Dyslexia in the Workplace: 7 Tips to Be a More Inclusive Coworker

by Valerie Nadi

 

My brain is wired differently,” shared Paul Rickelton, Director of Success Management - Portfolio Leader at Salesforce. “I’m dyslexic and it’s something I’ve had to cope with throughout my career.”

1 in 10 people globally are affected by dyslexia. This learning disorder is characterized by difficulty reading and processing language. It’s a condition often identified in early education, when young students are struggling to keep up with the written communication skills of their peers. The stresses and coping methods students learn can follow them into the workforce as adults.

Paul reflected, “I used to be very conscious of writing. I would expend so much energy on it – I’d over-compensate and try to hide my misspellings. Screen sharing or sending a simple email would give me a tremendous amount of anxiety.”

Paul’s experience isn’t unique. There are “systemic barriers to employment for millions of potential employees… who are neurodivergent – meaning that their brains function, learn, and process information differently,” says the Westminster AchieveAbility Commission.

One day Paul stumbled upon a story from a peer with dyslexia who had flipped her narrative. And it changed his whole outlook.

“I became appreciative of dyslexia as a defining characteristic about myself. Because it comes with a lot of advantages too. I’m different – and different is good.”

 

Paul went on to share, “I’m able to problem-solve and easily jump between the big picture and the details. I can also see patterns and trends with ease, especially in dynamic situations. I used to wonder if that was just because of my personality traits, but after I did research and talked to others with dyslexia, it became apparent that this is a common experience.”

In fact, a recent study states that a disproportionate number of entrepreneurs are dyslexic. Perhaps because they’re able to manage the overarching strategy of their businesses while still executing on the day-to-day.

 

“There are a lot of misconceptions about dyslexia. I want to address those and help others feel comfortable being their authentic selves.”

Each of us can do our part to create a more inclusive workplace – one where people feel encouraged to bring their abilities and disabilities to work. Explore the tips below to get started today:

 
 

1. Encourage Courageous Vulnerability

 

Be open about your strengths and weaknesses, and it will invite others to do the same.

Paul shared, “White boarding used to make me really nervous about spelling errors. Today, rather than trying to hide my dyslexia, I just acknowledge it. I tell my customers or coworkers that I’ll have spelling errors, and we move along.”

It starts with you. Break down the stifling expectation of perfection.

2. Communicate Simply

We’ve all been there. The meeting where people are throwing around jargon or acronyms. Everyone appears to be nodding heads, as if they’re in full alignment. Maybe you’re embarrassed to raise your hand and ask what on earth a term means because it seems so obvious to everyone else. But after the meeting, you ask a trusted coworker and learn they also have no idea what was being discussed. What can we learn from this? Be mindful to speak simply and define terms that may be unfamiliar to others. 

3. Communicate In a Variety of Ways

Because we all have different learning styles and abilities, we can’t look at communication as one-size-fits-all. For example – when sharing instructions to a direct report, consider discussing them verbally in a meeting and then following up with a written email. Or if you have a customer presentation, try infusing a combination of visuals and text on your slides to convey an idea. Finally, be mindful that some people struggle with traditional test taking. If you’re evaluating employees with an assessment, or testing candidates as part of an interview, give them the option to complete that test in a written or verbal format.
 

4. Be Empathetic and Ask Questions

 
There’s so much we can learn from one another’s experiences and preferences. Take a genuine interest in others. Ask questions mindfully and respectfully, and listen deeply. Encourage transparency and honesty.
To take a more specific look at this, let’s look at an example of communication preferences. Whether you’re working with a peer, managing a team, or interacting with a customer, it’s important to ask for input on your communication. How do they prefer to receive updates? What’s the best way to align on next steps? How can you be a better partner? Find the approach that enables others to do their best work.

5. Use Technology

If you’re a people manager, find out if your employees are familiar with the technology available to them. Tools like device screen readers or voice to text can make many of us more efficient and effective in our roles.

And, for those with certain types of dyslexia where words appear to “jump” around on the page, leveraging different fonts and colored backgrounds can be game changing. If you see someone customizing their display settings, ask them why they chose to deviate from the defaults and offer to incorporate some of those settings in communications you’re sharing out, if you can. But when choosing colors, keep in mind that 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women are color blind. Color combinations like red and green can be impossible for those audiences to read.

6. Focus on Competencies, Not Education

 

“From a recruiting perspective, I’m not quite so hung up on things like formal education — instead I look for relevant experience. I evaluate for key skills like adaptability,” shares Paul.

In fact, people with dyslexia are up to twice as likely to drop out of secondary or high school than the general population. But with all the strengths these candidates offer, they’re a talent pool you don’t want to miss out on.

7. Double Down on Strengths

Paul’s experience highlights this tip beautifully. Each of us can extend an enormous about of effort trying to cover up our weaknesses. And then we have little energy left to do the brilliant work that comes so naturally to us.

Instead of trying to fit yourself – or others – into a construct of what an ideal employee looks like, be authentic. Bring the thing that only you can do. And encourage others to do the same. Then together we can tap into our collective team, which has a much richer bank of strengths.

 

“Dyslexia is just one example of the importance of being mindful about the things people bring into the workplace,” says Paul. We all need to be intentional about creating an inclusive workplace.

“Salesforce has a very open and welcome culture. You can be your authentic self here. It’s is the main thing that attracted me and keeps me here.”

Ready to join a workforce where you’re celebrated for our strengths? Apply to Salesforce. We’re hiring.
Following ambition and advice from Sydney to Singapore: A Salesforce career story
From training in hospitals to nailing it in sales: A Salesforce Career Story
From training in hospitals to nailing it in sales: A Salesforce Career Story

Transform your everyday.

Ready to transform your career?
 

Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the know about upcoming jobs, tips to improve your work/life balance at your current job, and more!

 

Check out life inside the #SalesforceOhana