We carry a lot of shame: Tailored founder Taylor Handsley on being neurodivergent in the advertising industry.

We sat down with Taylor Handsley, founder of Tailored, a social-first agency specialising in tailored strategies and creativity to discuss the role that autism plays in her work and life.

What are some common misconceptions people have about autism and creativity that you want to help dispel? 


The biggest one is that autistic people aren't and can't be creative. Even I had that misconception when I was diagnosed. Some of us are extremely creative and others are in non-traditional ways. It makes sense too, many of us are hyper vigilant when it comes to sensories and we develop special interests that we have to fully understand. 


What unique strengths do you feel your neurodiversity brings to your work in the creative industry? 


I see things much differently than most people do. The industry is quite siloed in that you've got your creatives and your strategists and your account team, etc...but for me, I see how they all work together and have to understand how they all work together. This helps me to be better at creative—knowing what purpose it will serve to the brand, where it will live, which audience will see it. 


How has being autistic shaped your approach to developing creative campaigns and connecting with audiences?


I'm not totally sure where my autism ends for the most part, but one of my traits is that I have to dig deeper and learn everything I can about something. That's made me into a really great strategist too so my approach to campaigns always come from that first. Learn as much as I can about the audience, build a great strategy, execute it creatively. 


What challenges have you faced as an autistic woman in the advertising world? How have you overcome them? 


People are still surprised to even meet an autistic woman let alone work with one. Because testing and research was only ever done on young, white boys, a lot of girls were misdiagnosed and didn't find out they were autistic until they were adults. By then, we've learned to mask SO well, people assume we're 'just a little bit autistic' or 'high functioning' (terms we don't use anymore by the way). 


How can agencies better support and empower neurodiverse employees? 


Allow them to be. So many places are still hung up on this idea of what a 'perfect' employee looks like and that doesn't leave a lot of space for marginalised folks. For neurodivergent people, we rarely ask for much when it comes to accommodations, but allowing your employee to exist as themselves and not holding that against them will allow them to thrive. 


Whether that means allowing them to work from home, or have their camera off during calls or not holding it against them if they don't come to company parties. For me personally, I tell places I work what my specific traits are and what that means for working with me. It's allowed me to thrive in some places. Employees need to be educated on what is and isn't ableist language. It really hurts me when someone says something like 'we're all a little autistic' or 'you don't seem autistic' or even when they use the terms 'aspergers' or 'high-functioning'. I even had a manager once tell me she didn't think I was autistic. Mind you, this was someone with zero experience in neurodivergency who worked in marketing. 

“Representation matters.”

What advice would you give to young neurodiverse people interested in a creative career? 


I want them to know it's not always going to be easy but that they CAN do this. We carry a lot of shame because we don't do things like neurotypical people do and that shame tends to manifest as insecurity of ourselves and our talent. 


How can neurodiversity better be leveraged as an asset in marketing and advertising? 


As with all marginalised communities, having representation is and will always be an asset in marketing. Not just visually either. While I love that there's diversity in the faces and bodies we see now, it's not enough. We need to have those stories told. For example, Tesco released an advert for Eid and Vanish released an advert telling an autistic story (which won a Lion btw). 


How can campaigns be made more inclusive for neurodiverse audiences? 


Just telling our stories in a way in which we feel seen. I cried when I saw the Vanish advert for example because I've HAD that same experience. They didn't even have to come out and say she was autistic, I knew it right away. 


Do you think there is still stigma around neurodiversity in the workplace? How can we challenge that? 


100%. And it really plays back into the idea that people are supposed to act a certain way. Whether we are called weird for our facial expressions or not wanting to socialise at work. It's often NDs that are made to change to accommodate fitting into NT spaces and not the other way around. We have to watch our tone and our facial expressions, make sure we say things in code like NTs do in order to be understood. We have to make sure we analyse everything someone says. It's exhausting! We challenge it by educating ourselves, allowing NDs to be themselves, learn more about autism and neurodivergency. 


What structural or systemic changes need to happen to make the industry more welcoming for neurodiverse talent? 


Hire more NDs. Put them in leadership positions. Give them a voice. Allow them to be heard. Representation matters. If you see a company with a homogenous leadership team, you aren't going to feel comfortable working there most likely and they won't understand people who don't look and act like them. 


How can agencies improve their hiring practices to be more inclusive? 


Firstly, drop the phrase 'we hired the best person for the job' because what does that even mean? For me personally, the best person for the job will always be someone bringing a new, different perspective to the table. Make space for us, allow us to be comfortable and trust our colleagues. A lot of us don't unmask at work because we often have serious consequences when we do (I've been fired from roles before). Create a space where someone would even want to disclose—tell stories of other NDs, showcase the measures you take TO be more inclusive, ask candidates if they require or want any special accommodations. Change the story around interviewing too. We see so many HR influencers out there giving tips on how to nail interviews or even GET an interview, these all come with strict set up guidelines to follow that aren't ND-friendly. 


What lessons has your neurodiverse perspective taught you that you wish more NT (neurotypical) colleagues understood? 


To be more curious and less judgemental. ND people are constantly analysing situations, conversations, etc...We have to go into things with clear intention and not bias because we often misread NTs. If NTs did that too, can you even imagine how much less conflict and misunderstanding there would be? 


Thanks Taylor!




Taylor Handsley

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