Thu, 18 Mar 2021 12:00:59 GMT
Dyslexic people, and those with other neurodiverse conditions, are not just surviving, but thriving in the creative industries. They typically have strengths such as enhanced creativity and unusual ways of thinking – all of which are much valued in the sector. So how can your organisation embrace this niche talent and support dyslexic employees? Elsa Wiles Jenkins, new business and brand assistant, AnalogFolk explains more.
When I first started my career in advertising in 2019, I was unsure whether to disclose that I am dyslexic. I was afraid that I would be alone in my struggle to read and write, and feel isolated by my learning difficulty. As it turns out, I was very wrong. Through chatting to a number of dyslexic employees within my agency and many more in my wider network, I soon realised that I was actually part of a thriving dyslexic community within the advertising industry. Armed with this new feeling of belonging, I wanted to find out why the advertising industry is such a great place for dyslexic talent. And how best can the industry that we have decided to call home, support us?
Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling, according to The British Dyslexia Association. In the UK, around 16% (11.5 million people) of the population is dyslexic. While there are no specific statistics that confirm how many people have dyslexia within advertising, Universal Music’s 2020 report ‘Creative Differences’ estimated that the proportion of people who are neurodiverse across all creative industries is almost double that of the general public.
Meanwhile, a report carried out by Creative Equals in 2020 found that 18% of employees in advertising, marketing and media live with one or more neurodiverse conditions.
Putting statistics aside, there is a common consensus amongst industry employees that dyslexia is prevalent in some of our most driven and successful colleagues. In an article published by Digiday in 2017, Chris Arnold, ex-creative chief at Saatchi & Saatchi – who is himself dyslexic – stated that ‘advertising, like other creative industries, is absolutely full of people with learning difficulties’. And you only have to do a quick google search to find countless examples of dyslexic industry CEOs and leaders, including Pip Jamieson, founder and CEO of the professional network The Dots and RPM agency founder Hugh Robertson.
So, it is evident that the creative industry environment is where dyslexic people are not only surviving but thriving. Why? For answers, we must deep-dive into the dyslexic brain. Although dyslexia has previously been viewed as a disadvantage, new research from learning disabilities experts Brock and Fernette Eide is challenging that. They argue that ‘dyslexia is an alternative way brains can be wired – one with many advantages’. A study carried out by Cancer, Manzoli and Antonietti in 2016 found that junior high school students who were diagnosed with dyslexia performed significantly better in a creativity test than their non-dyslexic counterparts. Despite the often negatively perceived aspects of dyslexia, the neurodiverse condition actually has very useful strengths such as enhanced creativity and unusual ways of thinking.
These enhanced skills, when combined with the often non-linear and innovation-focussed ways of working within advertising, is a match made in heaven for dyslexics – a place where they can allow their skills to flourish. Agencies are slowly starting to recognise this and are actively tapping into this niche source of talent. In 2016, the marketing firm ‘The Garage’ stirred up a media storm when they released a recruitment ad that specifically targeted dyslexic talent, stating ‘we require people with a unique mind, so only dyslexics (like Steve Jobs) should apply’.
More recently – in a bid to drive more dyslexic talent into the sector – a group of advertising professionals have created a free-to-use eReader called LEO, which allows students within creative industries to personalise reading content to their needs. Recognising the value of dyslexic talent, the LEO team hopes to break down barriers that would traditionally stop dyslexics from accessing the industry and in turn, make the industry more neurodiverse.
But while there is evidence to suggest the industry is waking up to the value of neurodiverse talent, barriers still exist for dyslexic employees upon trying to enter the workplace, as well as inside it. A 2018 report by Westminster Achieve Ability Commission (WAC) found evidence of systemic barriers to employment for millions of potential neurodiverse employees in the UK, such as online job applications that do not allow assistive technology and the use of a spell checker for dyslexic applicants. Once in employment, a 2011 study found that 88% of people with an invisible disability, such as dyslexia, were unsure whether to disclose their disability to their employer, in fear of being labeled.
To overcome these barriers, it is essential that agencies and advertising organisations proactively look for ways to help dyslexic employees in recruitment and employment.
Here at AnalogFolk, supporting neurodiverse employees is a priority and I feel massively supported with my dyslexia. I’ve received specialist software through the Access to Work scheme that has enabled me to confidently proof my own work (instead of relying on the wizardly skills of my good friend, the sub editor). The company's flexible working environment supports everyone’s differences so we can all excel and create our best work with confidence.
For agencies and advertising organisations that are unsure of how to support dyslexic employees, here are some points to consider:
*A full list of reasonable adjustments and advice for employers on supporting dyslexic employees by the British Dyslexia Association can be found here.
The dyslexic presence in advertising is undeniable. We’re the founders, the leaders, the outside-the-box idea makers, the creative thinkers and so much more. In my eyes, advertising is the ideal space for neurodiverse employees to use our skills and show off our strengths. But to truly flourish, we need the appreciation and support of agencies and advertising organisations – and in turn the industry can keep moving forward towards a future filled with brilliant diverse talent.