When I first took up the role of Group Communications Director at the Department for Transport (DfT) two years ago, I wrote a blog about communicating with dyslexia. It was quite nerve racking as I wasn’t sure at the time how people would react. There are so many misconceptions out there and after all I was going to be responsible for all the department’s communications.
The response was really quite humbling. The stories I’ve heard since are incredible, although it’s clear we’re still not doing enough to make the most of people’s abilities.
Accepting my dyslexia
I’ve found that people working in communications are often the most reluctant to speak openly about their dyslexia, which is something I can relate to. I found out late in my career that I was dyslexic. The first thing that struck me was who would want a dyslexic head of communications?! Luckily I was working with an amazing coach who helped me realise that I hadn’t got to where I was in my career despite my dyslexia, but exactly because of it.
The truth is that dyslexia doesn’t have to be a disability, it’s just a different set of abilities – some challenging, but others incredibly creative and many of them ideal for a career in communications.
My dyslexia is what defines me as a communications professional and as a leader for better and worse, but mainly better. It took time, but I made peace with the areas I struggle with and learnt to recruit people who excel in areas I don’t. Because let’s be honest, no one is perfect at everything, however hard we might try.
What they don’t always tell you in your career conversations at school is to find something you’re good at, because you’ll be a lot happier as a result. For me, that’s been making a career of storytelling and engagement with a variety of different audiences.
Dyslexia and creativity
Dyslexic individuals are some of the most talented and creative people you can find. We see things that other people don’t. We think in a way that others might not. We join all the dots (albeit in a different order) to see the bigger picture that many linear thinkers may miss while carefully plotting their path from A to B. Our written work and grammar may not always be accurate, but our verbal reasoning is second to none.
And because many of us struggle with numbers, facts and short-term memory recall, we create stories that we and others can engage with and most importantly remember. When we need to write something down, we keep it succinct and structure it clearly (probably with a lot of spacing, colours, and where we can pictures) which makes it more accessible to even the busiest of people.
So, if you want someone to balance the books or proof-read reports I suggest you look elsewhere. But if you want someone to influence and negotiate then you know who to look for.
At DfT we are celebrating one year of our newly established Neurodiversity Network with a Masterclass in communications and storytelling to showcase dyslexic skills at their best. We all fall into the trap of focusing on the things we struggle at rather than areas where we excel, so in the year ahead we’re going to be celebrating neurodiverse strengths, many of which lend themselves well to good communication and engagement.
By building awareness and understanding of dyslexia, and neurodiversity more widely, I hope we can help recognise more people’s different abilities and ensure they have the support they need to be their very best. But let’s not stop with Dyslexia Awareness Week.
This year has been many things, but it’s also the year of inclusion. So let’s all try and focus more on what we do best, value people for the unique abilities they have to offer and avoid criticising them for what they don’t. We need to embrace diversity and inclusion in its widest sense and learn from each other, especially as we develop creative new ways to engage with and influence our increasingly hard to read audiences.
by Suzanne Edmond, Group Communications Director, Department for Transport. This article first appeared on the Government Communications Service blog.