It’s almost 2024, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) is being left behind.
Brands are regressing and cutting diversity roles. They’re failing to follow through on commitments made just three years ago. New data from the 4A’s shows an alarming lack of diversity among agencies’ C-suites in 2022 compared to 2021.
Now more than ever, brands need to grapple with this ugly truth and have some uncomfortable conversations. Brands not only need to reinvest in their DEIB programming, but redefine what DEIB means, what it includes and what it stands for.
Where are the guidelines for deciding who is eligible to be represented by DEIB programs? I can say with confidence that the neurodivergent population has not made the cut.
How can we carve out a new and permanent place for neurodiversity in DEIB, especially in a time of diversity ditching? We can start by driving awareness, forging partnerships and recommitting to DEIB by adding an “A” for “accessibility.”
Why you should care about neurodiversity
There are 70 million people in the U.S. with learning and thinking differences, like dyslexia and ADHD. That’s almost 20% of the U.S. population.
Despite this, a majority of Americans don’t have a clear understanding of what learning and thinking differences are. 24% of U.S. adults ages 18 to 34 falsely believe that learning and thinking differences don’t exist. Meanwhile, just 57% know that neurodivergent people can be successful.
Less than half of Americans are aware that neurodiversity is a viewpoint that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits.
Learning and thinking differences aren’t “problems” or “challenges.” They’re differences in the way people process information. They can even give people problem-solving superpowers. Some of today’s leading artists and entrepreneurs learn and think differently.
Adding the “A” for “accessibility”
Accessibility means making sure that environments are set up to be usable for as many people as possible. We’re all familiar with ramps that allow people in wheelchairs to access buildings. We’ve all noticed braille elevator buttons. But there’s a widespread lack of workplace accessibility for people with learning and thinking differences.
That’s partly because these kinds of differences are invisible.
But it’s not difficult or expensive to accommodate employees with learning and thinking differences. It just takes a thoughtful perspective.
People often don’t know when or how to bring up their need for accommodation, and it’s easy to forget to ask when their differences are invisible. Take the first step and make sure every employee knows they can ask for help. Start with a simple question: “What can we do to support you?”
Make accessibility the norm, for instance by including closed captioning on video calls and meetings. Send out pre-reads and after-meeting summaries in accessible formats. Pick quiet locations for offsite meetings.
Finally, be flexible and understanding. Not everyone thinks and works like you do. Maybe a co-worker seems disengaged during a brainstorm. But maybe they work best when they can think deeply about something before speaking. (Did they get a pre-read?) Maybe someone keeps getting up during a meeting. For a lot of people with ADHD, walking around is helpful. It may even be a sign of interest and excitement.
A future of DEIB&A
With ADHD Awareness Month just behind us, now is the perfect time for brands to rethink their priorities, learn and redefine their DEIB programming.
Let’s rebrand DEIB together, making it more inclusive, accessible and better than it was before.
We’re ready for the future of DEIB&A.
Nathan Friedman is the co-president and chief marketing officer at Understood.org