Including Neurodiversity in the DE&I conversation

Yolanda Etrata

16 Mar 2023

This week, Harvard has been celebrating Neurodiversity Celebration Week – a worldwide initiative that aims to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences. 

Neurodiversity is often overlooked as a part of the wider DE&I conversation. However, a recent study from BUPA revealed that more people than ever have been turning to Google in search of support for neurodivergence in the workplace. This really highlights the importance of raising awareness around the various neurotypes and how they can present, and challenging the stigmas associated with neurodivergence.  

It’s been amazing to see Harvard’s leaps in its DE&I efforts since joining the agency two years ago. As a dyslexic woman of colour, I personally have experienced several challenges in this industry, and have a vested interest in ensuring that PR is more inclusive. And not only is it the right thing to do, it also just makes business sense: diversity in the workforce – increase in perspectives – improve creative output. 

Harvard’s DE&I pillar team

It’s estimated that people who are neurodivergent make up around ten to thirty percent of the population, depending on what site you look at (so quite a lot of people). Our brains learn and process information differently and despite making up such a huge proportion of the population, as well as having a positive impact on society, these differences are often seen as negative. Preconceptions have led people to see neurological differences as conditions that need to be treated or cured, rather than celebrated.

And so this week, the neurodiversity pillar team has been celebrating our differences! We’ve been spreading awareness through our internal comms around how different neurotypes can present, celebrating the strengths of those who are neurodiverse, while bringing useful resources to top of mind. 

There is of course still so much more work to do. While awareness is key to creating a more empathetic and effective workforce, flexibility, adjustments, and further training will help us to tap into the vast potential of people who are neurodivergent. 

Over the coming months, the agency and pillar will be focusing on internal initiatives and training to go beyond just raising awareness. We really want to create a workspace that enables everyone to feel valued, and empowered to make their move. 

Some words from our people

Adam George, Account Director

“I have always had an inkling that there was something “different” about how my brain works. From a work perspective, I struggle to concentrate for long periods, I put off time-consuming and detail-focused tasks, and I find it hard to motivate myself to do things that I find “boring”. On top of this, I am quite loud and sometimes disruptive. I often find myself finishing other people’s sentences in conversations and meetings, because I am so excited and on board with the point they are making. It wasn’t until a girl asked me (after a first date) if I had ever been tested for ADHD that the thought even crossed my mind. I remember telling my Mum and she cried. When most people think of ADHD they think of naughty, disruptive teenagers. To be fair, I could probably be described as one a lot of the time…”

“Anyway, I did some digging into ADHD and how it manifests within adults. It was a revelation. Basically everything I read chimed with the experience I was having. My ADHD means that I struggle to concentrate a lot of the time but when I find something I am interested in, I become OBSESSED and spend hours looking into it. This is what I did. I took every online ADHD assessment I could find and each one confirmed my belief: I am ADHD as f*ck (that’s not the medical term). Since then (with lots of support from Jo FW, Director at Harvard PR and Chair of Beam, VCCP Business’ LGBTQ+ affinity group and the agency), I got an official assessment and it was confirmed. Just understanding that I have ADHD and there is a reason for certain things I struggle with has really helped. My team has been super understanding and patient with me and I have a number of different coping mechanisms in place to ensure I get work done.” 

Amy McRitchie, Associate Director

A couple of years ago I was “officially” diagnosed with dyslexia. Much to the surprise of pretty much everyone around me (except me). It was met with a lot of “are you sure?!” When I’d mentioned it in the past everyone was so dismissive. Ultimately, I was smart, did well in school and “loved to read”. But the reality is I’d created so many workarounds to get through school, university, and eventually work, that I just didn’t realise not everyone did those things.”

“However, when the pandemic hit, most of the coping mechanisms I’d built no longer worked in a fully remote, highly stressful and overwhelming world. However, Harvard’s been really supportive following my diagnosis. But I think the biggest learning is that while a diagnosis helps frame a lot of behaviours and provides a lot of answers to why your brain works a certain way, it’s not the end of that journey. And it’s not something that can be done alone. If you’re neurodivergent you need colleagues and people around you who are willing to look at doing things a little differently in order for you to thrive!”

Ashna Syal, Junior Account Executive

“As someone who is neurotypical, I am grateful for the opportunities to learn more about neurodiversity and have been curious about the different neurotypes. ‘Knowledge is power,’ Sir Francis Bacon said. However, in this case, knowledge is more tangible and brings a perspective that people in the Communications sector need to shed more light on. The goal is not only to be inclusive, but also to encourage everyone’s creativity. I’ve also been very pleased to see the neurodiversity pillar team at Harvard busting myths and raising awareness in their daily newsletters throughout the week.”

To learn more about our DE&I pillars at Harvard, please read our 2022 DE&I report.