What’s More Creative Than Being Different: Laurel Rossi, Creative Spirit

If there’s one thing we know at Creative Spirit, it’s that advertisers, marketers and tech companies are critical to diversity of thought and diversity of hiring.

Laurel Rossi
Founding Executive Director Creative Spirit
 

Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to get involved with bringing Creative Spirit to the United States? 

When I researched the facts around disability inclusion, and the abject poverty experienced by people with disabilities in the US and around the world, it was appalling. A staggering 85% of ready, willing and able individuals with intellectual, developmental and learning disabilities are unemployed. However, the opportunities for a productive life, economic equity and dignity for those with disabilities are tremendous, particularly as that population enters adulthood. 

 

What are some of the challenges facing neurodiverse talent seeking employment? Is anything being done to tear these barriers down?

The three biggest barriers to employment for neurodiverse talent are employer attitudes, lack of awareness and understanding. In fact, Creative Spirit recently released a research study, titled #HireDifferent which reveals that less than 15% of employers are ready to hire those with disabilities because they believe that: 1) a pipeline does not exist, 2) employers lack the tools and resources to manage neurodiverse employees, and 3) employers do not believe that neurodiverse talent can contribute in a meaningful way. We built Creative Spirit to showcase the abilities of neurodiverse talent, and today, we’ve found ourselves in the position of ally and partner to employers who are intentional about hiring neurodiverse talent.

 

Where do you see opportunities to improve diversity that are not currently being widely addressed?

Benchmarking diversity is an important part of any undertaking. The best motivator to ensure change is to understand just how much different the world is for minority populations. Once the world becomes aware of how disparate the experience is for minority populations, everyone’s empathy meter increases ten-fold. For example, think about women out of work because of COVID-19, the lack of childcare and the profound hit to jobs that women occupy. Or African American’s and the underemployment challenges they face, i.e., fair-wage employment, and those living below the poverty line, etc.

Obviously, disability inclusion and benchmarks against inclusion in the workplace, in education, in sports, in life are dramatically unacceptable. Information is power, and action attached to dealing with these inequities is long overdue. That is one of the reasons we are focused on awareness and providing everyone with actionable opportunities to make a difference at Creative Spirit.

 

Creative Spirit conducted a research study titled #HireDifferent, that delves into a DE&I roadmap to hiring neurodiverse talent. What are the major findings from the research and how has Creative Spirit helped solve for the problem of unemployment amongst individuals with IDDs?

The #HireDifferent study is a manifesto for those who are truly interested in economic diversity. It tells us the story of diversity hiring in the US right now. HR teams in every industry, especially marketing, advertising, media and technology, are hyper focused on diversity hiring. Black employees and women are being sought by 75% plus of large and mid-size companies. LGBTQ+ and Hispanic employees are also being courted by a majority of companies. When it comes to the disability community, however, less than 15% of companies know where to begin.

We have used the research to dramatically expand what we offer. Number one, companies are seeking training. So we have added a professional development and certification process for companies, HR departments and their employees.

Most companies are just not aware of the economic injustice, poverty and discrimination against people with disabilities as it relates to fair wage hiring. So we’re delivering on the equity story by showing companies how to provide fair wage jobs and flaunting the exceptional capabilities of our Creative Spirit candidates.

Bottom line is we need greater awareness of the problem and the solution that Creative Spirit provides.

 

Over the years, there has been a rise of roles focused on Diversity & Inclusion, the introduction of quotas, and other possible solutions. Have you found any to be most effective? Are there areas where these initiatives are falling short? 

In 2018, just 30% of all working-aged Americans with disabilities were employed, and only 15% of those were with intellectual disabilities, compared with 74% of working-aged Americans without disabilities. At the same time, American employers are facing a talent shortage and are increasingly turning to apprenticeship as a workforce solution. Apprenticeship recruitment, hiring, and retention practices can tap into more available talent by including qualified individuals with disabilities. 

To promote inclusion of more individuals with disabilities in apprenticeship programs, the U.S. Department of Labor has set an aspirational goal that 7% of qualified individuals for apprenticeships are individuals with disabilities. These numbers have been in place for more than 30 years, since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Awareness of the profound poverty of Americans with disabilities, the fact that their families are, in turn, thrown into poverty and that it takes multiple generations thereafter to recover from the aftermath of unemployment and underemployment is sorely needed. Communication of the problem that impacts 65 million individuals, and their families, is one of the biggest priorities we have moving forward.

 

Racial and ethnic diversity are an issue the advertising industry still struggles to deal with for a variety of reasons. Are there adversities you find minorities with disabilities face? What is being done on your end to combat these issues?

Adversities really center around a presumption of incompetence among those with disabilities, yet there are tremendously talented candidates who come through our doors every single day. Many young adults with disabilities are incredible distance workers, digital natives and have been trained to work collaboratively or in isolation. They have really impressive retention and productivity rates as employees. Very little of this is studied or understood in hiring circles. We are planning some great campaign work this year that we believe will help us break down barriers and dispel myths.

 

What do you think can be done at a grassroots level to open opportunities to create a more inclusive future in the advertising world? 

The advertising world is ripe for hiring those with disabilities in that our industry has such a wide variety of jobs—soft skills, hard skills, creative skills and digital skills. The broad range of skills, especially digital and creative skills are fantastic opportunities for qualified candidates. We have place developers, to copywriters, to production assistants. The sky’s the limit. If there’s one thing we know at Creative Spirit, it’s that advertisers, marketers and tech companies are critical to diversity of thought and diversity of hiring. Afterall, what’s more creative than being different?