Alex Williams, Senior Consultant in our Not for Profit practice, and a member of the GS Disability Affinity Group shares his experiences of living with Dyslexia and how this has made him the person he is.
Dyslexia is a key part of who I am as a person but for over 20 years of my life, I tried to mask my learning difficulty because of the fear and impact of stigmatisation and discrimination. This has resulted in me often suffering from a lack of self-belief and significantly contributed to feelings of imposter syndrome throughout my career.
I had known from a young age that my brain was wired differently and that I saw the world from a slightly different angle and in slightly different colour palettes from my friends and family. I was very aware that I was having to work twice as hard as my peers to achieve any kind of academic success and was working even harder to try and blend in and be “normal” within the workplace environment, attempting to minimise the impact of stigma and discrimination as I tried to progress my professional career.
What is Dyslexia?
“Dyslexia influences as many as 1 in 5 people and is a genetic difference in an individual’s ability to learn and process information. As a result, dyslexic individuals have differing abilities, with strengths in creative, problem-solving and communication skills and challenges with spelling, reading and memorising facts”. Griggs, K. (n.d.). Made by Dyslexia. https://www.madebydyslexia.org/
Why don’t people declare a disability?
“The most prevailing reason for non-disclosure is fear of repercussion in the form of discrimination. It is felt by many that as a result of disclosing a disability, opportunities for career progression will be negatively impacted”. Celebrating Disability (n.d.). Celebrating Disability. https://celebratingdisability.co.uk
Dyslexia and me
I was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 16. It was reassuring to know that there was a reason why I was experiencing my difficulties but also incredibly scary as I had never heard of dyslexia and what it would mean for my future and my career opportunities. During secondary school and college, I spent years trying to fit in or probably more accurately not stick out to avoid bullying and stigmatisation. This fear and lack of self-belief followed me through university and into my early professional career.
On reflection, I think I fell into sales and recruitment and have been successful because it plays into my dyslexic strengths of being resilient, problem-solving, having dynamic reasoning, being a collaborator, displaying strong empathy and interpersonal skills.
However, my dyslexic thinking has also caused me some challenges in the workplace which have included:
- Spelling and grammar: Despite using spell checks and rereading my emails and documents there will still be several errors which get much worse when I am tired or stressed. I often spent a huge amount of time trying to find the correct spelling or trying to use a thesaurus.
- Time Management: As a result of my spelling and grammar mistakes within my written content, I would often reread documents and emails multiple times before sending which could become almost paralysing when sending multiple-page interview reports or a detailed proposal.
- Poor Memory: Having to write down detailed notes, often trying to write down every word being spoken in every meeting, interview, or phone call to try and ensure I could remember everything became exhausting and I would then beat myself up about having to do this extra work.
- Asking lots of questions: I am interested in understanding how something works or why we do things in a certain way, which I believe is a key skill needed in leading a successful recruitment process. However, I have had managers who have misinterpreted this as me being challenging or disruptive.
Trying to hide my dyslexia whilst trying to combat my dyslexic limitations would just feed into feelings of Imposter syndrome. I have had colleagues particularly earlier in my career who have prided themselves on their written communication and would often make subtle but derogatory comments. It was not until I reached my late 30s that I finally became comfortable and confident enough to be vocal about my learning difficulty.
How to support someone with Dyslexia in the workplace
Today we have many more tools to support individuals within the workplace with many organisations embracing the benefits from introducing more diversity within their workforce. Some of the tools and approaches I use include:
My email signature shows Clients and Candidates that I am Dyslexic.
Recording Interviews on Teams
I ask every candidate I interview if they would be okay with me recording our meeting to have a valuable resource to go back and check against my notetaking.
This a great resource for reviewing spelling, grammar, punctuation, and delivery mistakes in written content, and suggests replacements for the identified errors.
This is a function that reads the entire document starting from your cursor location like an audiobook on email and Word documents.
We now have Dyslexic thinking as a skill option on LinkedIn.
Some of the other tools available include:
- Creating a supportive work environment for dyslexic employees to feel a sense of belonging.
- Managers giving verbal as well as written instructions to employees.
- Supportive technology and software such as screen-readers and spell-checks.
- Managers allowing employees plenty of time to read, process, and complete tasks.
- Managers presenting employees with clear agendas and reports in advance of meetings.
- Sharing information in a range of formats including videos, charts, and audio version.
There are amazing resources available to support Dyslexic employers such as:
- The British Dyslexia Association
- Made by Dyslexia
- Dyslexia Resource Centre
- Positive Dyslexia
- Celebrating Disability
Dyslexia has made me the person I am today: a skilled recruiter, an empathic leader and supportive colleague. I am proud to be made by Dyslexia!!