How tackling the stigma surrounding dyslexia can help you to build a stronger team

Professionals identify trust as an essential element of a successful team dynamic, where each individual has confidence in the other members to complete their tasks to a high standard. But this can only be the case where everyone brings unique strengths to the table, which counteract the weaknesses in others’ skillsets. Creating a careful balance of personalities and abilities results in a highly functional team, and usually leads to success.

No employee, however competent, is strong across the board. Some might be excellent spoken communicators but struggle with time management. Others might be proficient researchers but exhibit poor presentation skills. And others might be excellent at analysing data but struggle to convey their findings to teammates.

For 1 in 10 people in the UK, working with text is the primary challenge. They struggle with spelling, organisation, short-term memory and expressing their ideas in writing. When displayed collectively, these problems are known as ‘dyslexia’.

While dyslexia is often discussed with regards to education, it seems to regularly fly under the radar in the workplace. Think about it, have any of your colleagues ever told you they are dyslexic?

Schools and other educational institutions in the UK have made significant leaps in supporting dyslexic students over the last decade, yet understanding and awareness within the workplace appears to be lagging behind.

This can’t be laid wholly at the doorstep of employers. There remains a tendency for those with dyslexia to hide their condition, despite the fact that the Equality Act of 2010 made it illegal to discriminate against workers because of mental or physical disabilities. Employees with dyslexia also often don’t identify themselves as having a disability, meaning many forms where conditions would normally be declared are left blank.

A sad conclusion that can be drawn is that dyslexics fear either having their intelligence and capability questioned or being seen as an additional cost burden on the business. For this to change, organisations must recognise that dyslexics are no different to other employees: they too bring their own set of strengths and weaknesses to the table. Dyslexia does not devalue the strengths of an employee.

Julie Logan, emeritus professor of entrepreneurship at Cass Business School, discovered that 20% of UK business self-starters have dyslexia, while in the USA dyslexics run more companies and manage more people than non-dyslexics. This is proof that dyslexics are often better at seeing the bigger picture, delegating, problem solving, visualising and working creatively.

But how often do you hear from those around you about the strengths possessed by dyslexics? In the media we are bombarded with famous success stories: Richard Branson, Robin Williams and Steve Jobs, all of whom achieved greatness despite being dyslexic. But these examples are too exceptional to be relatable.

An employee’s weaknesses can almost always be balanced out by another member of the team, but dyslexia does create some barriers that we must try to overcome. Composing emails, for example, is a daily activity for most people in the workplace, and they must be clear and professional. Providing audio annotation software can allow the employee to speak their thoughts before progressing to writing, or to create and edit audio notes in meetings. This removes the pressure of having to work in a medium that is not the employee’s forte, and empowers them to work with information in a different way.

By making small adjustments in the workplace, organisations can ensure that employees with dyslexia are fully supported, and can unlock their full potential. By providing the right tools and ensuring that each employee can access and work with information in their preferred way, we maximise the chances of the team excelling.

Of course support can only be provided when an employer is aware of the need for it. This will only happen if we work to remove the stigma associated with learning difficulties. We must change perceptions, giving workers the confidence to talk openly about dyslexia and educating employers so that they can adapt accordingly.

By Dave Tucker, Director at education technology firm, Sonocent