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Data and marketing teams across the UK are overlooking a vast talent pool

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Neurodiversity isn’t a new concept but research and best practice in the public domain remains limited. Kate Burnett, MD of DMA Talent, discusses how its Neurodiversity Initiative is helping businesses to make adjustments that will help them to tap into this under-utilised and highly talented pool of people.
data marketing diversity

According to the National Autistic Society there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, of those, just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time, paid employment.

Now DMA Talent is leading a Neurodiversity Initiative, which aims to help businesses learn how to become more ‘neurodiverse friendly’, ensuring they are able to choose from a wider talent pool and seek out the most capable individuals for their roles.

Matthew Trerise, who has 15 years’ experience working with individuals on the autism spectrum, will be leading the training workshops. Since 2009, he has worked in a specialised NHS diagnostic service to help develop their diagnostic programme and assist businesses with their training. He has advised multiple employers, including the HMRC, on alterations they should make to their recruitment procedures and working environment to be ‘neurodiverse friendly’.

There is a skills shortage for data-related skills in the data and marketing industry

In a digital age, big data is the future of data and marketing. In terms of data and marketing teams across the UK, we are missing out on a large talent pool that can be highly analytical. Neurodiverse people, especially those on the autism spectrum, can often thrive with problem solving tasks, data analysis, and projects that require high attention to detail.

The ‘Professional skills census 2018’ from the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM) highlights ‘data-related skills’ as a key area with skills gaps that need to be addressed. They include: analysing customer data/insight, data analysis & reporting, data & database management.

However, it’s not just data related skills that those with neurodiverse brains bring to the table. Creative thinking is another significant benefit of having a truly neurodiverse team.

As Mark Evans, Marketing Director at Direct Line Group commented:

“The real value from building more neurodiverse teams is that there is more challenge to the status quo – both in terms of what you do and how you do it. It forces teams to challenge their own thinking as to why certain team members should work on a given project and how to maximise everyone’s output.”

Key things to consider to become more neurodiverse friendly

Clearly, it shouldn’t be expected of line managers, senior decision makers and HR teams to be experts on neurodiversity, as there is limited research, best practice and training for this, although this is rapidly changing. That is why we are working with subject matter experts to help define best practice and we have been advised on a number of straightforward adjustments that can be made to help.

It is essential to tailor the candidate tasks to the job at hand, while being conscious of how to get the best from someone. For interviews, on-the-spot questioning isn’t necessarily always the most productive way to assess a person’s initiative. Someone with an autism spectrum condition (ASC) may benefit from taking a task away and analysing it in greater detail to look at the overall picture – then provide their thoughts at a later date.

There are a number of working practices and conditions that should be considered, with some becoming more common practice. Working from home and flexibility in working hours have really grown in popularity in recent years, as there may be days where someone is perfectly capable of doing their job, just not in a busy office.

Something I’d like to see more of, which Matt Trerise also recommends in his training, is different working zones. Working zones may be separated for ‘creative’ group work and ‘quiet’ project work, where analytical tasks can be focused on, noise is minimal and things like lighting don’t need to be so intrusive. Not everyone operates best in the same conditions and so you can learn a lot about your employee or colleague from observing where they prefer to operate.

Clearer communication between employees is a fundamental change that needs to improve. It can be very helpful for someone with autism, for example, to be clear what you are asking of them – let them know exactly what you need from them and when. Additionally, asking in advance so they aren’t approached with challenging questions unexpectedly. Keeping to deadlines, where possible, is also helpful.

Both managers and their staff should feel confident that they can communicate queries or concerns with one another, or if managers have challenges within their team, how they feel the company can help to resolve them.

Case study: Direct Line Group 

Louise Calvert, DLG’s Propositions Development Manager, and Amy Ah-kine, DLG’s Head of Campaign Selections, attended the Neurodiversity Initiative training in September 2018.

Both Louise and Amy felt this initiative and training expanded on the current information available in the public domain in terms of research, advice and best practice. They were delighted that it aimed to bring people together from the data and marketing industry, and wider professional world, to share their experience and learn best practice.

Like many organisations who attend, they believe organisations can be doing things better. Their internal ‘Diversity Network Alliance’ (which promotes diversity and equal opportunities within the company) were keen to learn best practice regarding neurodiversity and so this training would be key to providing further insight.

For the past ten months, Direct Line Group has also worked with Auticon, an external consulting business, for some of their hiring needs. Auticon’s consultants (all of which are on the autism spectrum) are deployed into various client projects that match the consultant’s professional skills and expertise. They then work within a specific team to help with the recruitment and post-recruitment ‘settling in’ period. Due to the success of the pilot, they have extended the contract for another six months.

They have found that by having both autistic and non-autistic professionals in mixed project teams it presented new perspectives within and significantly improved the team’s work productivity and output.

Looking to the future

We need to raise awareness of neurodiversity and provide a platform where consultation is available and best practice is continuously developed. DMA Talent’s Neurodiversity Initiative may be the start of a movement that will help the industry to bridge a number of skills gaps, while gaining access to a vast, highly skilled talent pool at the same time.

It is all about tailoring working environments for individuals – not just what is convenient for the majority. It still continues to surprise me today how much a person can thrive in the right conditions, given the right support.

Have an opinion on this article? Please join in the discussion: the GMA is a community of data driven marketers and YOUR opinion counts.

Kate Burnett
Author: Kate Burnett
Managing Director at DMA Talent | www.dma.org.uk

As MD of the DMA Talent team, Kate’s mission is to create a clear pathway to inspire young people to join the growing direct and digital marketing industry. She is passionate about educating and enabling the next generation of marketing talent with the skills they need to succeed. As part of the DMA Group, the Employability team creates links between education institutions, student and professional bodies, youth charities and employers to develop projects which improve the employment prospects of young people into marketing.

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