What you need to know about dyslexia in the workplace
Clive Hopkins, Human Resources Media, 12 July 2016
Here’s an interesting statistic: About one in 10 people have some form of dyslexia, but more than 25 per cent of self-made billionaires are dyslexic …And many of the world’s famous companies have been established and managed by people with dyslexia.
One of the most common language-based learning disorders, dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ –Albert Einstein was dyslexic and had an estimated IQ of 160. Experts disagree over whether it should even be viewed as any sort of disability.
It usually affects someone’s ability to read, spell and decode words by mixing up letters and numbers.
Virgin Australia founder Richard Branson has dyslexic and calls it his “greatest strength” because it helped him to focus on simple communication and learn the art of delegating – both of which are key skills for any business leader.
But how do people with dyslexia who aren’t already at the top of the food chain experience work?
Lawrence Eastland, 44, is the national graphic designer for creative education provider the SAE Institute.
“At school, I knew I was ‘different’,” he says. “The school, though, just thought I was slow.”
Based in Byron Bay, he has worked for SAE since 2013. Despite never having been tested for dyslexia while growing up, he long suspected that he had the condition.
This ‘difference’ has never held Eastland back. He has worked successfully in advertising and graphic design all his adult life, including a stint as senior art director at Sydney advertising agency Clemenger. His job with SAE, however, obliged him to engage with text and spreadsheets for the first time, which became problematic.
“My immediate boss suggested that I get tested by the Australian Dyslexia Association (ADA), and I passed with flying colours – I’m completely dyslexic.”
After some initial scepticism, Eastland’s employer is now treating his case sympathetically, and the HR department is currently liaising with the ADA to look at changing his job description and KPIs to accommodate the diagnosis.
“There’s never been any question about the quality of my work,” says Eastland, who says ideally, he would like the people who provide him with text to proofread it first – and for the copy to get a final proofread once he has worked on it.
“My hope is that dyslexia will become more widely understood and acknowledged, and taken into consideration in job applications,” he says.
People with dyslexia can experience a wide range of attitudes and challenges in the workplace.
“Dyslexic people often find their way up as entrepreneurs, not only because of their strategic abilities, but also because the way we manage recruitment and promotions at work, often blocks them from climbing the corporate ladder in the regular path others are taking,” says Dr Zivit Inbar, non-executive director and company secretary of SPELD, the peak body in Victoria for Specific Learning Difficulties, a provider of advice and support for people with dyslexia.
Getting a foot in the door can be a major hurdle. “I’ve heard executives say, ‘give me a break, we don’t need dyslexic people here’, and that’s in more than one organisation,” says Inbar.
Then comes the problems presented by traditional job application processes that involve the written word. Take psychometric testing, for example. While many dyslexic people have above average IQ, they need more time to convey their abilities than the tests allow.
“If you give dyslexic people time, they will succeed. Time extension in tests does not mean that the employee will need such accommodations at work,” says Inbar.
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