More than six million adults in the UK have dyslexia, amounting to one in six adults. A recent survey found that three-quarters of employees hide their dyslexia at work. Clearly, employers need to do more to support and empower employees, as well as broaden their recruitment to be more inclusive.
Ensuring neurodiversity among a workforce can bring significant benefits for organisations. Dyslexic individuals are inherently creative, think ‘outside the box’ and are great at seeing patterns in ‘big data’. All valuable skills for any workplace. For this reason, people with dyslexia are increasingly being sought by employers. Recognising that ‘dyslexic thinkers’ can make excellent spies, GCHQ had a recruitment drive aimed specifically at people with dyslexia last year.
A number of businesses in the technology and media sectors are starting to adapt their recruitment process after seeing the benefits that people with dyslexia can bring to their business. Recognising this move to actively recruiting people with dyslexia, LinkedIn has added dyslexic thinking as a skill in itself and now offers its global members the opportunity to add it to their profile.
Supporting employees facing challenges
Despite this gradual change in mindset among some employers, people with dyslexia may still face challenges in the workplace.
Although everyone’s experience is different, sometimes an adult who has dyslexia will create routines or coping mechanisms for themselves to help them navigate tasks, including their job. If something changes – a new routine, work pattern, new manager, a restructure or method of working – it can be challenging for some. Even minor changes may have a huge impact. Employees may suffer from anxiety or a feeling that they cannot do their job. They may need more time to adapt to changes and may need more support. More time may need to be factored in when there are changes – as well as a listening ear and support.
There is a legal dimension as well. Dyslexia could be a disability as defined under the Equality Act 2010 as it can have an adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities such as reading, concentrating and writing.
In 2014, in Meseret Kumulchew v Starbucks Coffee Company UK a Starbucks employee was successful in their claim for disability discrimination arising out of her dyslexia. The employee made Starbucks aware of their disability; however, despite this they were disciplined for failing to record data accurately. This was found to have been discriminatory and a failure to make reasonable adjustments.
Many people with dyslexia struggle to get over the first hurdle of applying for a job, as most recruitment processes are difficult for them to navigate. So how can businesses broaden and adapt their recruitment processes to encourage and support those who are dyslexic thinkers? Psychometric testing may put a dyslexic thinker at a disadvantage when compared to other applicants when reading, writing and spelling may be a challenge. How can the process be changed to allow someone with dyslexia to show their skills? Presentations or public speaking may again not be beneficial for someone who has dyslexia.
Dyslexia is described as a ‘super power’, so businesses should think about how they can make the most of this unique talent.
Suggestions for employers
Speak to your dyslexic employees – what do they find a challenge and how can businesses help or change their methods of working and recruiting to support? Employers should take time to seek feedback, but crucially they should also act on it.
Businesses could also work with charities or support groups to understand how recruitment processes and working environments can be adapted to suit dyslexic thinkers. This may include simple adjustments like allowing more time to complete tests or written work in the recruitment context, or adjustment to dress codes for employees who find certain materials uncomfortable.
Technology can play a part, such as dictation software or making it easier for people to manage their email inboxes. Using more diagrams and pictures within internal communications can be useful too. In fact, many of the adjustments that can be made to support people with dyslexia have been proven to benefit the wider workforce more generally.
Breaking down taboos around dyslexia are important too. Employers should encourage managers to have open conversations and raise awareness of dyslexia in the workplace. Many employers have appointed mental health champions and working groups in their workplaces, which have had a positive impact. Consider whether there should be ‘neurodiversity’ or ‘dyslexia’ champions and working groups too.
It is important to remember that making reasonable adjustments is a requirement under the Equality Act; however, never assume what someone can and cannot do or when someone does or does not need support.
Emma O’Connor is a director and head of HR training and Katie Harris a senior associate at Boyes Turner