Kirsti Nicole Hadley - She/her
Founder of Generation Alphabet
Kirsti Nicole Hadley is the founder of Generation Alphabet, a space for people who want to learn and celebrate neurodiversity, a network for neurodivergent families and a creative agency with neurodiversity at its core. She regularly runs panel talks and events around Neurodiversity in collaboration with the Soho House Group, and appears in the media and news as an expert with lived experience speaking on ADHD, Autism and neurodivergent parenting. Kirsti is also a renowned strategic partnership manager and has consulted for global brands. She is currently exploring dopamine driven schooling through her project the four day school week.
Please tell us about your career
The beating heart of Generation Alphabet are the panel talks and peer-to-peer fellowship that I have developed with Soho House Group. The buzz of bringing people together for real-life community events just never gets old for me - that is where the real magic happens. I was diagnosed with ADHD, autistic traits, and dyscalculia in 2021 following a complete mental breakdown, so I am very invested in creating safe spaces where we can connect, share information, teach one another the tools to regulate our nervous systems, and reduce anxiety.
I have consulted for hundreds of global brands over the last two decades, Tommy Hilfiger, Samsung, Google, Nike, Ugg, Converse, Kiehls, Dr Martens to name a few. I love the challenge of putting a fresh twist on an existing identity, guiding brands to see things a little differently via an alternate lens, and seeing changes implemented that make a positive difference in the real world.
I have over 20 years of experience working with talent, building communities, consulting for brands, and organizing events but the turning point for me was when both myself and my child were diagnosed ADHD/autistic in 2021 -I was shocked to discover a gaping hole where any sort of support should be and it was a very isolating time. When it comes to neurodiversity we are still living in the gap between the way things are and the way things should be, so like many other neurodivergent humans feeling frustrated at the pace of change I looked at my skill set and contact list and set about building something that helped me and I hope others, feel less powerless, by reframing the conversation around neurodivergence.
I always felt faulty because I just didn't have a clue what I wanted to do, my career path has been more like a process of elimination, ok tried that and it didn't quite work out so neeeeext! Like a lot of ND individuals, I have been sacked multiple times. Once for writing the safe combination on the wall above the safe in a shop, aged 17. The shop was burgled. Turns out that wasn't one of my most successful ideas. My career path so far has certainly never been boring, I could fill a book made up of just my old e-mail addresses that wound up in the business graveyard but one thing is for sure, there is never a dull moment. I am not afraid of pushing boundaries, taking risks, and failing but getting back up again and that last bit is what I am most proud of.
So what’s next? My 11-year-old, like almost 2 million others in the UK alone, cannot attend school full-time due to the anxiety it causes. The system is beyond broken and is a future mental health disaster waiting to happen. So I really want to launch an alternative school with a 4-day week and a mental health-first dopamine-driven approach to learning - there I've said it! Has to happen now! I have already designed the uniform in my head!
Post-pandemic I have definitely noticed a tangible shift in consciousness - we're realizing that neurotypical society is actually problematic for us and that it isn't going to go down without a fight so we neurodivergent humans are creating the changes we need ourselves because we already know that living-learning, and working in a more neurodivergent way actually benefits everyone, not just us. A good example is the education system and neurodivergent parenting/caregiving journeys. The vast majority of decisions that are made on behalf of and that will affect neurodivergent humans are still being made by neurotypical professionals. The future is neurodiverse and the simplest way to achieve a more neurodiverse future is to give neurodivergent humans more power. Realistic representation plays an integral part in this process. I believe that what is better for neurodivergent humans is actually better for neurotypical society too and the research backs this up. I am very excited about the impact that neurodiversity is going to have regarding the future of business - we are only just scratching the surface.
How has being Neurodivergent shaped the direction of your career?
I am 50 this year - 2023 - I was diagnosed in 2021 so this is a relatively new journey for me and it definitely feels like everything finally makes sense. I have made so many mistakes that could have been understood had my neurodiversity been identified sooner. Now that I can identify my ADHD traits, autistic traits, and my dyscalculia I am afforded the gift of not only being able to understand my own brain but the ability to communicate what I might do differently and why that is to the people around me. This has been the biggest shift for me, developing self-awareness is the key point that I work on with clients and my 11-year-old who is autistic/ADHD/OCD. I am very open about my ND traits to normalize, increase awareness and break down stereotypes with the hope that the next-gen can better advocate for themselves & each other, and avoid that yucky guilt and shame.
Do you feel that your job/industry is a good fit for an ND woman?
For sure, I think that we are drawn to the creative industries and as natural-born problem solvers with out of box brains, we are constantly finding alternative solutions for existing problems. That is why so many of us end up launching our own businesses.
What advice would you give to another Neurodivergent woman navigating their way through life?
Find people that you can relate to, who will support you without judgment, when you are the owner of a whizzy, wonky brain it is absolutely essential to surround yourself with humans that get it, and will not judge. If you are also the caregiver to a neurodivergent child, this is a million times more important. Embrace your differences. Teach all of your kids to do the same. It is a complex journey we are on. Get comfy asking for help because living in an almost entirely neurotypical world is a lot. Fighting for the rights of our neurodivergent kids is a lot. I didn't seek a diagnosis until after I had a mental breakdown. I hope that sharing my story may help other families avoid hitting rock bottom before asking for help. These were the core reasons I started organizing events to connect neurodivergent creatives and families. Our lives may be a tad more challenging than your average Joe but we are never ever boring and that is a beautiful thing.