Can Dyslexia be an advantage in the workplace?

I’m not dyslexic, and to be honest, if I were I’m not sure I’d have the patience for dealing with the constant misconception that it just means I’m not very good at reading.

Being dyslexic simply means that your brain is wired differently to people who aren’t dyslexic – and while the challenges some people may have are fairly well-known, the strengths that these differences bring aren’t always as recognised.

As an example, the organisation Made in Dyslexia produced a report that shows how dyslexic strengths reflect the skills that employers are increasingly looking for now and in the future – showing that dyslexia can potentially be an increasing advantage in the workplace. I’ll link to this report below.

Below are several strengths associated with dyslexia, and with examples of how they can be used in the workplace. I’ll also link to resources on how to talk about your disability in positive terms to an employer.

1) Being able to think in 3-D

This means that dyslexic people are often able to have a very precise picture-like memory for objects, places and people in great detail and are able to really imagine how these things will interact with each other, for example how changing one small detail will affect the everything else.

For example, in an interview with the organisation Dyslexic Advantage, James Russell, the inventor of the Compact Disc (CD), explained that he was able to design his inventions in vivid detail in his mind – including tweaking and making changes – before he had even picked up a tool.

This skill has a range of applications in different ways, for example a variety of activities in both visual and performing arts. This may also include activities such as sport that require excellent spatial awareness and anticipation. It can also be a strength in roles related to building and designing, for example architecture, engineering and product design.

2) Verbal Communication & Story Telling

Being good at story-telling is often a positive trait of dyslexia, which may explain the success of several well-known authors and screenwriters – a fact which may surprise a few people – but this skill is useful in a range of other professions too.

Aligned with another dyslexic strength of being able to communicate information in an interesting but simple way, being a good story teller can be useful in roles such as advertising, marketing, teaching and coaching.

Generally speaking, the ability to communicate well with others is one of the main skills employers look for in the vast majority of jobs. For example, with technology increasingly doing more of the technical work, several of the more prominent accountancy firms increasingly want accountants who can communicate well with clients and colleagues in other departments, not people who sit behind a desk working on spreadsheets all day.

3) People Skills

Being able to build good relationships with other people and really understand them is something often associated with being dyslexic. This includes being able to read other people’s expressions and non-verbal cues to understand what someone is thinking even if they haven’t said it out aloud.

This is also useful for a lot of jobs, for example, in people-orientated roles such as teaching and coaching, as well as roles that combine this people-focus in a more commercial setting, such as in sales being able to understand how a potential client is reacting to what you tell them, or in negotiating. It’s also very useful when dealing with people in sensitive situations, such as HR, counselling or working with people in distress.

4) ‘Big picture’ thinking

While being dyslexic may a person to struggle to with fine, exact details, the way dyslexic brains are ‘wired’ means dyslexic people are often very good at looking at the bigger overall picture – for example, really understanding how different parts of a project fit together to achieve an main objective.

This skill is obviously useful for roles that require strategic thinking and planning, but increasingly this skill is useful in a lot of roles as the nature of jobs people do evolve. For example, understanding how your individual job fits into the larger company objectives and how you could work better with people from other departments to achieve more.

5) Identifying trends & anticipating future events

There is research which suggests a significant amount of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic, including people like Sir Richard Branson. To succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to be able to understand market trends, in other words what customers want, and anticipate future events based on these trends and experience – skills which dyslexic people are often naturally very good at.

These skills are also very much in demand, as companies in all industries and sectors increasingly turn to data and information to inform their strategy and decision making, they need people who excel at being able to analyse this data and make recommendations from it. There are numerous studies which show this is one of the main skills needed in the current and future employment market.

6) Creative problem solving & Creative thinking

A few years’ ago I did a qualification on supporting people with Dyslexia. The guy who ran the course was himself Dyslexic, and his level of ingenuity in coming up with shortcuts and work-arounds to overcome daily challenges still inspires me.

As many people face regular struggles as a result of their dyslexia, they develop their creative problem skills to overcome these. This skill is also very much in demand with employers – even if they don’t overtly ask for it on job adverts – as workplaces and jobs evolve with technology.

Solving problems is fundamental to every single job, so the better you can solve specific problems the further you can go in your career and the more options you have. I like to think that every single job exists to solve a problem, and it helps in the application and interview process to ask what problems that particular job experiences and solves – and think of examples of when you’ve demonstrated the skills the employer is asking for in solving similar problems in the past.

Related to this, Dyslexic people are often very creative thinkers, which with some of the skills mentioned earlier of course lends itself to working in creative roles, ranging from the arts to marketing. However, I believe that the whole concept of ‘creativity’ is misunderstood – if you’re able to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things, regardless of context, this is being creative. Even in very commercial settings, there is a need for this skill as businesses are always looking at new ways to improve things.

In summary

Of course every person’s experience of being dyslexic is different, so not every dyslexic person will necessarily excel at all these things in the same way. I do believe though there is value in identifying where your strengths are related to being dyslexic to help with both choosing career options as well as when talking to employers about being dyslexic in positive terms in a way that highlights the value to them (this is something will cover in a latter blog post).

The reports by Made in Dyslexia can be found here and here, including the below image mapping the skills that employers increasingly want against dyslexic strengths.

(c) Made by Dyslexia

In terms of talking to your employer about dyslexia and it’s strengths, the AGCAS Disability Task Group have produced several resources that can help . Your university careers service should be able to access these here or here.

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