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Dyslexia Awareness Week - Success in the Workplace - Richard Wood

Friday 7 October 2022

Tell us a bit about your background. When were you diagnosed and how was school for you?

My experience at school is something that I actively try to forget. Unfortunately, my struggles throughout affected my confidence, and the teaching style did not enable me to learn effectively.

Like many others, it was at university that I was first made aware that I might have dyslexia. A lecturer reviewed my first assignment and suggested that I should speak to internal resources. From there, they arranged external testing which confirmed I had dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.

From then on, the support from the university set me on the way to achieving my potential. I was provided with tools to support my learning in all environments, such as computers, software, Dictaphones and extra time for exams.

These all contributed to my ability to learn, but the biggest takeaway I took from university and my diagnosis was understanding my dyslexia. Being more aware of my strengths and limitations gave me the confidence to tackle the working world.

I've been in HR for around 12 years and am currently a Senior HR Manager at Hoare Lea. I try to use my experiences and platform to build awareness of dyslexia and other neurodivergent conditions.

Did you get the support you needed at school – if not, what was missing?

Unfortunately, I didn't get the support I needed during my school years. I was academically below my age group every year in most core subjects. I struggled to keep up with the pace of lessons, constantly missing instructions from the teachers. I would often find myself sitting there in silence, with no idea what I should be doing, and looking around the room at everyone else busily getting on with their work. As a painfully shy introvert, I had no confidence to ask for help, so I felt completely isolated.

The work I produced was very messy, often missing the key points required and clearly showed a lack of understanding (which was fair as I rarely understood what I was supposed to be doing). The most frequent comments at parent's evenings were 'a bright child but needs to focus more and try harder'.

I often look back now and think that all I needed was someone to recognise my struggles fully, repeating instructions and checking to ensure the information landed with me. Maybe more support teachers, with classes of 30 plus, I can appreciate how challenging it would be for one teacher to spend more time with individuals who needed it.

Did you always know what you wanted to be?

I'm sure it won't offend or surprise anyone to hear that a career in HR was not my childhood dream. However, I feel lucky to have made some choices at pivotal times that have directed me to where I am now. My strengths, heightened through my dyslexia, are proving valuable in what has become an enjoyable career in HR.

One of the few subjects I enjoyed at school was psychology. Fascinated by people and behaviours, I decided to continue this at university and graduated with a BSc. Understanding people has helped me immensely in my career. When I graduated in 2009, unemployment was at record levels during the great recession. I was fortunate to find an opportunity to work for my local Jobcentre, where I developed many skills which supported my career in HR, such as a passion for helping people.

When I moved into my first HR role, I gained a broader knowledge of learning and development. This is where I started to understand the positives my dyslexia gave me and how best to develop these skills to improve and progress further.

What challenges has dyslexia given you?

The challenges I've experienced with my dyslexia have been varied and prevalent at different stages in my life. Of course, the more typical difficulties with reading and writing were present in education settings. However, I have found ways to develop these skills through utilising computer software to the extent that I do not feel they would have been evident to others in the working world.

The most prominent challenge throughout education and work has been processing verbal and written information at the rate required. Learning in a classroom environment was difficult, and within the workplace, there are also relatable situations that have proved challenging.

I've had to adapt and develop my style to thrive in the workplace, where the way you receive information is much more varied.

What positives has dyslexia given you?

My biggest strengths through being dyslexic are problem-solving and ‘out of the box’ creative thinking. These have been valuable in my development within HR, which can often require solutions to complex situations and the innovation of processes, procedures and systems.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some great people and companies who have recognised and appreciated the need for diverse thinking. This sense of inclusion has helped me embrace my strengths.

Do you have any advice for others with dyslexia in the workplace?

I would advise that anyone with dyslexia explores what support is available to them within the workplace. There will be things in place, small or big, which can provide support. Everyone has different needs and challenges, so understanding what tools might work better for your skills will be hugely valuable.

I have significantly benefited from using computer software, such as Grammarly, which has improved the style and accuracy of my written work. I would also recommend being open and honest with managers about your working style and speaking to others who have dyslexia that may be able to share their own experiences and recommendations with you.

What barriers did you break through to achieve your dream job?

The most significant barrier or concern for me was the stigma associated with dyslexia. It is tough to acknowledge and communicate something often perceived as a weakness, especially in the workplace.

In honesty, I did not discuss my dyslexia during the early stages of my career. However, I believe that the awareness of neurodiversity has increased greatly in recent years, with more role models sharing their personal experiences, which helped me to be more vocal about my own.

Employers need to create and maintain inclusive environments, so all people can be confident to raise issues and communicate freely without fear of stigma or retaliation.