NEURODIVERSITY CELEBRATION WEEK 2022: COLLEAGUE Q&A
This week is Neurodiversity Celebration week, and earlier this month we hosted a panel Q&A with some of our neurodiverse colleagues, to learn more about their experiences and how Splendid can support any challenges, as well as making the most of their strengths. Here we have a snapshot of that Q&A discussion, where we heard from our Splendid colleagues; George, Zerrin and Sam.
- Can you tell us what your neurodivergence is and how it generally affects you and the way you experience the world?
George Peckham: I have ADHD, a typical day to day means I’m very easily distracted and can miss things unintentionally, despite looking over and over. I’m super diligent when it comes to my work and look over at least three times before sending an email or sharing a release, but there will always (sadly) be stuff I can miss. I’m also particularly chatty which can come as a result of being distracted.
The positives are that ADHD allows me to be super creative and the ability to hyperfocus on certain tasks when I’m excited or engaged within a project e.g., idea generation or general campaign I’m excited by.
Zerrin Morris: I am dyslexic, day to day in my work life this means I’m very conscience of allowing myself time to triple check my spelling and punctuation as well as being vigilant to check for any mathematical errors. These are things that I will not naturally pick up on, so I make an extra effort to look out for them. I also believe that being dyslexic means I approach problems in a slightly different way, I like to think I am a creative problem solver.
Sam Henry: I am dyslexic, I have a bad short-term memory, but a good long-term memory. I can still tell you press release headlines, stats and client product model numbers and features from my first few years in PR, but if you introduced yourself to me and asked me 30 seconds later what your name was, I wouldn’t remember!
Reading is difficult, it literally feels like the letters and words are jumping about on the page, I will often forget the paragraph I’ve just read, so will have to reread a few times. I also find it hard to spot my own errors and typos. I used to get hung up on this through most of my career, thinking that I was slower than everyone and my writing wasn’t as good as everyone else, but in the recent few years I’ve learnt to focus on the positives of how my mind works. I have a sister who got diagnosed as autistic aged 25, and I always look at the positives of how her mind works and I’m in awe of her skills.
1. Overall, how has your experience been as a neurodiverse individual in the PR and communications industry and why do you think it is good to have conversations like these?
George Peckham: I’ve only really been open about my ADHD recently, because of the negativities people think of when it’s mentioned. For example, the immediate reaction for some is “Oh they’re easily distracted, they’ve got ADHD” or “They’re the naughty kid in school because they’ve got ADHD”. There was a big stigma around ADHD but it comes down to education on it.
In PR it’s a challenge, something that I have to face every day, given our industry has very high expectations for spelling and grammar and more, this can become immensely challenging at times.
In terms of briefing, I benefit from face-to-face calls, but also a follow up email that outlines the task as sometimes I can’t take notes down quick enough and can sometimes struggle to process note taking and verbal briefings in one go – this comes largely down to the forgetfulness trait of ADHD. When it comes to feedback, I really appreciate more in-depth, constructive feedback but also positive feedback and reassurance. Like most of us, positive feedback and reassurance spurs us to carry on, but for someone with ADHD, it resonates immensely.
Zerrin Morris: I’ve always been really open about my dyslexia because I feel passionately that if you are open about your neurodiversity and what you need to do within a work environment to manage any potential issues, people are generally really understanding. I luckily have never encountered any problems within the industry because I am dyslexic.
Sam Henry: I think it’s so important to be open and talk about it. I’ve always been open as I didn’t want people to think I was stupid, and know that I had a disability, so I would always state it as a weakness in interviews. Now anyone I meet I encourage them to focus on their strengths, and any interview I would now highlight it as a strength as well as a weakness. Throughout my career and even in my family, people haven’t understood it, and despite me trying to tell them, I’ve come across time and time again being called out for not being clever, or not a good writer. The latter would always knock my confidence as when I would look at the feedback it was more around grammar than the content of my writing, and I often didn’t have any more changes than my non-dyslexic peers.
I have had a couple of bosses who really supported me, one putting me on multiple writing courses to help me, and another who has always been keen to learn how my mind works and has been so inspired by my qualities that she actively wants to recruit neurodiverse people to strengthen her teams.
2. What would you consider your strengths to be, thanks to your neurodivergence? What sets you apart from other people do you think?
George Peckham: ADHD comes with masses of strengths and genuinely feel like it does separate me up from others. For example, due to being particularly chatty and easy to talk to, this has helped me build relationships in the right areas to benefit myself and the company/team, e.g., media relations and media meets. It also benefits me hugely outside of work, not feeling uncomfortable meeting new people. Some people will look at the “zero filter” as a negative, but due to not really being able to always control what I’m thinking vs what I’m saying, I’ve got to the point where that just defines me and that’s who I am and if people don’t like it, then so be it.
Creativity is another huge strength of ADHD. I’m able to well and truly think outside the box which helps with idea generation and brainstorms. It’s a strength I only really discovered when I started at Splendid.
Zerrin Morris: I like to think it means I tackle briefs and problems from a different POV, bringing creative solutions to the table when needed.
It makes me very conscious of others growth areas, and I always want to be empathetic and seen as someone who will offer support as I know how important the right support is when putting strategies in place to help develop an area of weakness. I have spent years developing strategies to support myself in my career and want to share those with others if it’s helpful.
Sam Henry: Every dyslexic person is different, one of my friends has the complete opposite memory to me, her short term is great, and her long term is rubbish. But there are many positive things that we all have to some degree. Us dyslexics have a better peripheral vision than a non-dyslexic person. We can see the full story, beginning to end whilst everyone else is still figuring out the start, I’ve always found this super handy with work, I often have finished a task before others have even started it. We are often super creative; because we are using a different part of our brain – you’ll find many dyslexic people working in the arts and entertainment industry because of this. We can also problem-solve very quickly – this is something that always amazes me as I will state what I think is the obvious and everyone seems to think it’s a thought they never would have had. I’ve once had client feedback that they thought I wasn’t doing my work properly because I was too efficient, they soon learnt that there are some tasks that I can just do very quickly, and I don’t need to ponder them, and they then said they couldn’t cope without me on the team!
3. What are the potential challenges you face due to being neurodiverse?
George Peckham: As mentioned above, I can get overwhelmed easily when I’ve got a lot on and can tend to spend too long on certain things, unintentionally. Naturally with ADHD I can work slower than others, which is why when people will say “It’ll only take you 10 minutes” chances are it’ll take me 20 minutes.
I will often map out review slots within a time frame that I know I can get the task done within so I’m not handing in late work. This helps me overcome these particular challenges when tasks can take longer. So, if I ask to move a date or if there is flex within a timeline, it’s because I’m making sure that I can get it to you in a better state and ensuring I’ve had the time to look over it enough to the point where I’m happy to send it over for review.
I miss things if I’m rushed. I’m a big believer that you shouldn’t mark your own homework, in particular because for me no matter how diligent I try to be often my brain just doesn’t see the error. Some of my strategies include:
- I try to build in time into each task so that I can walk away from it and come back to it and look at it again with a fresh head.
- I will ask someone – ideally detached – from the task to proofread important documents to make sure it is clear, concise and engaging – I can get over excited and waffle.
- I read my work aloud. I find it helps when spotting duplication of words, ensuring the rhythm and rhyme are impactful (in particular for press releases and presentations).
- Time allowing, I will manually check excel against a calculator to make sure there are no equation errors.
Sam Henry: You can’t rush things and you can’t be too proud to ask for people to check your work, especially as you get more senior. I can’t see my own mistakes in my work. I always try and work ahead of deadlines, if a press release is due tomorrow, I’ll write it today, and check it again with fresh eyes in the morning. It’s like reading someone else’s work, since I’ve forgotten what I’ve written, half the time I’m impressed and don’t think it sounds like something I’ve written, but I also find elements I know could sound better, and I can then sometimes spot my typos.
But that also allows me time to get someone else to check it. I have and will always ask someone else to look at my work, even someone more junior than me, especially if I think they are a better writer than me. They are only going to improve my work and it doesn’t make me feel any less of a writer.
5. What do you think employers and colleagues should think about to help neurodiverse individuals in their workforce?
George Peckham: I think they can utilise people with neurodiversity and play it to their advantage massively. Microsoft have actively been hiring neurodiverse people to benefit their company which has been great to see. It used to be seen as a massive negative and it is slowly changing, which is great.
The biggest thing is getting neurodiverse people involved in tasks you know they’re going to thrive within, for example something like a RTB for me that’s fully ideas focused, or creative strategies where those with a creative flare can really shine.
Zerrin Morris: Try and play to their strengths and give them the time, space and tools to do the best job they can.
Sam Henry: Too many businesses still think PRs should be all-rounders. But we are the only marketing industry where you have to be good at writing, creativity, sales, crisis management, event management, client management and finance. We shouldn’t be jack of all trades. Much like Myers Briggs colours, the best team is made up of someone of each colour. I think the best team is made up of people that have real strength in a few not all of these areas. By complimenting each other we can also learn from those who are better than us in other areas and improve our skills.
6. Do you have any tips or advice for neurodiverse colleagues?
George Peckham: Be as open as you want, your neurodiversity makes you who you are. Those who can’t stop thinking about the perceived negatives, should focus on strategies that work for them and enable them to overcome these challenges so they can work in their favour.
Zerrin Morris: Don’t hide what makes you different, be authentic to who you are and see the strength in how you are different.
Sam Henry: Be honest about your struggles, understand what you need to deliver your work, improve on your weaknesses and ensure you give yourself the time you need to deliver it. Don’t see yourself as less than someone who isn’t neurodiverse, because you have plenty of skills that they would be jealous to have. Celebrate what you bring to the table and put yourself forward where you think your skills can be of use.