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 valuable strengths that they bring to the workplace – we are naturally curious and highly creative with an ability to unconventionally connect the dots and think laterally. We have strengths in areas like creativity, problem-solving, empathy and communication but face challenges with things like spelling, reading, rote learning and memorising facts. Traditional benchmarking at work disadvantages dyslexics, measuring them against the very things they find challenging. This in turn creates a workplace that prevents dyslexics from reaching their potential and channelling their strengths so that they can thrive.
In order to change this, it is important first to understand what aspects of your workplace prevent dyslexic thinkers from doing their best. Dyslexics struggle with things like information overload, especially via email; competing or unclear priorities; long and complicated meetings when asked to write on a flip chart or read aloud; too much information in written form and not enough visual presentation of information. Making simple adjustments in your organisation that take into consideration these everyday challenges can and will make dyslexic employees fly.
Here are three simple steps to transform every workplace into a supportive and empowering space for dyslexic talent:
1. Create a skills-first culture
It’s time to redefine dyslexia as a skill not a disability in the workplace. As we make the shift towards a workforce where 50% of work is done by machines, Dyslexic Thinking skills will be in increasingly high demand. Dyslexics excel at the exact skills that we need in the human workforce. For example, 84% of dyslexics are above average at reasoning – making them brilliant at making connections across complex issues, subjects and data. 75% of dyslexics are above average at visualising – making them brilliant big picture thinkers. 80% of dyslexics are above average at connecting with people – ensuring they are brilliant leaders, whilst 84% of dyslexics are above average at imagining – they come up with ideas no one else has thought of because they see the world differently. So let’s create a skills-first culture, where we value what dyslexics can do, not what they can’t.
2. Empower dyslexics to shout about their dyslexia – not hide it!
3 in 4 employees currently hide their dyslexia at work. We need to change this. Every employer needs to ensure they understand both the challenges and strengths of Dyslexic Thinkers so they can support and empower them. Ensure you have open conversations with dyslexic staff to understand their needs and strengths. Create affinity groups that offer a community and peer support for dyslexic employees. This is vital to nurturing a culture of openness. Ensure these groups can feedback the needs of dyslexic employees to senior management teams.
3. Make simple dyslexia-friendly changes to the workplace
We don’t need to make huge changes to create a dyslexia-friendly workplace. Simple things make a big difference. For instance, there’s now loads of incredible tech that can help Dyslexic Thinkers – like dictation software. Minimising email overload and sending voice messages instead is another simple change. Providing dyslexic employees with tablets makes it much easier for them to take notes. Using less text and more videos, pictures, diagrams and bullet points when presenting information is also key.
Many dyslexics have amazing abilities to imagine and innovate and have gone on to transform the world we live in. Famous dyslexics include Thomas Edison, who illuminated our lives with the light bulb, Steve Jobs who gave us ‘pocket computers’ with the iPhone, and Ingvar Kamprad, who created Ikea, and flatpack furniture that revolutionised how we shop. In the world of business, thinking differently gives you a competitive edge. If employers focus on our strengths we flourish, disrupt industries and give customers an alternative. Redefining dyslexia as a skill, not a disability, is critical to the success of every business in the workplace of tomorrow.
About the author: Kate Griggs is the founder and CEO of global charity Made By Dyslexia and author of the definitive guide to dyslexia This is Dyslexia (Penguin, £11.99) and children’s book Xtraordinary People: Made By Dyslexia (Penguin, £6.99).