On Thursday, 23rd November, we gathered at the D&AD Headquarters in Cheshire Street to celebrate ND Leaders in the creative and tech industries for the third year running.
Lucy Hobbs opened the evening by reminding attendees that ND leaders are not just a fad.
Through her work as founder of FND, she has watched the topic evolve in the direction of positive progress, with many more ND leaders finding the confidence to be more visible in recent years.
“When we first introduced this theme, it wasn’t easy to find ND leaders, but I am pleased to say that more are speaking openly about it. So, the awareness must be working.” Lucy describes ND leaders as people who are often naturally inclusive and know what it’s like to feel rejected and excluded, providing a solid sense of justice and equality.
Read on for a rundown of the evening’s speakers and their key takeaways.
1st speaker – Wayne Deakin Global Principal, Creative Wolff Olins
Wayne finds talking about work and design easier than talking about himself. He shared his story growing up in a small remote fishing village in Northern Queensland, Australia, where being different was considered scary and he was bullied for not fitting into the macho stereotype.
He then found solace in art and design: “I think from an early age, when I did the Dingo Creek watercolour competition, I knew that there was an ability to bring to life my artistic side. Being different and thinking differently was a benefit and a superpower, an artistic streak powered by autism.”
For years, Wayne didn’t realise he was on the spectrum, but when he found out, it helped him embrace his differences and use them to his advantage in his creative career.
2nd speaker – Rach Idowu ADHD Advocate aka @AdultingADHD
Rachel shared her journey to getting diagnosed with ADHD in her early 20s after years of struggling alone. Growing up, she thought ADHD was only something boys could have, and even feared she had early-onset dementia at 22 before finally understanding her neurotype.
Rachel spoke about the importance of normalising neurodivergence, checking biases, and improving inclusion. She shared her own experiences of masking her symptoms and struggles at work before finding the courage to disclose her diagnosis.
According to Rachel, proper inclusion requires understanding each neurodivergent person’s unique needs and strengths instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach. It also means recognising intersectionality and ensuring equitable access to diagnosis and support.
3rd Speaker – Ant Jackson, Creative Director and Co-Director at Outvertising
Ant shared how her ADHD fueled her successful creative career, allowing her to take more risks and be more innovative. However, imposter syndrome has always plagued her, and she emphasised the need to accept oneself.
According to Ant, the same ADHD traits that spark creativity can also lead to anxiety and burnout. Still, self-awareness, mindfulness, and maintaining work-life balance are essential for thriving. She encouraged the audience to find safe, understanding workplaces where they can embrace their neurotype without judgment.
4th speaker – Liana Fricker, Founder Inspiration Space
Liana described her winding career path before entrepreneurship, including struggling to fit into corporate jobs despite success. She realised in her late 30s that she had ADHD, which explained her challenges.
Liana shared how going unrecognised for so long can cause serious issues like depression and substance abuse. She founded her company to help others blossom by promoting inspiration and safety for people to reach their potential without barriers.
Liana views her neurodivergence as ‘super powerful, though not a superpower’ and believes helping neurodivergent people thrive requires patient cultivation by society, just like growing a tree. Her story exemplifies how embracing one’s neurotype can unlock amazing talents.
Overall, the speakers showed how neurodivergent traits that make fitting into society difficult also confer unique skills and perspectives for leadership. With greater inclusion, understanding, and support, ND individuals can better leverage their strengths while navigating challenges. Their experiences reveal the progress still required but demonstrate the tremendous potential waiting to be tapped.
With thanks to our sponsors Wolff Olins and Lexxic.
Written by Rosemary Richings, edited by Abi Silvester.
Photography by Guy Walsh