True Diversity feat. Self Agency

Within this ‘True Diversity‘ blog feature we explore the world of neurodiversity with Devon Lowndes, a Neurodiversity Consultant and Founder & Director of Self Agency.

Self Agency is here to shine a light on neurodiversity and finally give everyone the tools to understand the challenges and enable organisations to evolve their cultures. People with dyslexia, dyscalculic, dyspraxia, ADHD, autism, OCD, Tourette syndrome, mental health illnesses and acquired neurodiversity (such as trauma) have a wealth of strengths to bring to our society. It’s time that they were recognised and valued.

Hi Devon. Great to catch up today and thank you for taking the time to tell me more about Self Agency. If we start with the need for diversity inclusion, why is it so important?

Devon: It’s a big question. The first thing that comes to mind is that it’s the right thing to do! We can live our lives knowing that that we’re doing right by the other people that we spend time with. I also think it’s vital for growth.

Progression comes from doing things differently. Doing things the way they’ve always been done isn’t a reason enough to do them that way. I think that when we include more difference into spaces, into workforces, we are creating that diversity.

Neurodiversity, which is my area of expertise, certainly looks to protect individuals who have struggled enabling them to thrive, even if it’s just working on that surviving piece to begin with.

Again, I feel like supporting those people is the right thing to do ethically. It’s the right thing to do in terms of progression. It’s only when we’re including more diverse brains in both our thinking and in our work that things really progress through innovation. That’s what the world really needs at this time.

Can you share a little bit more about what you do and the purpose and mission behind your organisation?

Devon: I am a neuro diversity consultant. My consultancy is called Self Agency, and our purpose is to move neurodivergent lives from surviving to thriving by enabling businesses to support that in order to see that growth within the business as well as in the individuals.

Our mission is to make neurodivergent people feel at home. Bristol is where I’m based. It’s the city I’ve felt most comfortable as a neurodivergent person, and it’s the city I champion. I think Bristol has the bones, the makings of a real home for neurodiversity.

We’re trying to get into as many Bristol organisations as possible to run workshops and training sessions on neurodiversity – introducing the topic and then realising that in company policies.

Amazing. I’m going to ask this question and, it’s not on the list. What do you think special about Bristol in that respect? Is it because that’s where you live, or do you think there’s something unique about Bristol as a city, as a community, that makes it a better place to thrive?

Devon: So I think in a lot of the cities in the UK there’s a history and a reality of cultural difference. In Bristol, the idea of difference is not just included but celebrated. In Bristol we celebrate independence, right? I don’t know another place in the UK where you walk through each of the smaller, individual areas and high streets, and it’s full of independent shops, independent restaurants. The city is full of startups and innovation too.

When we look at the industries here, we have the creative industry, the tech industry, there’s innovation in aerospace and so much great engineering. It really attracts high numbers of neuro divergent brains. To put it really simply, in Bristol it is celebrated to stand up and have difference in a way doesn’t exist in other places. You are accepted for that here.

Yeah, I agree. That’s really cool, thank you! What do you consider the potential consequences of a lack of diversity and inclusion? And what do you see as the main benefits of an inclusive workforce?

Devon: So I’ll speak to this question on neurodiversity in particular. We have the let’s call them “naysayers of neurodiversity”, and we might read articles from them. Then we hear about the uptake in diagnosis, of the difficulty to find treatments, or behavioural modifications, the difficulty at school in children, and in the workforce as well.

I think what we are witnessing is an outcry for help from this movement of people who simply think differently to the way that you might expect them to. They’re often left to struggle, rather than being supported and valued.

Rather than being made to feel they belong, they’re being pushed to the point where it’s now become necessary for medical intervention. Speaking as one of those people myself, right, life is hard. That’s why I go to the doctor about having ADHD. I don’t go to the doctor about having ADHD because I think having ADHD is a problem, I think there are loads of ways to live and thrive. And to have my brain type is difficult with the world being the way it is at the moment. I think that’s what disability is, right? When you feel disabled by environments.

We do need to reach out for support in order to access the environment and the communities around us when it’s not particularly set up for a brain like ours. Often it’s that the setup we’re talking about is actually just the attitudes and opinions and the softer skills, as opposed to it being massive infrastructure or process changes.

The workplace exists in businesses, not the entire world, but people spend a lot of their lives in this setting so it is really important that we get things right in the workplace. If you can educate businesses to make those kinds of common sense changes, which aren’t such massive infrastructure changes, then it does just make everything much more inclusive for everybody.

Absolutely! What advice would you give to a business that wants to begin a EDI journey, but are struggling with where to start?

It is in those softer skills, and we can often fall into the trap of thinking about communicating first, through events or campaigns or new initiatives, but before you can get to the communication you need to learn the language and understand what it means from a neurodiversity point of view. That understanding plays into supporting everyone’s brain in the workforce.

I think so many people with divergent brain types struggle to feel included and aren’t being treated equally. A lot of the time they’re not graced with the language to be able to communicate effectively about what they need, or they don’t have a psychologically safe enough workspace in order to be able to disclose what they need. If we understand people’s differences, we can communicate with our communities and teams about it and be more inclusive. With just an understanding, it removes the friction, and it allows people to feel that that belonging and value again.

So it was really quite a simple start, it’s learn the language, and then and then it naturally grows from there.

How can businesses get involved with Self Agency and what does it look like for them when they connect with Self Agency or yourself?

Devon: We’ve done a whole range of trainings, learning and development with businesses around neurodiversity. But what people are really engaging with right now is our lunch and learns. That’s us coming into the office for an hour and a half.

We give half an hour solely for Q&A. Having that longer Q&A session allows us to really speak to some of the niche situations that might be going on in that team or that company.

A focus of that session is around the language, the understanding of neurodiversity as a whole. We’re able to start something really special in the conversation among the attendees. And you can’t unknow what you know, once the cats out of the bag. It really starts those organisations on a journey around your diversity, and we see how beneficial it can be.

Thank you so much for sharing all of this with me today, Devon. Really appreciate it.

You can find out more about Self Agency and their work, here.

If you are a brand or company that proactively champions diversity and would like to be featured as part of the “True Diversity” series please get in touch with Tony.


View True Diversity blog collection.

Written by

Head of Marketing, Digital & eCommerce

Agency & In-house Marketing

View profile

Tony Allen