Dyslexia and neurodiversity: Why are employers still afraid?


More support is now available to employees with neurodiverse conditions such as dyslexia, but there’s still a way to go, according to campaigner Ross Duncan, who is dyslexic. He looks at why HR and managers need to embrace neurodiversity at work.

As a CEO or HR director, if you could identify one person from your workforce that you consider to potentially have a “competitive edge” and that might assist the future of your organisation, would you be interested?

If the same person had unique skills such as vision, perseverance, problem solving, passion, empathy, delegation and creativity, do you think this would benefit your organisation?

This person may happen to have skills and traits in common with a number of other successful self-motivated business people.

This might come as a shock, but if you were to find out that the same person without any fault of their own may have encountered struggles during school age, yet learned how to adapt and make strategies to cope with this, would you still be interested?

What about the things we take for granted as important in the working environment, such as reading, writing and remembering important information – what happens if this person cannot do this with ease, but has successfully managed to do so with the help of adaptive computer software?

Invisible disability

Would you then believe that the same person may have an invisible disability, that’s so invisible they might not even know anything about it? Even if they do know, there is a very real chance that they might not want to declare this because of embarrassment and social stigma. When people say or hear the word disability it seems that some are scared to talk about it – never mind trying approach the subject in trying find a mutual way of helping.

I have dyslexia, but up until the age of 42 I never knew I had it. But things are changing and there is  a growing interest in looking at adult dyslexia in a more positive light by examining the skills they might have, particularly in the IT industry.

Research done by a dyslexia charity estimates that 75% of people with dyslexia were only diagnosed after the age of 21. They believe that around 2.9 million workers in the UK live with dyslexia and more than 50% of adults try to hide it. In adulthood, it’s the single biggest disability.

This means you’re probably wondering how employing and supporting someone with dyslexia can benefit an organisation.

People with dyslexia have a unique way of thinking and doing things that for some may not be the norm. The classic example is with GCHQ.

Sunday Times journalist Richard Kerbaj ran a story from inside GCHQ in July 2015 to get an investigative insight and understanding as to why such a large government department has welcomed  and harnessed the unique skills and talents that someone with dyslexia can bring. He also happens to be dyslexic and so was the late Sunday Times journalist AA Gill.

Skills of the future

So the question to be asked is, did you know that you could have potential talent around you, who through your support, could benefit your business?

According to the World Economic Forum and the McKinsey Global Institute, organisations need to future-proof their skills with the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and artificial intelligence. It may surprise you that a number of global companies have already recognised that neurodiverse employees have the key skills for the future.

However, to benefit from having an inclusive and “neuro-friendly” place to work it will require a cultural change in recruitment policies and training procedures.

Two years ago, Acas produced a guide highlighting the support employers can offer in helping neurodiverse employees.

This includes having enough flexibility in job roles to allow individuals to play to their strengths, not assuming everyone has generic competencies (such as ‘self-starter’) and raising awareness of neurodiversity among managers. Encouraging dyslexic employees to disclose their difficulties can also help avoid any potential performance management issues.

Teams of people who think differently will become essential as we enter the next work revolution, so it’s time for more employers to celebrate neurodiversity in all its forms.

Ross Duncan

About Ross Duncan

Ross Duncan is a volunteer for Dyslexia Scotland and works in Dyslexia Awareness for the Home Office

5 Responses to Dyslexia and neurodiversity: Why are employers still afraid?

  1. Avatar
    Hans van de Velde 10 Nov 2018 at 10:34 am #

    Excellent article and very positive to approach this problem the way.
    The foundation European Brains @ Work, that I founded in 2016, aims on supporting employers to get the best out of their neurodiverse employees. More and more employers, like HR advisors, understand that society needs these innovative and creative brains to develop into a better world. Challenges like AI, robotics, new medical science, climat change and sustainability need neurodiverse people.
    The ambassadors of European Brains @ Work all over Europe visit employers for a chat about their neurodiverse employees.
    You may contact us: hans.van.de.velde@equisto.nl

    • Avatar
      Ross Duncan 18 Nov 2018 at 3:25 pm #

      Hi Hans

      I will email you some of my material that I have already had published

  2. Avatar
    Andy Brodie 28 Dec 2018 at 8:59 am #

    Very interesting piece, thank you! My eldest daughter is severely dyslexic but has worked extremely hard to understand what works for her and how to develop her skills. Currently she works very successfully in a school for children with special needs.

  3. Avatar
    Julia 29 Dec 2019 at 5:18 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your insights, and for raising awareness about Dyslexia & Neurodiversity. I’ve struggled with Dyslexia my whole life and wasn’t diagnosed until I reached college in my twenties. Every single time I’ve disclosed my Dyslexia to an employer, it’s had a negative impact on my career. I hope the tides are finally changing. I’m looking forward to seeing the positive impacts that Neurodiversity and Inclusion will have on the workplace of the future.

  4. Avatar
    Ross Duncan 4 Jan 2020 at 11:45 pm #

    Hi Julia

    I hope there will be a change in direction, I have longed for the opportunity to see an opportunity to speak out and to engage with people. To better educate people, coming from someone who never got a proper chance of an education




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