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How the Canadian Down Syndrome Society is Reminding Employers to Hire Diversely

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The team from FCB Toronto, the Canadian Down Syndrome Society’s Laura LaChance and director Jason van Bruggen discuss ‘Inployable’ - the heroic reminder that neurodivergent employees do it just as well… if not better, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

How the Canadian Down Syndrome Society is Reminding Employers to Hire Diversely

North America is experiencing an unprecedented labour shortage. With millions of jobs vacant, employers are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill these roles. While this isn’t exactly happy news, the silver lining, one would think, is that for anyone in need of work, this would be a fantastic opportunity to land a job. Unfortunately, this is only sort of correct. It’s a great time to land a job… if you’re not part of the Down syndrome or neurodivergent community. 

In fact, over 50% of people with Down syndrome are still struggling to find paid work, as they’ve been wrongfully perceived as less capable and less valuable within the workforce. And, as if that isn’t enough, even the open-minded employers are struggling to make hires, as currently, there is nowhere to connect with these prospective employees. 

The good news is, however, that it doesn’t have to stay this way. Continuing its longstanding partnership with the Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS), FCB Canada has launched ‘Inployable’, a recruitment community on LinkedIn to make discovering and hiring people with Down syndrome a simpler process. Featuring key resources for prospective employers (FAQs and additional guides for inclusive hiring and training), this campaign breaches two key barriers for employers. Not only does it connect ready-to-work individuals with Down syndrome to job opportunities, but it ensures that employers have the knowledge they need to create a hospitable workplace environment upon hiring. 

Coinciding with the launch of this initiative, director Jason van Bruggen came in to shoot ‘I’m Inployable’, a spot which highlights the Down syndrome community’s thoughts on how the current hiring system values their resumes (all with a little help from some chainsaws, liquid nitrogen, and even a flamethrower). Supported alongside hyper-targeted videos intended for North-American companies within sectors most in need of staff, this campaign truly pulls out all the stops to tell the world that it’s time the Down syndrome community got their shot. 

LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with FCB Toronto VP, managing director Tim Welsh, ECD Andrew MacPhee, strategist Audrey Zink, CDSS executive director Laura LaChance and Jason, with the hopes of learning more about how this campaign came to life. 


LBB> What was the brief for this campaign, and how did it build upon the previous work between FCB and the Canadian Down Syndrome Society? 


Audrey> The mandate of the Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) is to empower the Down syndrome community: closing the gaps in resources, information, and support. Despite a growing movement towards diversity and inclusion, bias continues to be pervasive against people living with disabilities. Every year, we tackle a new barrier that is preventing individuals with Down syndrome from leading a more full and independent life. 

This year we tackled a new barrier with employment. Our creative brief tasked the team with showing prospective employers that people with Down syndrome are an asset, not a burden. Employing people with Down syndrome has been proven to have a positive impact on all levels of an organisation, including client and customer satisfaction, workplace culture, staff morale, and more. As employees, on average, they can offer lower turnover, lower absenteeism, higher motivation, higher attention to detail, and, in general, are more reliable than the average employee.

Like everyone else, employment for individuals with Down syndrome is an important factor in reaching full or partial independence. But research uncovered that 56% of individuals with Down syndrome struggle to find paid work positions (26% are only in volunteer positions, and 30% are without paid or volunteer work). As North America experiences an unprecedented labour shortage, we saw an opportunity to bring awareness to this injustice.
 
It is always a challenge to generate campaigns that will create a measurable and lasting impact every year. By focusing on specific barriers for the community, we have been able to evolve from awareness to action, and by working with large corporate partners – e.g., Google, adidas, LinkedIn – we can make our ideas a reality. 

Laura> We had some high-level ideas on what we wanted to achieve; to change the narrative around hiring individuals with Down syndrome.

As individuals with Down syndrome make their way into adulthood, the desire to work and earn wages is a key factor for many in reaching full or partial independence. Although many people with Down syndrome have proven abilities and aspirations, a large percentage of these jobseekers remain unemployed, underemployed, or are not working for competitive salaries. Many individuals with Down syndrome are still excluded from the workplace as they have been wrongfully perceived as less capable and less valuable to an organisation.

FCB knew how to tap into our big ideas, expert knowledge, and lived experience. With sector research and strategic thinking, the team at FCB developed a creative brief that spoke to exactly what we were trying to do - help people with Down syndrome be seen as potential employees with a diverse skill set, valuable team members, and ready to work.



LBB> Addressing the labour shortage and employment opportunities for people with Down syndrome, simultaneously, is very clever. How did this idea come to pass, and how did it develop into ‘Inployable’?


Audrey> Focusing our insight on the worsening labour shortage was a given in terms of the campaign direction. To best appeal to this audience, we needed to appeal to a timely need, which in this instance was reliable employees. Businesses have yet to uncover the enormous benefits of hiring people with Down syndrome (higher revenues, higher margins, boosted company morale, and many other organisational benefits). As such, we decided to position the community as an untapped and overlooked market for employers to recruit from - which is exactly what they are.
 
Based on the current state of the economy and the knowledge and awareness we have built over the past several campaigns we have worked on together, we all felt that time was right to address the employment challenge. 

Laura> As North America experiences an unprecedented labour shortage, there are almost one million unfilled jobs in Canada, and over 10 million in the US. Given that over 50% of people with Down syndrome struggle to find paid work, during the initial creative process, the CDSS team and FCB came together to expand our initial brainstorm into a life changing project, ‘Inployable’.

Having a campaign that brings attention to both the almost one million unfilled jobs in Canada, as well as the underrepresented potential of individuals with Down syndrome is a game changer in so many ways. Our job is to help employers see that hiring individuals with Down syndrome is not only a good business decision, but would solve a problem, and I think this campaign does just that.


LBB> You mentioned the Down syndrome community has been a long-overlooked solution to the labour shortage - can you tell us more about the roadblocks that have prevented this solution from happening earlier? 


Laura> We truly believe that job seekers within the Down syndrome community have been long overlooked simply due to outdated perceptions. It has been proven that employees with Down syndrome can bring numerous benefits to employers, other employees, and customers when they are given an opportunity. There are many positive business cases which support this.

On average, the Down syndrome community offers lower levels of absenteeism, lower staff turnover, higher motivation, and increased reliability. Here are some key statistics surrounding the issue:

  • 56% of individuals with Down syndrome aren’t in paid work positions (26% in volunteer positions, 30% without paid or volunteer positions).
  • 92% of consumers prefer to support companies that hire people with disabilities
  • 73% of employees report they strongly agree that their coworkers with Down syndrome are contributing just as much as other employees, if not more, to their organisation
  • Companies that hire people with disabilities found that revenues were 28% higher, net income 200% higher, and profit margins 30% higher.
  • In one study, the absenteeism rate for 46 employees with disabilities was 85% lower than for 200 workers without disabilities.

Another big fact is that the current Down syndrome generation is going to be the first one to outlive their parents. As recently as 1983, the average lifespan of a person with Down syndrome was 25 years. However, as of today, the average lifespan is 60 years - or even longer. For most, this means outliving their primary support system. However, this generation is on the cusp of living independently, and gainful employment would greatly improve the ability to be self-sufficient. People with Down syndrome have a right to be employed in the community, where they can work alongside people of all abilities and earn competitive compensation.



LBB> The main campaign spot - ‘I’m Inployable’ - is directed by Jason van Bruggen. What made him the right director for the job?


Andrew> We needed a director that could take what was on the page and find creative solutions that would make it larger than life, while also working within the timing and budget limitations. Having worked with Jason before (on the adidas ‘Runner 321’ campaign), we knew right away he was the right person for the job. Not only is Jason well-known for incredible visual storytelling, but he is also passionate about this community. The message in the film was an important one that needed to be communicated in an unignorable way, and Jason was the director to do that.  


LBB> Jason, what immediate ideas came to mind when you first saw the campaign script, and why was it something that you were keen to get involved in?

 
Jason> When I first read the script, I was excited by what it could offer. I felt like there was a really nice underlying sentiment in there, and I thought it really had the potential to move away from some of the more expected portrayals of neurodivergent individuals. I wanted to extend that core sentiment and portray this community as superheroes, giving each of these vignettes power, authority, and remarkability. Working with the Down syndrome community has been such an honour for me. I recently did a spot with Chris Nikic for adidas. He was the first athlete with Down syndrome to run the Boston Marathon. He also completed the Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, just a few weeks ago. I really enjoy helping break down the barriers that hold this community back and shifting perceptions.



LBB> How did you work together to build out the look and feel of the spot?


Andrew> Having a tight timeline meant the agency and production worked as one cohesive team from day one. We worked with Jason and his team to figure out the best way to bring this film to life while navigating budget, timing, and safety issues. With a shared passion to make this as extraordinary as possible, our working relationship was incredibly collaborative - the results of which you can see in the final product. 

Jason> I wasn’t part of the initial concept development - that was all FCB and CDSS. Where I came in was I helped streamline some of the narrative and really sought to evolve the idea by imagining a cinematic way to back up the potential power of the script with visuals that matched (using extreme slow motion and over the top actions - all set against epic backgrounds that didn’t make it feel like we were shooting people talking against a cyc wall).


LBB> How long did it take to shoot, where did you shoot, and what was the experience like? 

 
Jason> We had one day to shoot this, and it was a long and challenging day. A lot of characters (all played by actors with Down syndrome), extensive dialogue, pyrotechnics, and the light requirements to shoot over 1000 frames per second… you get the point. Hats off to my stellar crew in Toronto for making this happen, and especially my production team at Suneeva. 



LBB> When it came to finding people with Down syndrome to feature in the spot, what was that process like? Who did you work with, and what did they bring to the shoot?


Andrew> Inclusion is at the core of what we do, and emphasising the voice of actors with Down syndrome has always been a key way to share our message and theirs. Over the past six years we've developed some amazing relationships, and are thrilled to have many from our community return each year. This year, we also featured several new community members! 
 
Our work has always been provocative - to challenge perceptions of the Down syndrome community and to change their lives for the better. People with disabilities are often portrayed as victims or in need of help. Our actors have always been the catalysts for the change we have set out to create. They have been the experts, using their experiences to enlighten the rest of the world. Their impact is immeasurable. 
 


LBB> When it came to creating a superhero feeling, how did you work to achieve this through lighting and colour?

 
Jason> I wanted this to feel heroic and empowering. I think my aesthetic choices – bold, cinematic lighting, dark backgrounds, a sense of vastness behind them, anamorphic lensing to make our light flares (flames and bright sources of light were a near constant) interesting and filmic – all supported the heroic presentation of our characters.


LBB> The spot is filled with a ton of hype moments - shredders, chainsaws, even a flamethrower! Did you assign a tool to each actor to use, or was it a matter of seeing what people were interested in wielding? 

 
Jason> Yes, our actors had preferences. I spoke to all of them before our shoot about the various things we wanted to do - also to gauge their enthusiasm - and I asked for their top three choices. Safety (and insurance) were a concern that we had to consider at every set up. We found creative, and safe, workarounds to some of the potential problems.
 


LBB> How long was the post-production process, and in general, how was post?

 
Jason> Pretty quick and hectic. The turnaround was compressed to make our ‘air date’. Our editors (Liam at Married to Giants), colourist and online team were enthusiastic and responsive, allowing us to be successful.



LBB> Grayson Music helped to find the right soundtrack - and a very hype one at that - for the video. What was this process like? 


Andrew> Grayson crushed it with the music for this spot. Because music is so subjective and there were several ways the film could have been scored, it was a pretty involved process. We wanted to stand out and be less expected, so we avoided pieces of music that immediately came to mind. For example, big orchestral scores are prevalent in epic, cinematic films. We wanted a score that was unexpected and memorable - a score that would grab the attention of the viewer as much as the visuals. 



LBB> Are there any elements of the spot you’re particularly proud of? And why? 

 
Jason> I’m especially proud of the reactions the community members and their parents had to the spot. They are an important constituency to me, and none of this advocacy works if we don’t have buy-in. I promised all of them I would do them proud, and I really hope I honoured that.



LBB> This campaign also featured the announcement of key resources for prospective employers, such as FAQs and additional guides to help them in creating inclusive hiring and training processes. Can you tell us more about this?


Laura> There are many things to learn about hiring people with Down syndrome, and we already have a significant amount of helpful content on our website. However, we also want Inployable.ca to be a go-to resource for employers. In the next phase of this project, we will be releasing inclusive workplace support and recruitment, and job-hunting resources that will aid both employers looking to hire, and jobseekers with Down syndrome.


LBB> Do you have any memorable lessons learned from the making of ‘Inployable’?


Audrey> The campaign’s executions were informed by the experience of CDSS and insights from organisational partners, in addition to extensive desk research on the topic. Moving forward, to continually expand on our understanding of the barriers that exist for people with Down syndrome, we will meet with business owners and HR personnel with further expertise in recruitment. This will set us up for success to continually solve for their issues when it comes to hiring from the neurodivergent community, as well as ensuring ‘Inployable’ is a helpful and relevant resource moving forward.

Laura> Each year during Canadian Down Syndrome Week we launch an awareness campaign that speaks to a major issue we want to address. This year - with our focus on employment and the network being a huge part of our campaign - we quickly discovered the need for additional organisational capacity to ensure our promise to change the narrative and make real change. 



LBB> What challenges have you faced during this project? How did you overcome them?


Tim> A lack of time, a tight budget, and trying to achieve something that has never been done before all added up to make for an interesting ride. But as challenging as those things could have been, our collective team had a shared passion and enthusiasm for bringing this idea to reality. From the outset, we have been collaborative, in constant communication, and we have never wavered in our belief that, as a team, we could overcome whatever challenges presented themselves. 

Jason> Really tight timelines, shifting insurance requirements, cast members dropping out on account of illness, and a compressed timeline in which to imagine, vet and test all the SPFX and stunts. Again, it was thanks to a great team effort that we were able to bring it to life.



LBB> What has the initial response been like? 


Tim> The initial response has been very positive. In fact, CDSS has never received more outreach for any campaign in their history. For starting a LinkedIn group from scratch, we have had excellent engagement from our initial outreach and first few posts on the Inployable website. As we begin to support the campaign with a paid media campaign on LinkedIn, we are confident that we will see continued engagement, and that as we add more functionality to the platform, this engagement will continue to grow.  



LBB> Is there anything you’d like to tell readers about CDSS, and how they can support the work you’re doing?


Laura> CDSS works across the country to provide projects and resources free of charge, with no government funding. Gifts from individuals and corporations fund life-changing initiatives, and we hope this latest initiative, ‘Inployable’, will be a catalyst for more people to support individuals in the Down syndrome community. 

We also hope this campaign will provide a valuable resource for employers to use when researching potential candidates, and that they will hopefully hire employees who will make meaningful contributions to their businesses. Employers can make this a reality by being open-minded about hiring individuals with Down syndrome who bring the desire to work and required skills.


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FCB Toronto, Fri, 18 Nov 2022 17:10:39 GMT