It’s time brands woke up to inclusive marketing: Interview with Rachel Worsley (Neurodiversity Media)
Diversity and inclusion are hot topics that consistently come up in the Australian marketing, advertising and media industries. The neurodiversity movement is encouraging workplaces and society to expand our understanding of what constitutes ‘normal’.
In this interview, Marketing speaks with the founder and CEO of Neurodiversity Media, Rachel Worsley, about the distinction between diversity and inclusion. We also cover why marketers are missing out on engaging with a whole community of neurodiverse people.
Worsley founded Neurodiversity Media in 2019 after attending a conference on neurodiversity in the workplace. “I thought there must be a way to help get that message out – to get some of the evidence-based resources around neurodiversity at work out there in the greater world using my skills,” says Worsley.
As someone who identifies as neurodiverse (Worsley has autism and ADHD) and has experience in journalism and marketing, it made sense to tap into the power of accessible storytelling to help other neurodivergent adults thrive.
Neurodiversity Media is a one-stop shop for evidence-based resources. It is a place where neurodiverse professionals can seek information to succeed in their roles, but also where employers and the broader community can gain the knowledge and practical tools to help support them.
What is neurodiversity?
The term ‘neurodiversity’ was coined in 1997 by Australian sociologist, author and international speaker Judy Singer. It is now broadly considered a social movement for people with autism, ADHD and dyslexia. It is important to understand neurodiversity is an umbrella term and that the people underneath it might have multiple conditions and varied lived experiences.
Neurodiversity Media is a great first step for employers and business leaders seeking to better understand the needs and experiences of neurodiverse people. Worsley says that like any other movement, for example, LGBTQI+ or gender equality movements, the journey starts with listening.
“It starts with asking people within their network that they know are neurodivergent about their experiences and what their challenges are, to understand what it is and how they can best support them,” explains Worsley. “There are lots of assumptions that are being made in this area. But [businesses] can also contact other organisations in the space, whether it’s Autism Awareness Australia or the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.”
Another good first step is looking at what other best practice brands are doing in this area. One example Worsley shared is IBM, who has developed a program aimed at bringing divergent thinkers into technology professions.
“They’ve put out videos through their main network. Also Andrew Williams, an influencer for IBM, has made an effort to engage with the neurodivergent community and portray actual autistic people that IBM has hired through their program in videos on YouTube, giving them the platform to speak about their experiences, rather than just narrating his experience over it.”
Marketers are missing out on engaging with the neurodiverse community
Worsley believes that marketers and brands are missing out on connecting with the neurodiverse community.
Statistically speaking, Worsley points to a 2018 release from the ABS that says there’s at least 200,000 plus Australians with autism. In 2019 Deloitte Access Economics estimated that around 800,000 Australians have ADHD. That is a large number of people that many brands are currently ignoring.
“The struggle with reaching out to this market is that there are so few studies or research, until recently, that actually estimate the market size in the first place. So when you don’t measure how many people there are, it is very easy to ignore it. But it doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” adds Worsley.
The key to connecting with this rich community is accessible content. If they do not consider accessibility, marketers will create barriers that prevent people from understanding or connecting with their brand.
“I think it’s no different to putting a ramp alongside stairs. If someone in a wheelchair comes out and they don’t have that ramp, they can’t get into the building. And it’s the same thing – they can’t get into your content, or engage with your brand if you don’t have that in place.”
Worsley says accessibility is having your message created in all different formats and ensuring that anyone can understand it in the format they prefer. Neurodiversity Media approaches accessibility by augmenting storytelling with technology. It includes lots of visuals with texts and publisheses content in video and audio formats.
Another good tip is implementing ‘best practice guidelines’ around accessibility. For visually dominated mediums like social media, it might be as simple as including text descriptions and subtitles. “It’s an extra 15 minutes really of your time. That will make a huge difference to a lot of people,” adds Worsley.
Some other tools that Worsley points to are Recite Me and Clipchamp, but there are countless others available.
Beyond that, marketers need to consider who they choose to represent in materials. Worsley says that visible representation in marketing and media goes a long way: “Making more of an effort to source and reach out to neurodivergent voices and allow them to speak for themselves – like myself being interviewed or people being portrayed more often in the media and in marketing materials in general.”
The distinction between diversity and inclusion
Beyond the content that we create, the marketing industry should also consider the needs of neurodivergent employees. In order to do this, we first need to understand the distinction between diversity and inclusion.
“Diversity is getting all the different faces in the room, but inclusion is when you actually get asked to have input in the topic,” says Worsley.
In order to have a more diverse workforce, employers need to not just consider inclusive hiring but also have inclusive strategies to retain people.
“I think most people focus too much on hiring, but it’s also about ensuring that people feel safe, included and heard,” says Worsley. “It all comes back to practicing those basic strategies of asking the best way that they work and ensuring that they always have input in the company and how they would like things to improve as well.”
An inclusive work environment, for all sorts of people, will first focus on the culture of the workplace.
“It is about an intentional culture change approach. Getting that input and creating a culture that is a ‘Universal Design‘ workplace. A workplace where everybody can feel free to be themselves, whether they choose to disclose that they are autistic or not, where they can contribute and feel like they’re a part of an inclusive psychological workplace. So diversity in itself is step one. It is not step everything.”
Worsley explains that many neurodiverse people have been conditioned not to ask for accommodations because they have not been taken seriously when they do. With that in mind, employers and workplace leaders need to be proactive in asking about needs and follow up.
Some accommodations that might make a real difference are flexible work environments and asking staff about their communication preferences. Others might be breaking down work into chunks and having clear deadlines. Such changes can help people be more productive and work better.
When Worsley explains the accommodations so plainly, I can’t help but wonder – won’t such changes ultimately benefit all people?
Rachel Worsley is the founder and CEO of Neurodiversity Media.