Inclusiveness in the workplace has come a long way. You often hear the phrase “reasonable adjustments” for people with Dyslexia, being spoken about in HR and Talent Acquisition. Companies often ask “how best do we accommodate people with Dyslexia in the workplace?”, but the problem with this is the phrasing of the question. It’s “how best do we accommodate people with Dyslexia in the workplace?”, rather than “how best do we go about getting people with Dyslexia into the workplace”. Essentially, companies are putting their cart before their horse.
According to the BBC, “currently 4 in 10 dyslexics are unemployed”. However, 80% of businesses say that they are facing a talent shortage and need untapped pipelines of talent. Businesses such as Microsoft, SAP and Dell Technologies are bringing neurodiversity into their workplace programs. However, if they don’t have the right processes in place for people with Dyslexia before they apply to the positions, then they may never get the talent they want into these programs in the first place. People with Dyslexia can be easily put off applying for a position. Some of the most common ways are:
Often the first stumbling block for people with Dyslexia is in applying for the job positions. For example, having words like ‘Superstar’, ‘Ninja’, or ‘Guru’ in the title of the position can put people with Dyslexia off applying because they may not have the confidence to think of themselves like that.
Then, a lot of job descriptions include requirements like “must have excellent communication skills”, “excellent writing and editing skills”, and “strong attention to detail and organizational skills”. All of this can be uninviting to Dyslexic candidates because they may not have strong English skills or they may be disorganized. There is a need to re-evaluate and write job descriptions which focus on the specific skills related to the actual job role.
Finally, there is the layout of the job description. Some job descriptions are all in one block text with small lettering and no line spacing. The nature of this format can actually be inaccessible for people with Dyslexia, again creating an unwelcoming experience, and increasing your chances of missing out on the great talents Dyslexic candidates can bring.
The company’s online application experience can be off-putting to Dyslexic candidates. Firstly, if there’s no information on diversity on the careers page, applicants with Dyslexia may not feel welcome to apply.
Secondly, having an application page that must be filled out line by line or that scrapes your CV and puts it into fields it shouldn’t, makes the application process more complicated.
Finally, the layout of the application page can often be difficult to navigate; the instructions may be unclear or complicated language is often used, which discourages people with Dyslexia. In addition, there may be issues around accessibility features, such as: Can the pages be read by a screen reader? What about the font and background colors – are they user-friendly? Can the text enlarge easily? These considerations are often not just beneficial to Dyslexic people, but for all applicants.
Then there’s the interview stage. Firstly, language in an interview matters. Having once disclosed my Dyslexia at an interview, one interviewer asked a succession of questions “Can you work in a fast-paced environment?”, “Is your standard of English good enough?”, “Can you disseminate information fast enough?”, and the most insulting of all “Will you need more supports than say…a normal applicant?” Educating your workforce on unconscious bias, and what you can and cannot say in interviews, should be one of the first steps in hiring new employees. But it’s just as important to avoid being patronizing, with comments such as: “You’ve done so well for someone with Dyslexia”. Adam Harris of ASIAM often says, “if you’ve only met one person on the autistic spectrum, you’ve only met one person on the autistic spectrum, you’ve not met everyone on the autistic spectrum.” And it’s the same with people with Dyslexia.
One of my biggest frustrations with interviews is being told we’ll contact you by “insert date”. That date comes, I look at my phone all day and it never rings, and I never get any other feedback. I’d say 50% of the interviews I’ve done have been like this. Always provide feedback.
If the Dyslexic person is hired, there are several ways they can be made to feel more at ease. Firstly, just ask what accommodations they need. Most new hires with Dyslexia will need things like extra time for tasks to get used to the environment or literacy software like Read&Write. Secondly, help them make connections early on. I’ve been very lucky to be invited to lunch with my new team before I started, so I could get to know them. It’s good to be introduced to members within large organizations so they can act as buddies or mentors - if someone has a question like “how do I set up a printer?” for example.
A lot of companies claim to be inclusive leaders. They even have Diversity and Inclusion teams within their companies. However, if they don’t have inclusive practices in place in the hiring system, then they simply cannot make this claim. One of the best companies I’ve witnessed in this has been Dell Technologies. The team was fantastic in the hiring process, giving all applicants everything they needed to know in a follow-up email to their application. Once I was hired, they gave me a buddy to answer any questions I might have, and let me take part in their fantastic unconscious bias training course called MARC. They also asked me to assist the D&I team in creating and implementing their policies, and made me feel part of the larger overall D&I team by flying me to Panama to be part of the Diversity and Inclusion offsite event. They also asked for my opinion to create new policy, such as asking for my advice on their job descriptions. I helped to roll out their Neurodiversity Training Programs and they asked me to take part in a trial for accessibility software.
As you can see, the more you involve your Dyslexic candidates and new hires in the processes and discussions around diversity and inclusion, the more inclusive you can truly become.
As evident from Barry’s experience, first impressions are largely gained from an organization's website. Digital experiences that are welcoming to all are crucial in creating a truly inclusive workplace, and that’s where the importance of web accessibility comes in. To explore more on the topic, check out our dedicated web accessibility resources - you’ll find lots more information in addition to free resources.
Barry is an Event and Marketing Specialist with experience working in the diversity and inclusion space for companies including Dell Technologies, Bank of Ireland and The Public Appointments Service.