On May 9, 2023, we gathered at Havas London to discuss the workplace of the future. Lucy Hobbs, founder of The Future is ND, hosted the evening, explaining that the focus would be on accessibility and the workplace. Specifically, what do we need to ensure the workplace of the future is accessible for everyone? What designs, solutions, and ideas do we need in the workplace to make it inclusive? These were the questions we were going to delve into.
After Lucy’s opening words, Xavier Rees, the CEO of Havas London, presented a short film titled “Me, My Autism & I”. Made in conjunction with Vanish and Ambitious About Autism. The film delves into the importance of clothes in meeting sensory needs, as well as the gender gap in autism diagnoses.
Xavier said the film explores “how important clothing can be to some autistic people”, especially when it comes to navigating the world and feeling able to deal with change. A moving film, “Me, My Autism & I” recently won Channel 4’s Diversity in Advertising Award and has been shortlisted for seven D&AD awards.
Next up, Lee Chambers, the founder of Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing, spoke. Lee began by touching on the history of wellbeing in the workplace – before speaking about its future.
“Wellbeing started in 1979. It has its roots in Johnson & Johnson,” he explained.
Of course, the concept has travelled far since then. In the US, wellbeing took off after 2008 as a way of reducing medical bills. Now, there is a lot of interest in tech-related wellbeing. “Anything you could possibly want these days, it’s out there,” Lee said.
But as the industry grew, it became more blinkered. Now, there’s a culture of one-size-fits-all in the world of wellbeing – and neurodivergent employees in particular report low levels of workplace wellbeing.
“People can’t be well if they’re not included,” Lee said. “As a group of individuals, we are being failed by the workplace,” he said.
Lee, who was diagnosed autistic two years ago, also spoke about how important it is to be aware of issues such as minority stress, microaggressions, the impact of discrimination, as well as accessibility needs and accommodations.
“Wellbeing and inclusion aren’t two separate things. When people feel like they belong, they report significantly higher wellbeing.”
After the break, we moved on to the panel discussion hosted by Lucy Hobbs. Our panellists were made up of:
- Rob Brougham – Co-founder of Braided Communications
- David McIntyre – CEO and founder of Cubbie
- Samantha Hiew – Founder and director of ADHD Girls
- Royston Collins – Commercial director of Genius Within
The panel spoke about the challenges they’ve encountered in the workplace.
For example, after leaving academia, Sam found it hard to understand business talk speech. “I left the lab and I didn’t know how to decipher corporate speech, the jargon in job applications.” She’d think, “Why can’t [they] talk like humans?” Sam now heads up ADHD Girls, a social impact company that empowers girls and women with ADHD and improves societal understanding of neurodiversity via an intersectional lens.
As for David, he is dyslexic. “A primary school teacher told my parents I was dyslexic. And since then I’ve used it as a tool to get out of a lot of work,” he joked. He used to find meetings a nightmare. He didn’t get office politics. On top of this, communication was sometimes poor, and he was often too dogged in his approach. It was only when his youngest daughter got diagnosed as autistic, that he realised his “own disability, dyslexia, was actually a power.” Afterwards, he developed Cubbie, which provides personalised sensory regulation for school children.
Rob also spoke about the difficulties of meetings. “The format of meetings has been optimised over decades, possibly centuries, for people who are neurotypical, confident individuals,” he explained. Braided Communications’ neuro-inclusive meeting software seeks to address this. Originally built to help astronauts in space communicate with people on the ground, the software now helps teams on Planet Earth embrace neurodiversity.
Royston then spoke about Genius Within – an organisation that offers coaching, assessments, and learning resources for neurodivergent adults. Genius Within’s new psychometric tool, the GeniusFinder PRO, looks at what neurodivergent people find difficult in the workplace, as well as what their strengths are. “It looks at your strengths, your best parts, and the things you struggle with – and provides strategies, accommodations, and adjustments.”
Royston was recently diagnosed with ADHD. His diagnosis did not come as a surprise. “I’m really proud to be a neurodivergent individual. It’s really helped me to recognise my own strengths,” he says.
By the end of the evening, there was much to think about. The need for neuro-inclusive workplaces was clear and products and services designed by neurodivergent people for neurodivergent people could play an important part. After all, neurodivergent workers know what they need best and if the one in seven neurodivergent people are included in the workplace, more people will benefit. As Lucy said, “Design for the extreme benefits the mean.”
Words by Alice Franklin
Photography by Guy Walsh Photography