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GCHQ Dyslexia employees

The special role for adults with dyslexia in the workplace

A recent article in the Guardian once again highlighted the special skills of people with dyslexia and how workplaces are currently missing out on a very important productive resource.

The item is entitled “People with dyslexia have skills that we need, says GCHQ”. The GCHQ is the United Kingdom’s top level security agency, with its headquarters in Cheltenham.

The article details that the GCHQ is four times more likely to employ new staff members with dyslexia than other government agencies. “GCHQ says those with dyslexia have valuable skills spotting patterns that others miss – a key area the spy agency wants to encourage as it pivots away from dead letter drops and bugging towards high-tech cybersecurity and data analysis.”

According to the article “Charlotte, a data analyst at GCHQ, said her dyslexic thinking had helped in her career, although she had also benefited from working in a supportive environment that understood the challenges her condition poses.”

The culture in the workplace is the other side of the success story.

To encourage dyslexic people to apply, GCHQ actively promotes itself as a neurodiverse employer and offers adjustments to its recruitment process, such as allowing people to bring mind maps or have extra time, as well as introducing awareness training for managers and peer support groups.

Companies are adapting to a new paradigm.

This article is encouraging to those who are themselves dyslexic, but it by no means the first recording of the special skills possessed by those people with dyslexia. There is an often-quoted example of a notice on the staff noticeboard in a staff cafeteria that says: –

“We will never be as successful as Google – they have more dyslexic staff than we have.”

Ernst Young, the international consultancy and business advisory company has published an in-house research project entitled “The Value of Dyslexia – Dyslexic capability and organisations of the future”. This report outlines the creative potential of minds that think differently.

While there are misleading stories about 50% of NASA having dyslexia – it is true that dyslexia is a welcome skill for job applicants at NASA. Other examples of the creative minds of people with dyslexia abound from all around the world. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are but two standout examples, along with Ingvar Kamprad of IKEA and Bill Hewlett of Hewlett Packard computers.

These people are not successful in spite of their dyslexia. They are successful because of it. MRI imaging established that the brain of somebody with dyslexia is wired differently and this results in different thinking processes. Adults with dyslexia often exhibit: –

  • Strong visual, spatial, and 3-D skills – hence many artists and sculptors are dyslexic.
  • Creative and alternative thinking skills
  • Great empathy skills
  • Special skills in seeing connections, patterns, and relationships that other people miss.

All of these skills are those in demand in progressive workplaces. The ultimate irony is that many people with dyslexia are ruled out because they have poor reading and spelling skills.

As a society we have become so very “intellectually snobbish” about spelling skills and often make assumptions about people’s intelligence and attention to detail, based solely on the accuracy – or lack of it – of their spelling.

Many of the world’s most accomplished academics, writers and inventors have struggled with spelling. Winston Churchill had terrible spelling and relied on his wife to correct his manuscripts. There is a similar story for Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), who also relied on his wife to type up his manuscripts, with the spelling errors corrected. It is considered that both people had dyslexia.

The way forward is to change the mindset regarding dyslexia, from a deficit model to a strength-based model.