What is dyslexia?
“Dyslexia is a specific learning difference which is constitutional in origin and which, for a given level of ability, may cause unexpected difficulties in the acquisition of certain literacy and numeracy skills.” ~ Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand
Brain research shows that dyslexic people use the “pictorial” right side of their brains rather than the “verbal” left side to understand words. This causes difficulties processing and understanding language.
Dyslexia in business – Julie’s story
I went to a business breakfast some time ago where the speaker was talking about dyslexia in the workplace. What he was trying to get across to us business people were the advantages of having dyslexic people on our teams.
The breakfast discussion was especially relevant for me because I am dyslexic.
For most of my life I had been comparing myself to the “normal” people around me and had invariably come up short. I couldn’t work out why most of the kids at my school “got” things the first time round. I needed it explained a few times, and often in a different way to the style of the teacher. I can’t say I ever felt stupid at school; I just accepted the fact that I always got low marks. In those days there was no segregation around your abilities – you either passed exams or didn’t.
I left school and went to business college for a year. Here I learned shorthand which was really difficult. I developed a really good memory for the symbols – no logic in this process at all! Then my father’s solicitor offered me a job as a junior legal secretary. It was so challenging. We had manual typewriters and no spell check! I would ask my off-sider to give me the first letter of a word. I would then look in my dictionary to try and find it. After about half an hour I would ask her for the next letter! Needless to say, I had to start putting strategies in place to help me through the working day. Fortunately, modern technology is now very supportive in this area.
I really enjoyed learning about law, and worked my way through the legal industry in New Zealand as a receptionist, senior secretary, PA, legal executive, and office manager. Then I travelled abroad in 1999, and worked for several law companies in London. By this stage, I was the one in the office that colleagues came to when they couldn’t spell something!
I had always wanted to have my own business, and it was while I was working in London that modern technology took a huge leap into the digital arena. This enabled me to start my own transcription company, initially doing typing over the internet.
The advantages of dyslexia in the workplace
To hear a speaker talking about my condition from a positive angle was music to my ears, as it had taken me many years to begin to appreciate what I had to offer and to embrace my thinking and abilities. I never saw my dyslexia as being an advantage in business; however, I am changing my mind about that.
In fact, the advantages dyslexic people enjoy over their non-dyslexic counterparts in business have been well documented in recent years. Studies have shown that dyslexics make successful entrepreneurs. Twenty per cent of company founders in the UK, and 35 per cent in the US, identified as having the condition.
These advantages originate in childhood from the social impacts of having dyslexia that required us to compensate for the things we couldn’t do well by honing skills in other areas – problems reading texts recompensed by an ability to read people, for example. We develop creative problem-solving skills, work extra hard to achieve academic success, and are resilient when confronted by failure. Similarly, we are better at delegating than non-dyslexics because we’ve had to learn to trust other people with things we can’t do.
What dyslexics are good at in a business context:
- Problem solving
- Lateral thinking
- Oral communication
- People management
- Spatial awareness
It’s still not an easy ride for many dyslexics. We can be left without the qualifications we need to get the kind of jobs that satisfy us. When we are employed, ongoing learning issues may get in the way of our careers, and we may avoid applying for jobs, thinking that our dyslexia will impede success.
The challenge for businesses is to be aware of dyslexia and the impact it can have on job performance, while recognising the opportunity to benefit from the talents of someone with dyslexia.