Dr Nancy Doyle, who has ADHD, is the lead researcher of a study (previously reported by NeuroWork here) into the efficacy of coaching. She is also the founder and CEO of Genius Within, a UK social enterprise providing support to both employers and employees with neuro-minority conditions.
She spoke to NeuroWork about dyslexia in the workplace, the effectiveness of good job coaching and where the research is going regarding dyslexia.
What are the main challenges faced by dyslexic adults?
The main challenges dyslexic people tend to face in the workplace are around memory, concentration, organisational skills and time management. Generally speaking, people gravitate towards careers that suit the literacy level they are able to attain. What’s more, with assistive technology literacy isn't the barrier it once was for dyslexic adults.
People aren't looking beneath the surface for where that literacy difficulty is coming from. If it's the ability to process sound in business environments, that might lead to literacy difficulties, but it’s also going to affect their ability to take down instructions accurately.
It's like a carry-over from the school situation: ‘Capable of great work but doesn't try hard enough.’ ‘Would do better if concentrated.’ How many times have we heard that before? It’s making assumptions on intention from what you see in front of you.
What made you interested in the subject of job coaching for dyslexic adults?
I saw a lot of poor practice in coaching. You know, it's very easy for someone to decide they're a coach for dyslexia. Maybe they have dyslexia themselves. I think lived experience can be really useful in mentoring.
But in coaching, you need a more professional understanding to deliver a good coaching intervention. Coaching is about setting goals and achieving success in those goals. It isn't a remedial activity, it's not something that you use to cure people or to focus on weaknesses.
When we get a new client at Genius Within, the first thing they do is work out with their coach what areas of work performance they want to improve upon. And then they rate themselves out of 10 on those particular skill-sets. We also get their supervisors to do the same thing anonymously.
Once they've finished their coaching, about three months later our researcher gets both the client and their supervisor to re-score this performance. This way we can track if the interventions are having a longer term impact.
What were the most interesting results from the study?
Managers consistently rate the performance of their employees in areas of job performance higher than the employees are rating themselves. On average, our clients rate themselves 3.9 out of 10, while supervisors rate them at scoring of around 4.9.
Often a client may say they’re struggling with multiple things and the manager will say, ‘well actually I think you do these things really well, and there are only two things you should focus on.’
And then the client comes back with, ‘oh yes, but what you don't know is in order to do those really well, I'm taking work home with me 3 times a week and I'm really tired.’ And then all of a sudden, you're improving that relationship by bringing things out that were hidden.
At the end of the coaching program, this scoring usually climbs to about a 7—by both parties. I've got 10 years’ worth of data now and the numbers don't really change too much from that first published study, there's always a significant improvement. We also follow up a year later and we’ve found that 90% of our clients have kept their job. And 25% of people have been promoted, which I think is amazing.
Do you think that employers are gradually becoming better aware of the challenges and needs of dyslexic staff?
What I do see is that public awareness of neurodivergence tends to be very couched in autism—and very couched in autistic coders and technologists, who also tend to be male and white. So there's a kind of bias which in the field, which I don't think is helpful, and I don't think dyslexia is one of the winners of that.
Part of my PhD research looks at the prevalence of neurodivergent conditions. We know dyslexia to be prevalent in around 10% of the population, but currently it’s not attracting the equivalent amount of neurominority research. Autism is prevalent at around 1-2% of the population and it's making up 30% of the current research into neurominorities so there's an imbalance there.
Most neurominorities have disability status in most developed economies. But the disability is socially constructed and based on how it rubs against a very inflexible system of education and work. So in order to succeed, you need to be literate, numerous—and you need to be able to sit down and concentrate for eight hours a day in a busy environment.
These skills are a feature of our current period of history. Dyslexic traits like being able to construct things visually in your brain were once really useful from an evolutionary standpoint. And because we've devalued these skills, and we've made them hard to recognise in our education systems, we have pathologised this condition.
There's nothing there's nothing inherently pathological about dyslexia. Ten percent of the human population can't be wrong. That's too large a minority for it to be a pure deficit.