It’s estimated that 10 per cent of the population have dyslexia – that’s 6.3 million people in the UK alone. However, despite the fact that it is a neurological condition, and therefore a protected characteristic covered under the Equality Act 2010, too few HR leaders are equipped to engage effectively with dyslexic talent – let alone maximise its potential.
Age-old misconceptions which surround the condition mean that even finding employment can be a challenge for some with dyslexia. A bad experience while in education can result in a lack of confidence and self-esteem, and problems with reading and writing can make it difficult for many to apply for jobs. It may also be challenging for some employees to do some aspects of a job without the employer making slight adjustments.
This lack of understanding is exacerbated by a lack of disclosure. There is no legal obligation to disclose dyslexic difficulties, and many candidates feel that they would prefer to leave this information off a C.V. or application form because of possible discrimination. Add to this the fact that many people with dyslexia do not consider themselves to have a disability, and it’s easy to see why HR professionals are starting on the back foot when it comes to supporting dyslexic staff.
However, by fostering a culture of openness, and celebrating cognitive differences, HRs can help dyslexic employees to ultimately avoid stress related illness and absence, to which they are particularly prone.
Offering tailored support to dyslexic candidates and employees not only creates opportunities for an often misunderstood talent pool, it also makes perfect business sense – many dyslexic people have above average talents in a number of important areas. In the book, The Dyslexic Advantage (2011), authors Brock and Fernette Eide outline the many traits that dyslexic workers are likely to display. Skills such as big-picture thinking, lateral reasoning and problem solving. Visual strengths and an intuitive understanding of how things work are often the hallmarks of successful dyslexic people.
People with this condition also typically have superior spatial reasoning skills and the ability to view an object or event from multiple perspectives – to quickly get the ‘gist’ or big-picture context surrounding an event or idea. Dyslexic people also usually have a strong ability to learn from experience and to reason well in dynamic settings when the facts are incomplete or changing.
As a result, people with dyslexia are frequently successful in entrepreneurship, sales, art and design, entertainment, acting, engineering, architecture, I.T., computer animation, technical and practical trades and professions. Stephen Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg and Bill Gates all live with dyslexia, as do Keira Knightly and Richard Branson.
Engaging with dyslexic talent also has the added benefit of creating a workforce which reflects a company’s customer base through the creation of a dyslexia-friendly customer interface. But to attract – and retain – candidates with this condition, employers may need a little assistance.
Employers have a duty of care to support dyslexic staff and those recruiting and line managers should be trained to ensure that they are able to do this adequately. There is plenty of free third party support available for HR leaders. The British Dyslexia Association offers generic guidance on reasonable adjustments, as does Dyslexia Action. Furthermore, online tools such as Clear Talents On Demand allow individuals to complete a personal profile which then acts as a ‘sat-nav’ for line managers to help manage their needs.
During the recruitment process, dyslexic candidates may benefit from extra time or materials during assessment – 25 per cent extra is a good rule of thumb. They may also prefer a hard copy of an examination paper rather than online test. If you are interviewing a candidate who has disclosed their dyslexia, it may be beneficial to offer them the questions in advance.
As outlined by the British Dyslexia Association, once in position reasonable adjustments for dyslexic candidates needn’t be complicated or expensive. For example, staff with this condition may benefit from using coloured paper to make reading easier, using a Dictaphone to capture notes rather than pen and paper or even a ‘do not disturb’ sign on their desk to discourage unnecessary distractions. Small changes can make a big difference.
If you need any proof as to the unique potential of dyslexic candidates, it is worth considering that some of the most iconic innovators of the 20th century changed the world not only in spite of their condition, but arguably because of it. Dyslexic processing styles mean that those with the condition can bring a truly fresh and holistic perspective to situations through their powers of interconnected reasoning. Walt Disney, Pablo Picasso, Mohammed Ali and Steve Jobs were all gifted with the condition, and it is widely believed that Albert Einstein was also dyslexic. Who would not want to become more open to minds such as these?
By getting to grips with dyslexia, HR leaders can at the very least help to reduce sickness and staff turnover. They will also be able offer effective support to valuable talent which will, in turn, improve motivation, efficiency and loyalty. Truly diverse teams comprise of a rainbow of perspectives, and employers which champion dyslexic talent will no doubt reap the rewards.