortable environment for everyone?

To best unlock the power of divergent thinkers in the workplace, it starts with hiring and recruitment. Locating what the barriers are to those with Asperger’s, Autism, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia (to name but a few), the first question on the agenda was “how do we create welcoming offices where different types of brains can thrive?”


Michael Vermeersch, Digital Inclusion Lead at Microsoft told the room about their new hiring approach. A company move to “accept that CVs have gaps” led to “the greatest feedback he had ever received” when an employee had said: “For the first time in many years I feel like it is not a weakness to have a disability.”

Following on to say that people can be disabled by society, by systems and that it’s not a weakness to be neurodiverse, and people are not broken and do not need to be fixed, Microsoft got applicants to come in, work, and show how they could code. This echoes the company’s inclusive products such as Edge and Quiet Hours, enabling users to focus while using their devices.

Ray Coyle, CEO of Auticon UK stated how they employ a no interview and no CV policy, and that the company focus is to judge everyone especially on their skills to avoid understated abilities in covering letters and CVs.

Because even something as standard as listing an essential need for “strong communication skills” could deter neurodiverse applicants; they might excel in other fields relevant to the job but not be as confident in face-to-face situations.

Office layouts:

A panel discussion later on in the day focused on giving some practical tips of how to be a better peer in the workplace to colleagues with neurodiverse conditions.

For example, open plan offices seem like a brilliant idea for the majority – a bustling environment for discussion and thriving conversations but for someone with autism it might be a hellish nightmare detrimental to their work. Panellist Adam Corre stated that needing a quiet environment to work is crucial to him feeling more comfortable at work and as a result, working more effectively. Whilst working from home was his preferred coping mechanism to the office buzz, he expressed a fear of being perceived as “slacking off” if he asked to do so, and he is not alone.

So, what is the result? A call for more quiet rooms and more flexible working opportunities. It’s a way for companies and businesses to assess different ways of structuring their workplaces to enable everyone in their workforce to thrive.

Understanding colleagues better:

“Don’t ask, don’t get” has always been a personal mantra of mine but what the conference taught was that it can be the same of finding out how to best help your colleagues and peers.

Ray Coyle was greeted with a room of approving nods and sounds when he said “You don’t need to know everything about neurodiversity, you need to just understand your colleague.” Furthered by panellist Ellie Gerszt, who said being kind to colleagues and just asking how to help be a more understanding/acknowledging co-worker is a simple but effective way of working.

Ultimately, it’s about treating every co-worker, neurodiverse or neurotypical with respect and as an individual; Independent Creative Consultant, Wayne Deakin stated: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

What role does the media have to play in the visibility of disability?

When we assess the visibility of something in society, we often look to advertising for representation standards and to what extent it occurs.

Omnicom Media Group UK’s very own CMO, chair of OPEN (Omnicom People Engagement Network) UK, and the Government’s Advertising Sector Champion for Disability, Sam Phillips rounded off the day with her take on whether advertising reflects modern Britain and what the media can do to help bring about change.

Considering the role of the media in diverse representation, Sam called out and praised the work of both Channel 4 and Maltesers as companies who are using advertising to reflect modern Britain better. In a society where we are all “different, not defective” (James Hilton from Native), the role of media in disability visibility is prompting our industry to evolve, something Sam states is “difficult but by not doing it we are not moving forward or progressing”.

It’s about allowing people to be who they are, not who you are and remembering that people are different, not less.

As Mark Evans, Marketing Director at Direct Line Group said on the day, “it’s the diversity we cannot see that has the biggest impact” and to really create work that speaks to everyone? We need diverse teams to create diverse work for diverse audiences. After all, diversity is inevitable but inclusion is optional.