Nathan Friedman
Jan 17, 2024

A call to action at Davos: Time to put neurodiversity on the global agenda

Approximately 20% of people have learning and thinking differences such as ADHD and dyslexia, yet wider acceptance and education of neurodiversity seems far and few between.

Photo: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty Images.

For more than 50 years, the World Economic Forum in Davos has offered a platform for the most prominent global political, cultural and business leaders to come together to discuss the topics that shape the world, to drive and influence society to make positive changes. 

The Forum agenda consists of the most thought-provoking questions, answered by decision-makers who have the power to make a difference. 

Simply said, decisions are made at Davos. This year, I am calling for neurodiversity to be added to the agenda.

Approximately 20% of people have learning and thinking differences, such as ADHD and dyslexia. That’s 70 million people in the U.S. alone. Given that, we can estimate that 20% of all Davos attendees—including many global leaders—have learning and thinking differences. 

These differences, along with other kinds of neurodivergence, are invisible, overlooked and stigmatised. When undiagnosed, they can lead to life-altering consequences. But despite the scale of those impacted, nearly 60% of Americans say they don’t have a clear understanding of what learning and thinking differences are.

It is comforting to believe that strides have been made in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB), but 2023 was a challenging year and we took 10 steps backward. 

According to research from Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity, more than 55% of Fortune 500 board seats are held by white men, making apparent the lack of progress and the need for change at the top. People we consider “thought leaders” have blatantly diminished DEIB’s importance. 

Davos offers the first opportunity in 2024 to act as a lightning rod, bring the importance of DEIB back to the forefront and add accessibility to the equation.  

So, how do we make a change and advocate for neurodivergent people?

Focus on intersectionality with women and children—an urgent need

The first step is to focus on intersectionality within two important audiences: children and women. We know that girls are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia in childhood and adolescence. This can lead to lifelong inequalities that negatively impact their health and their lives at home and at work.

Boys are diagnosed with ADHD three times as often as girls and are referred for evaluation up to 16 times as often as girls. Additionally, the field’s understanding of dyslexia and ADHD is based on research primarily on males, leading to a lack of knowledge and awareness of how learning differences present differently in girls—thereby perpetrating inequalities throughout their lives.

Women with ADHD experience increased occurrence of issues with both mental health and physical health. They have lower self-esteem and face unique forms of discrimination at work. 

We must take a bold approach to change the status quo and close the equity gaps for those who are experiencing multiple marginalisations.

Deliver impactful solutions, interventions and resources

As a global community, we must provide proven resources and interventions to those in need. For more than 10 years, Understood has worked to address stigmas and deliver resources for neurodivergent individuals—created by neurodivergent people—to help them thrive at school, at work and in life. 

As we gather in Davos, we’re calling for world leaders to join us in investing in neuroequity. To that end, we are launching the NeuroEquity Fund—the first fund aimed at creating equitable conditions for neurodivergent women and children regardless of race, gender or economic status. 

This fund will enable impact through first-of-its-kind research on women and children to identify novel paths to deliver change, fresh opportunities to empower women in the workplace and new school-based tools to support neurodivergent children.

We need programs that will drive change, but we also need allies that will make the change a reality. According to Gartner, 75% of organisations with decision-making teams built on a diverse and inclusive culture will support innovation, productivity and positive financial outcomes for organisations, while ensuring all can thrive at work. 

We need the world’s elite to use their privilege to join our mission to drive awareness about neurodiversity and neuroequity. 

It is not only the right thing to do—it is also good for business.

Nathan Friedman is co-president and chief marketing officer at Understood. 

Nathan Friedman, co-president and chief marketing officer, Understood. (Photo credit: Understood, used with permission)

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