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Understanding different minds: dyslexia in the workplace

By Jessie McGrath

Think dyslexia just means more typos? Then it’s time to think differently. During Proximity’s first Inclusivity Week, data planner (and dyslexic) Jessie McGrath highlights the strengths of dyslexia and the business benefits of neurodiversity.

10% of the UK population is dyslexic, and 4% severely so. That’s a hell of a lot of people, yet it’s rarely discussed in the workplace and still carries a degree of stigma. Being severely dyslexic myself, this is certainly something I’ve personally experienced and given that 73% of dyslexic people say they hide their dyslexia from employers, it seems I’m far from alone.

 

So with the launch of Proximity’s Inclusivity Week, I’ve been inspired to challenge people’s perceptions of dyslexia and put a spotlight on how we can offer support in the workplace.  

The perceived embarrassment around dyslexia is often fuelled by people’s misconceptions, lack of knowledge and negative definitions. I asked a few people within the agency to describe dyslexia and got very similar responses:

“it’s a jumbling up of words”

“a struggle with reading”

 “difficulty with words”

 “certain typefaces are difficult to read”

All sort of correct definitions, but they solely focus on difficulties with printed text, a common misconception. And they’re not exactly positives you’d be proud to claim.

 

I’m also guilty of giving these purely negative definitions. I’ve described myself as being bad at spelling and grammar, I struggle with reading, have a terrible memory and a low attention span… not a whole lot of positive in there.

 

But what people might not know about dyslexia is that it’s not just a disability, it also leads to exceptional abilities. Dyslexic individuals’ brains are just wired differently and, as a result, they have excellent cognitive strengths. These include problem-solving, innovation, creativity and seeing the bigger picture, all of which are invaluable skills for our industry.

 

That’s why I want to champion the positive side of dyslexia. The British Dyslexic Association’s core aim is “to enable dyslexic people to achieve their potential in the workplace”. As both an agency and industry, we can help by naturally developing a culture of understanding that allows everyone to shine at work.

 

Key things we can all do to support dyslexic colleagues like me:   

  • Help us with proof-reading presentations and long-form text
  • Share documents ahead of meetings to give us time to digest them
  • Offer to write on the board in meetings for them (this is a genuine nightmare of mine!)
  • Present more visually in training and presentations (general PowerPoint best practice)
  • Write copy with simpler constructions and more direct language. This, frankly, is super important anyway as we talk to consumers with a wide-ranging reading ability every day.

 

I certainly don’t want to provide a prescriptive “how to work with dyslexics” guide. But simply being aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses can go a long way and help us all produce the best work possible.

 

Sam Phillips, who works with OPEN UK and #DiverseMinds, recently spoke to Proximity about the importance of neurodiversity in the workplace and unlocking “the power of divergent thinkers”. I only chose to focus on dyslexia because it affects me. But the message here relates to all different types of minds that bring diversity and creativity to the table, from ADHD and autism, to dyspraxia and dyscalculia. We need to stop focussing on the ‘dis’ and start championing the ‘ability’.

 

So let’s all join the conversation and not be ashamed to talk about our differences. We need to provide support for each other’s challenges, but most importantly, celebrate all of our strengths.