A seat at the table series: Neurodiversity

On June 14, 2023 a seat at the table series, neurodiversity

IAB Australia has partnered with The Women in Programmatic Network (TWIPN) to launch the Seat at the Table Series.  The series will dive into the personal experiences of those from the local advertising community, and give these role models a seat at the table to share their story. Each month we'll feature a different topic and guest speaker. This month we are featuring Lorraine Donnelly, Data Strategy Lead at Yahoo Advertising who will be opening up to us about Neurodiversity.

To those who are new to the Neurodiversity topic, can you explain what it includes and why you are passionate about it?

Neurodiversity has a very simple message - Minds Of All Kinds. Just like we have variance of physical traits, our brains operate in infinitely different ways. The term supports inclusion and celebrates this diversity. As the Neurodivergency Chapter Lead at Yahoo, I work alongside people with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and more. Personally, I live with anxiety and uncomplicated PTSD.

For me, the conditions only presented within the last 6 years, so I vividly remember my experience of the world before and after, and I can recognise how my brain, and the way I experience everyday things, has changed. This isn’t something I ever feel ashamed of -  On the contrary, I want to bring my authentic self to work everyday and in order to feel like I can successfully do that, work needs to be a place where neurodiversity and mental health are valued, and everyone’s potential is unlocked. 

I want people to know that those who are neurodivergent are successful because of, not in spite of, their neurodivergence. I feel very honoured to be able to help lead the business’s understanding of this space.

What are some challenges that neurodivergent employees face?

Many people who are neurodivergent find they experience the world in non-typical ways. This might present as anxiety, stress or sensory-sensitivity, so things like bright lights, loud noises and food textures can cause discomfort. The problem comes when we judge people because of their discomforts, which can come across as rude, or if we don’t provide a safe environment for them to work. 

A pretty easy to understand example is, for some people with autism, maintaining eye contact can be incredibly challenging. But in a business setting, avoiding eye contact can come across as disinterest. The consistency of this behaviour has been known to ruin a person’s career trajectory, or stop people from securing work altogether. Breaking these stigmas and enabling understanding will go a long way into ensuring people are not misunderstood, and not forced to act inauthentically.

Many neurodivergent people spend so much energy trying to act ‘normal’ that they end up exhausting themselves mentally. Imagine if instead they could use that energy towards their passions and talents, rather than trying to fit in? The results would be so liberating!

How can companies help more in this case?

The first thing all businesses need to do is create a mentally-healthy workspace. Research suggests that your manager has more of an impact on your mental health than your partner!

Managers need to recognise and honour the responsibilities they have to their people, and not just the bottom-line. Research done by Beyond Blue suggests 40% of people with anxiety are scared to talk about it with their employers. Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of, and often you’ll find once you start opening up, others will open up in return and you may find shared experiences. 

Outside of managing mental health, there are heaps of things companies can do to be Neurodivergent friendly! For instance, at Yahoo, we’ve conducted ‘sensory audits’ in some of our offices, taking special note to ensure workspaces are equipped with quiet, dark spaces. We’ve also implemented our Accessible Events framework, where we used feedback directly from the neurodiverse community to guide how our events are structured, incorporating accommodations every step of the way.

The great thing is that making any accommodation doesn’t just benefit the group you're focussed on, but can help anyone. For instance, if you’re hosting a business lunch, providing a menu ahead of time won’t just help people with anxiety or sensory issues plan ahead, it will also help pregnant women, people on a diet, or those with food allergies and other dietary restrictions! Even foodies can benefit from this kind of ‘accommodation’ because it builds positive anticipation.

There are a lot of us out there with a strong set of skills, so it makes sense for companies to make us feel welcome.

What advice would you give to the readers with diagnosed neurodiversity, who are interested in a career in media or marketing?

Welcome to the club!  This industry can be intense, but the beautiful thing about working in media and marketing is we have the opportunity to communicate with the wider public. Therefore we need to represent the public from a diversity point of view, so there is absolutely a place for you. Feel free to skip any of the late night parties though.


You have been an active volunteer and a Corporate ambassador for multiple charities. What is the most exciting part for you about volunteering? Where can people look for these opportunities if someone wants to support particular causes (such as Neurodiversity)?

Often people will volunteer because of the positive high it gives them. This is enough of a reason for many. Personally, I’ve been on the other side of requiring that support, and I know how much of an impact something simple like a hot meal can have. That’s why I look to volunteer for causes close to my heart. There isn't anything more complicated to it than that.

Find a cause you care for, and send them an email. 

Most charities are short of helping hands and will welcome you. If you’re the ambitious sort, volunteering can give you experiences that can help your career grow exponentially and is a brilliant way to build your network outside of alcohol-fuelled events.

Who inspires you in our industry? And why? 

I’m a bit of a tech nerd, and am definitely not the smartest person in any room. I look up to those in our industry who can simplify complex concepts and make tech information accessible to the masses in fun and interesting ways. Jonas Jaanimagi comes to mind. He’s often the smartest person in the room (in my opinion) but never loses his personality in the complexity of the message. He’s also incredibly approachable, which I admire. I always feel like I learn something after listening to him talk, whether he was trying to teach something or not. 

To close, we’d love it if you could share some earned wisdom with our readers.  What is one piece of advice you’d like to leave us with today?
In my opinion, the most important skill a person can develop is self-awareness. Recognise what makes you feel good and what doesn’t, then shape your life to have more of the good stuff. We can’t clear out all of the bad, so knowing yourself well enough to know how to release stress so that you can focus on what you want and need will ensure you can have a happy life. Isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day?