Dyslexic and proud: my journey to understanding the benefits of neurodiversity within the workplace

Guest blog by Ella Smith

My life changed when I was six years old; I just did not know it.

Dyslexia is a learning-based neurodevelopmental disorder, which often affects an individual’s ability to read, write and spell. My six-year-old self could not comprehend this life-changing diagnosis, I simply enjoyed being taken out of school for the day and was blissfully unaware of the implications this would have on my future. Throughout my time at school, I was fortunate enough to be in an environment that allowed me to develop strategies to cope with my neurodiversity, so that I could perform to the high academic standards I set myself. Aside from the extra hours of work I put in and my complete inability to spell, I never really considered myself different to my peers. That was until I was given the opportunity to conduct an extended project on a topic of my choosing; I decided I wanted to understand more about my neurodiversity and started reading as many books about dyslexia as I could.

Understanding Dyslexia 
One book that stood out to me was The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. This book illustrated the innate strengths that dyslexia can bring, such as holistic thinking, increased emotional intelligence and vivid imagination. It was a completely different view of dyslexia to the standard perception; the positives were shown to significantly outweigh the negatives. I was inspired to write my report on the extent to which dyslexia affects employability.

I discovered a report conducted by EY in association with Made by Dyslexia, which outlined the match between dyslexic’s natural strengths and the World Economic Forum’s predicted required skills for the future world of work. This helped guide my argument in favour of organisations actively hiring dyslexics for their big-picture-thinking and imaginative problem-solving abilities. Thus, my view of my diagnosis completely shifted – I was different to my peers, but this was a positive.

The benefits of a diverse thinking style 
Fast-forward to four years later and I am in my final year of a Psychology degree, where I have continued to research the benefits of neurodiversity within the workplace, but now I am also trying to join it. Through my own experiences with teamwork, I am a firm believer that teams can benefit not only from diversity of background and experience, but also from diversity of thinking style, with all types of diversity driving towards innovative, inclusive and efficient task completion. Recent psychological research continues to show the benefits of neurodiversity on the generation of innovative solutions. If organisations can create an environment that allows different ways of thinking to interact, they will be able to truly harness the innate creative value of neurodiversity.

Looking for the right environment 
Therefore, when looking towards my future and deciding which organisation would be the right fit for me, I consider whether it has a suitable environment that would allow me to fulfil my creative potential. Psychological safety within an organisation is crucial for enabling diversity of thinking-style to benefit teams. Having an environment where team members feel it is safe to take interpersonal risks, without the risk of negative judgement from the rest of the team, enables individuals to feel free to generate innovative solutions to complex problems. Moreover, the addition of neurodiverse-specific Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) also draws me towards an organisation. ERGs allow individuals within an organisation to create a community based on shared identities; they are a safe space for employees to come together and share their experiences.

This is why the work done by Voice At The Table is so important, as they show organisations how to embrace Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), so that everyone within the organisation can thrive and unlock their potential. Making meaningful progress on EDI has been identified by McKinsey & Co. as one of the ten most significant challenges organisations face today. An organisation that celebrates and supports EDI in all forms is more desirable to a potential employee. This is beneficial to that organisation, as they will be able to harness the creative benefits of having a diverse workforce, which will support enhanced organisational functioning.

Upon reflection, in my journey from an unaware six-year-old to a passionate advocate for the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace, my perspective has evolved significantly. I now see my neurodiversity as a positive, something that can enhance my potential rather than hinder it. Thus, I implore others: embrace your differences and allow your experiences to shape you for the better.

My life changed when I was six years old.  It changed for the better.

Ella will be joining us this summer as an intern and we’re really looking forward to welcoming her to the Voice At The Table team.

Suggested Reading

Taking Diversity Beyond Gender: The Necessary Mindset Shift

3 Questions To Get Your Team Talking About EDI