Toxic Lunch

with Martin Bloomfield


On the 24 September Martin Bloomfield answered to Prof. Buller and the audience of Toxic Lunch under the title How “Equality of Opportunity is an opportunity for quality. Read the following questions and discussion:

1. What is dyslexia?

Depending on which “official” organisations you ask, you’ll get a completely different answer. Put simply though, it is an atypical neurological structuring of the brain that provides dyslexics with verifiable and measurable advantages in the context of the modern world; yet also means that they have verifiable and measurable disadvantages in the context of that same world.

2. Why should employers be aware of dyslexia?

Global management consultancy McKinsey & Company recently demonstrated that diverse organisations typically out-perform less diverse organisations by 30-40%. Dyslexia is the most prevalent neurodiversity currently being researched. Similarly, and also recently, consultancy firm EY used data from the World Economic Forum to show that dyslexic skills are precisely those skills that will be most in-demand by 2022. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs showed that dyslexic skills would be among the top competences of the future workplace. And it has been estimated that failure to attend to the neurological differences of those with dyslexia costs the US economy alone over $ 300 billion per year in lost revenue.

3. How can employer support employees affected by dyslexia?

There are essentially two ways an employer can support employees with dyslexia:

✳️ Containing the fire: those with dyslexia often struggle with four major (and overlapping) areas: “Sequencing”, “Reading” (including phonological decoding, comprehension, and exhaustion), “Executive Function”, and “Working Memory”. A mindful employer will understand these struggles, and set up a workspace accordingly, to minimise these challenges.

✳️ Fanning the flames: those with dyslexia have scientifically, psychologically, and empirically recorded advantages in many areas of work. These advantages include: creativity, holistic thinking, eidetic memory, interpersonal problem solving, and visualisation. A mindful employer will understand these benefits, and set up a workspace accordingly, to take advantage of them.

4. Is there a special way of leadership?

The friction of dyslexia is that providing stand-alone “elements” of understanding, rather than the over-arching structure of how to understand a task, is difficult for dyslexic employees to grasp, so “big picture leadership” is advantageous; yet it is essential that tasks are broken down into “bite sized chunks” to accommodate for working memory and executive function difficulties. It is also highly likely that an employee with dyslexia has suffered public failure and humiliation during school, and will benefit therefore from encouragement and an environment where “having to get things right” is replaced by the virtue of creativity, which allows for “getting things wrong without prejudice or punishment”.

bbw Hochschule Berlin: Hochschule der Wirtschaft für die Wirtschaft

5. What are the challenges for the industry (regarding staff and dylexia, both sides: leaders and persons concerned?

✳️ The first challenge is awareness. This comes in two forms: knowledge, and attitude. These two forms of awareness cannot be separated; yet knowledge is not abstract – it must be knowledge relevant to industries and specific sectors themselves. Knowledge of dyslexia to a primary school teacher will be very different from knowledge of dyslexia to a neurologist; knowledge of dyslexia to a psychologist will be very different from knowledge of dyslexia to an HR manager; knowledge of dyslexia to a Maori will be very different from knowledge of dyslexia to a German.

✳️ The second challenge is a common challenge: integration through diversity.

✳️ The third challenge is communication. Those with dyslexia communicate, and handle communicative norms, differently from non-dyslexics. To assume that communication for one group works equally for another group risks communication breakdown.

✳️ The fourth challenge is the measurement of success. Can, for instance, “creativity” be measured on a scale commensurate with other forms of achievement?

✳️ The fifth challenges is “ethically exploiting the opportunities”. Dyslexia awareness brings many opportunities for business: how can an organisation exploit those opportunities ethically?

6. Are there international differences concerning definitions and handling?

There are almost no two countries whose definitions are the same, or whose measurements are the same. This provides challenges, but it also has its advantages.

7. How is Corona making an impact on leaders, affected people, institutions?

There are specific challenges where dyslexia is concerned, such as time management and environment management; however there are advantages too, such as flexibility and individuation of the working environment.

8. The Corona-advice to leaders, staff, organisations:

✳️ Leaders: remember that not all staff members need the same support, and that dyslexic staff need specialised support.

✳️ Staff: remember that it isn’t an act of shame to become open and transparent about your needs, because if those needs are met you can contribute enormously to overall team performance.

✳️ Organisations: remember not to unconsciously slip into new, yet un-thought-out structures due to coronavirus. It’s possible that dyslexic employees have worked hard to create a working environment where they can flourish, and changing un-mindfully into a new way of working can jeapordise that. Working from home isn’t simply “the same structures in a new environment”. Where the structures change, so do working practices.