When we talk about women in the workplace, a common topic that comes up is the impact of impostor syndrome and how it is far more likely to arise in female employees. For anyone that has been in a bunker over the last decade, impostor syndrome refers to the thought that, despite all your skills and experience, you still believe that you are not “good enough,” and attribute your successes to luck or chance.
As a result of this self-doubt, women often want to be overqualified before moving to the next position, or during meetings, they’re more likely to stay quiet, even if they have a valid opinion, out of fear that they will say something wrong or stupid. Additionally, due to the way women tend to be socialised, we already have a difficult time celebrating our own strengths or accepting compliments, which further keeps us from both owning our full potential and sharing it freely with confidence in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, women are known to regularly downplay their achievements in performance reviews and often work hard in silence, hiding their passion and drive through fear of being “found out” as not good enough.
Now: on top of all the existing challenges women face, I ask you to imagine being a woman in the workplace that is dyslexic, a diagnosis often unfairly equated with being stupid, lazy and unlikely to achieve anything. For dyslexic women, these feelings of impostor syndrome or not being worthy can skyrocket. In my work with Dyslexia In Adults, I speak to adult dyslexic women every day, and what I’ve witnessed is that they are more likely to shrink and hide, only putting themselves forward when they are absolutely sure that they are capable or saying something worth knowing.
Here is the problem: when dyslexics censor themselves in this manner, they both rob themselves of roles and tasks they would be great at whilst denying their company the benefits that come by incorporating the unique way of thinking that comes with dyslexia into their hivemind. By definition of their neurodivergence, dyslexic employees think differently, which means they can offer fresh perspectives and creative problem solving, even if it also means they might need to work differently from their peers, too. But rather than leaning into this reality, all too often, I see dyslexic women struggle in silence, not asking for the support or accommodations that could dramatically help them overcome workplace challenges and increase their ability to perform and contribute fully.
Sounding a bit bleak? Well, the flip side of this narrative is that women are also great at finding the solution to this problem in our own way. Opening up, talking about their experiences, sharing their personal narratives and realising they are not alone tend to be gendered communicative traits that can wildly improve female employees’ experience. By sharing from ourselves openly and honestly, we take away the control and power a negative outlook can have over us. Through seeing others’ experience and connecting to their story, women are often able to see the flaws in their negative self-talk, and how others we admire don’t hold these opinions. Ultimately, through opening up, we are able to create change for others and ourselves.
Once this barrier of silence and shame has been broken and dyslexic women find a welcoming community to discuss their experience and challenges, the opportunities to harness the strengths of dyslexia in the workplace can be significant. Common dyslexic strengths also sync up well with the strengths we often connect to women. These include strong soft skills that the 21st-century workforce is crying out for, such as really strong people skills, empathy and the ability to form strong connections that can get the best out of staff members.
After women shed these emotional challenges and realise the power dyslexia can offer when they are in the right mindset, the most inspiring thing I so often see in women is that they are determined to help their peers who are still struggling. These women tap into the grit and determination so often connected with dyslexia to ensure that anyone who is not yet in a place of harnessing their full potential gets through the negativity and into a place of acceptance. And this is a lesson women in the workplace, with or without dyslexia, should take to heart: when we support one another to recognise our true worth and ability to contribute, it benefits us all.