break through Barriers in the workplace this Dyslexia Awareness Week
Dyslexia Awareness Week, organised by the British Dyslexia Association, aims to raise awareness about dyslexia and provide resources to schools, businesses, and the public on the 2022 theme of ‘Breaking through Barriers’.
As a business that has been awarded ‘Gold’ accreditation for the Investors in People framework, Sodexo Engage focuses strongly on diversity, equity, and inclusion, forever learning so we can continue to lead by example. Dyslexia must be considered within your DEI policies, and here we’ll explain how you can remain inclusive, providing the proper support where needed.
Why we need to focus on dyslexia
It’s estimated that one in 10 people within the workplace has dyslexia. However, since there’s no obligation to disclose dyslexia, this figure isn’t exact.
Dyslexia is personal, and people’s experiences are unique and sometimes negative. For many adults, the dyslexia diagnosis came too late, and they created workarounds at school instead of getting the support they needed. In some cases, lack of awareness meant people grew up with the stigma that dyslexia meant a lack of intelligence.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s understandable why people choose not to disclose dyslexia to potential employers.
The Legal Requirements
The term ‘disability’ has long been debunked, but dyslexia is covered under the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995. Although it’s considered a grey area, employer responsibilities are more clearly defined in the Equality Act 2010.
Employers must understand that the responsibility is on them, even when an employee doesn’t disclose dyslexia. The Act states that employers must make reasonable adjustments ‘if they could reasonably be expected to know.’
What is dyslexia?
So, how can an employer know if it isn’t disclosed? What are the signs you are ‘reasonably expected’ to connect to dyslexia?
This is where it gets tricky because dyslexia is different for everyone. Reading and writing difficulties are commonly associated with dyslexia but aren’t the only factors.
Antonia Haines, Delivery Manager and employee at Sodexo Engage for 17 years, shared with us what dyslexia means for her. Although unique to Antonia’s dyslexia, given the responsibilities placed on them, employers need to be aware.
The dyslexic mind is visual, and it’s estimated that image thinking is 400 to 2,000 times faster than verbal thinking. While a non-dyslexic is contemplating the information, a dyslexic mind has already jumped ahead.
Also, some people with dyslexia struggle with short-term memory. If you’re having a meeting with an employee with dyslexia, they may jump in and share their thoughts straightaway, regardless of who is speaking, because they risk forgetting them.
At a loss for words
Everyone has moments where that one word won’t come to mind. However, for an individual with dyslexia, this can happen frequently. Contrary to common beliefs, dyslexia doesn’t just impact the written word – phonics can also be a problem. Antonia shared that as a child, reading was difficult, but as an adult, written words help her to visualise and interpret. Listening to people can be challenging because there’s no visual to accompany the words. This can sometimes make searching for the right words to say an issue because it relies on non-visual recall.
A measured response
It’s wise to think before you speak, but for a person with dyslexia, it’s not so much a case of thinking about the most appropriate way to answer a question; it’s about pinning down the right words to use. As a result, they may take more time to verbalise a response.
At school, children are taught to use the pincer grip when writing, drawing, and colouring, and it’s something that becomes second nature. This isn’t necessarily the case for a person with dyslexia, as demonstrated by Antonia, who holds her pen differently and doesn’t like how the pincer grip feels.
The combination of how the pen is held and the speed at which the mind works can lead to what would be considered ‘bad’ handwriting.
Though dyslexia is different for everyone, there are steps employers can take that apply in all cases:
- Create a culture of support and individuality so employees feel comfortable being themselves
- Get to know your employees personally – their likes, interests, and unique strengths
- Encourage managers to behave with empathy to create a culture of trust
- Listen. The best way to know how to support someone with dyslexia in the workplace is to speak to them. Understand how they experience dyslexia and what support they need.
The last point is vital since the ‘reasonable measures’ may be minimal. In Antonia’s case, all that is needed is understanding and mindfulness from her colleagues.
- Ensure that all contributing members turn their cameras on during virtual meetings when speaking. Like Antonia, many people with dyslexia benefit from having a visual to accompany the words spoken and find lip reading helpful.
- During presentations, ensure the speaker faces the audience and the slides are changed steadily so that written information can be processed.
- Understand that stress impacts the ability to process the written word. There’s a reason that schools give children and teenagers with dyslexia 25% more time in exams.
“If you learn to understand and embrace it, Dyslexia is not a limiter. I would always encourage leaders to read more about it so they can understand their employees, and better unlock the potential that they can bring to an organisation.” Antonia Haines, Delivery Manager, Sodexo Engage
So, let’s look at how employers can help a person with dyslexia thrive, with beneficial results to the business:
- E-learning allows adults to continue their development at their own pace, especially when images and words are combined and delivered creatively.
- Focus on individual strengths and specialist areas. For example, many people with dyslexia quickly see patterns and abnormalities in data. Where there may be problems interpreting words, an individual with dyslexia can still excel with numbers.
- As well as lip reading, many people with dyslexia rely on reading body language to help them to process dialogue. As a result, you may find employees with dyslexia are more empathetic, making them great team members and leaders.
- When you combine a visual, creative brain and speed, you get excellent problem solvers.
- Think outside of the box when reviewing and recognising performance. Review your KPIs and see if any of the ways you measure performance inadvertently discriminate against an employee with dyslexia. A great example is our work with O2, who came to us after deciding they needed to overhaul their rewards policy. Having been focused on sales numbers, they wanted to find a way to recognise all outstanding performance and, with Sodexo Engage as their partner, created their ‘Be Brilliant’ programme.
Break through barriers with Sodexo Engage
We’ve shared one person’s journey with dyslexia here, and we’re very grateful to Antonia and thrilled that she feels empowered to do so. Although this may reflect someone else’s journey, it won’t resonate with everyone.
The crucial thing to take away is the importance of creating a supportive workplace culture, and you need trust and communication to embrace DEI in its entirety. That way, there’ll be no need to look out for signs of dyslexia because your employees will feel confident in bringing it to your attention.