Episode 128 HR Coffee Time Podcast Cover Art

Dyslexia, often misunderstood and underappreciated, holds a wealth of untapped potential for the workplace. In this episode of HR Coffee Time, we explore how to appreciate and unlock the unique strengths it can bring to our workplaces.

Host Fay Wallis is joined by Kirsty Heap, a neurodivergent specialist coach with a rich background in HR, who shares her personal journey with dyslexia and her transition to becoming a passionate advocate for neurodiversity. Kirsty provides valuable insights into the multifaceted nature of dyslexia, its challenges, and most importantly, the remarkable advantages it offers to organizations.

Whether you’re an HR professional seeking to create a more inclusive workplace, someone questioning if they might be dyslexic, or simply curious about neurodiversity, this episode provides practical strategies and eye-opening perspectives. Discover how understanding and supporting dyslexic colleagues can drive innovation, problem-solving, and creativity in your team, ultimately leading to a more successful organisation.

Key Points from This Episode

[00:00] Introduction and overview

[01:48] Introducing Kirsty Heap

[03:47] What is dyslexia? A detailed explanation

[04:59] Dyslexia as a ‘magic potion’

[06:24] Kirsty shares her journey to diagnosis and early challenges

[10:57] Disclosing that she had dyslexia to her colleagues

[12:22] The strengths dyslexia brings including creativity, problem-solving and emotional intelligence

[18:05] Practical advice for anyone who thinks they might be dyslexic

[22:04] Tips for fostering an inclusive work environment for dyslexic individuals

[26:54] Kirsty’s confidence-building tip: borrow confidence from your future self

[28:46] How to contact Kirsty and learn more about her work

 

Useful Links

 

Buy the Book Recommendation

(Disclosure: the book links are affiliate links which means that Fay will receive a small commission from Amazon if you make a purchase through them)

The Bigger Picture Book of Amazing Dyslexics and the Jobs They Do, by Kate Power & Kathy Iwanczak Forsyth

 

Other Relevant HR Coffee Time Episodes

Looking For the Transcript?

You can find the transcript on this page of the Bright Sky Career Coaching website.

Rate and Review the Podcast

If you found this episode of HR Coffee Time helpful, please rate and review it on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This video shows you how to rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts (because it isn’t very intuitive). If you’re kind enough to leave a review, let Fay know so she can say thank you. You can always reach her at: fay@brightskycareercoaching.co.uk.

 

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Transcript
Kirsty:

Dyslexia for me is like a magic potion. That’s how I see it. It’s a magic potion because to me it’s a lot of good stuff. And when I was first diagnosed, that wasn’t how it was described to me. So I’ve done a lot of work on researching it myself and getting to understand what my dyslexia is. Because it is unique to me.

And being able to see the strengths it brings has been really, really important. And that’s where that magic happens because for me, The strengths and the magic helps me with the frustrations and how I find strategies around that. And that’s what I love about it.

Fay:

Welcome back to HR Coffee Time. I’m your host, Fay Wallace, a career and executive coach with a background in HR, and I’ve created HR Coffee Time, especially for you.

To help you have a successful and fulfilling HR or people career. In this episode, we’re focusing on how to unlock the strength that dyslexia brings to your workplace. We’ll explore what dyslexia is, how unique it is for each person, the challenges it can present, and most importantly, the many strengths it can bring.

And of course, we’ll also dive into advice on inclusive practices that help everyone to thrive at work. We’ve focused on neurodiversity several times on the show before. We’ve been lucky enough to have some fantastic HR practitioners sharing their personal experiences of being diagnosed as neurodivergent, the strengths and challenges they faced, and the strategies that helped them excel at work.

I’ll make sure that I put a link to all those other episodes in the show notes for you in case you want to hop back and listen to those as well. You’ve just heard a little snippet from neurodivergent specialist coach Kirsty Heap, who has kindly joined me on the show. For this episode, Kirsty had a successful career in HR before she made the switch to coaching.

So she felt like the perfect person to invite on the show. She’s a passionate advocate for neurodiversity and proudly embraces her dyslexia. Kirsty recognizes the untapped potential and values that neurodiverse individuals bring to the workplace and drawing from her own experiences, she’s dedicated to supporting and empowering.

Neurodiverse individuals through coaching and advocacy. She’s also a keynote speaker and she conducts impactful training sessions for organizations, guiding them on effective strategies to support and harness the strengths of neurodivergent employees. I hope you’re going to enjoy learning from Kirsty as much as I did.

Let’s go ahead and meet her now.

Welcome to the show, Kirsty. It is so fabulous to have you with us here today.

Kirsty:

It’s great to be here and finally kind of meet you as well.

Fay:

I know, it’s so exciting. For anyone listening, Kirsty and I have been in touch, oh gosh, for a really, really long time, but it’s been lots of messages over LinkedIn and lots of emails, so it’s a real special treat for me today to get to actually see her in real life as well as talking to her in real life instead of everything being over written text.

But Kirsty, you have very kindly agreed to come on the show to talk about dyslexia. And I was listening back to all my other episodes where we’ve talked about neurodiverse topics on the show, and I realized, oh my goodness, I don’t think I ever asked anyone to define what the thing was that they were talking about.

So for today, I thought, right, do a better job, Fay. If I could start off by asking you to explain what dyslexia is, or to share a definition with us. That would just be fabulous.

Kirsty:

Yeah, not a problem. Okay, so dyslexia is a neurological condition and it will come into play in the sense of, it has a significant impact during education, work and social as well.

When we look at it, it can impact a whole range of different areas. So predominantly people think dyslexia is reading and writing, that you may struggle in those areas. It is loads more than that, and it comes into play with the processing speed of things, and probably as we go along, it will make more sense as to things like how we even sound words out.

All of that can come into play with dyslexia. There is a scale of it, so you can have mild dyslexia, severe dyslexia, and there’s actually different types of dyslexia as well that come into play. It’s hereditary, so it’s passed down through families, and with lots of neurodivergent conditions, and I’m sure people have mentioned this, they can co exist with other conditions as well.

So you might have someone that’s dyslexic and ADHD, for instance. So yeah. Dyslexia for me is like a magic potion. That’s how I see it.

Fay:

Ooh, a magic potion. I’m going to have to ask you to say more about that then.

Kirsty:

It’s a magic potion because to me it’s a lot of good stuff and when I was first diagnosed that wasn’t how it was described to me.

So I’ve done a lot of work on researching it myself and getting to understand what my dyslexia is because it is unique to me and being able to see the strengths it brings has been really, really important. And that’s where that magic happens because for me, the strengths and the magic helps me with the frustrations and how I find strategies around that.

And that’s what I love about it.

Fay:

Oh, well, that’s fantastic to hear. I’m loving this description of the magical potion. My youngest son is dyslexic and it’s really only from seeing him go through his diagnosis that it gave me a full appreciation of just how differently. It can present in different people and just how much more there is to it than just reading and spelling, for example.

So it’s great to have you talk us through that. And I think it’s wonderful that we’re going to be able to talk about some of the strengths that it brings as well. And to talk about that in detail, but before I ask you to talk through some of those fabulous strengths and benefits that it can bring, I’m just going to take us back a step and ask if you’re happy to share what your journey was to getting your diagnosis and how you realized that you had dyslexia?

Kirsty:

Yeah, absolutely. Being very transparent, I didn’t know and I didn’t notice it was my mum that did. So I was diagnosed at seven, which is quite a young age. I’m one of three. So my elder brother and sister are 10 and eight years older than me. So they’re a bit older than me. And she said, when I was growing up verbally, I was chitter chatter, chitter chatter, learning all these words from them, probably good ones and not so good ones.

So verbally, I was able to articulate quite well, but when it came to things like writing. There is a whole different person there. I became very, don’t want to do that, find it hard. My writing was very, um, I want to say doctor like, and nothing against doctors, but quite unique, they can have some good handwriting.

So I really struggled with that, and she really noticed it when I went to school and we had to start doing written work and she was saying to me you know describe this story you want to write and I was giving her all this beautiful rich detail about colours and sounds and then when she looked at what I’d written it was really really flat.

So there was no descriptive, and she was like, that doesn’t, that doesn’t quite correlate here. And when I was learning to read, she noticed that I was really struggling. How people break down words! How they can sound out words and go c – a – t and get to cat. That blows my mind! Because I can’t do that. So, for her trying to teach me, she was thinking, she’s really struggling with this sounding and this blending.

There doesn’t seem to be that connection there. And she could see this disconnect between what I was verbally presenting and what I was writing. trying to achieve, but also the frustrations within me was showing up a lot. So that was her first kind of, I want to say, um, her first kind of sparkle, let’s use it in a more positive way, her first sparkle that made her think, okay, Kirsty is different in a beautiful, unique way.

That led her to seek support. And that was when I got my diagnosis. Now I haven’t, you know, I was born in 76. So we’re talking about this diagnosis being in the early eighties. It was very much shared to me as you’re going to struggle. You’re going to find things difficult. Age 7, Fay. Age 7, you’re told, life’s going to be hard.

Whoop whoop! You know, that’s just great, isn’t it? There was no, there was no real explanation of how, why, or what this thing was. And that’s how I saw my dyslexia, as this thing that I had to, it’s like a weight. It’s like an extra couple of kind of bricks in my rucksack that I had to carry around because I didn’t know what to do with it.

And she was really, you know, mum was really good. She got me additional help, which was fine. So I had a tutor at school. That happened in break time. And can I just say, you know, when I wanted to run around with my friends and be normal, I then had to go and sit in more lessons. Not the best time, But, what I got from it was great, um, and then that journey through, I would say it wasn’t until my mid to late twenties where everything changed.

And you’ve touched on, um, I think you mentioned your son, my second child, he knows I say this, he might as well have come out waving a dyslexic and ADHD flag, because it was so clear. And I just looked at him like, you know, mothers do, and I just thought, I’m not having you suffer little one. You’re not going through how I felt.

So I thought, right, better go and put your big girl pants on then and find out what this thing is. And it was as if I’d been carrying this weight around, not knowing what it was, too frightened to open it. And it was really scary actually to open it and to start going, what is dyslexia? What does it mean?

And that was when I realized all these strengths were actually because of it. And that was the first time where I saw it in a completely different aspect from that negative to positive, but nobody had shared what those strengths were with me. So I had to find it out a lot myself. And so that was my journey.

And then within the workplace, because of the preconceived ideas other people had, which also were imposed upon me, I didn’t share it in the workplace. Not until I was a senior leader, again, I was like, only person above me is the CEO, he already knows. Okay, let’s actually be open about it. And I wanted to do that, one, to lead by example, but also, being in HR, uh, we often have to do capabilities, grievances, disciplines, and the amount of times people were disclosing them about their own neurodiverse condition.

And I would be, you know, stop the process, we haven’t done the supporting element. And I was just like, Kirsty, you’re such a hypocrite. You’re happy to help everybody else, but you’ve not been open yourself. You need to lead by example to help those others. So that’s what I did, and when I changed and was open, Oh, it was like that whole weight had totally gone.

That weight had been transformed into wings. I felt physically lighter within myself.

Fay:

Well, that is wonderful to hear that you did feel that you were able to disclose it. And thank you for talking us through all of that information and sharing all of that detail. And again, I’m really excited that we are going to be able to talk about some of the wonderful strengths that it brings.

So actually it feels like the perfect time to ask you about that. Can you talk us through what some of those fabulous strengths are?

Kirsty:

For me, and this is the bit that I love about dyslexia, is everybody’s dyslexia will be different.

So for my strengths are definitely around my imagination. So as a child, I used to actually scare myself with my imagination because I could really put myself there. And then that was great for when it came to writing stories at school. I could, in my head, create the imaginative, imaginative? Is that a word?

Yes. Stories. That’s another great thing with dyslexia. A strength? I blend words together. But normally I will say it with such confidence and conviction that people will think they’re a normal word. Vigibility was one I used recently. And I was with a client and we were talking and I said, Yes, you just use your vigibility with it.

And I could see their face. Kind of look perplexed. And I said, Oh, is that a made up word? She said, I think it is. I said, well, she said, but you sound it’s made it sound so confident that I’m sure it probably is a word. And I knew what you meant was your ability to use your visualization. Well, yeah.

Vigibility. Let’s just put it into one word. Um, so sorry, there you go. Digressing. That is one of the strengths. So with that imagination though, in the workplace, it can be coming up with different solutions and ideas to things. So the problem solving is definitely another strength of mine. And that will be where I will see things in a different way to other people.

I will look at things from a different area and come with a different solution. Yeah. From a different angle to people. And the way I describe, describe that is if you come across a gate, yes, you can open that gate. You can maybe go over that gate.

Might even be able to go under it, depending on the gap. I’ll be the one that decides to take it off the hinges, or vault it, or look at the bars and go through the gap in the middle. That’s what I mean by I might come from a different angle and a different way with that problem solving side of it. It can also be the emotional intelligence that comes into play for me with strengths, which was fantastic within HR.

That being able to read people, being able to adapt, being able to understand that when someone says one thing, that may not actually be what they’re meaning. There’s a whole other iceberg underneath. That side of it for me was really important. And the verbal reasoning skills, verbally, as much as yes, I may make up my own words or slip on words, the verbal aspect is normally much better and easier for me than the written side of things.

Fay:

I now just have this picture of us being out for a walk together, Kirsty, and being blocked by a gate. And seeing what you’re going to do to get us past it.

Kirsty:

I so want to do a social media post like that where I can kind of like record it and show all the different ways of doing it.

Fay:

I think that would be a fantastic social media post.

You’ve got to let me know if you ever decide to do it so I can take a look at it.

Kirsty:

Yeah, just need to go and get the farmer’s permission before I go and take his gate off the hinges.

Fay:

I don’t know, Clarkson’s farm’s on for the third series, isn’t it? You could ask him, I bet that would make a great um, a great spot for the fourth series maybe.

Kirsty:

Do you know that’s a great idea, I’d love to go on that.

Fay:

Hearing you talk about that problem solving, it really makes me think, Oh gosh, when we talk about how important diversity is in organizations, that just really goes to show.

Some of the value and the benefit in supporting colleagues who are neurodiverse, just how much they can bring to an organization because of course, problem solving, creative thinking, innovation. Oh my goodness. They are all the things that drive our organizations forward and help them to succeed.

Kirsty:

Yeah, they are. And that’s the thing. And I’m so glad we started with the strengths because it’s really important for me to start always on the strengths. And it can be that good empathy is another strength that comes into play. And what I find is, you know, the education system, unfortunately, it’s very focused down one way.

You don’t see exams on creativity. In the sense we’re talking all these social skills, so therefore that can be misjudged on potentially applications for when people apply for jobs. It’s how do you, you need to be able to kind of tease out and get those skills out and for people to be able to share them.

You know, someone may score a lower mark on the GCSE, but they may have that higher intelligence and problem solving element, but yet we can discount them straight away on a grade. It always makes me think of the saying of art is in the eye of the beholder. What one person sees as good art, somebody else won’t.

And it’s that recognition of when it comes down to exams, somebody has created those exams in a certain way that unfortunately just are not set up for a dyslexic creative brain.

Fay:

No, and not really set up for the modern world either, I think, are they? Well, that’s what my teenage son who’s in the midst of A levels would say to me anyway. Ha, ha!

Kirsty:

Yeah, and, you know, I have no ideas of solutions on the education, so I won’t go down that line, because hats off to all of them for doing it, so, yeah.

Fay:

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And then thinking about everyone who’s listening to this episode, I think they could be listening with two different hats on.

One may be listening because they think, am I dyslexic? And the other reason they could be listening is because they want to make sure that they are being inclusive and supportive of their dyslexic colleagues. So I would love to ask you for your thoughts and advice, thinking of those two different hats.

If we start off with the first one. For anyone listening, right now, who is thinking, I wonder if I’m dyslexic? What would your advice to them be, what would you like to say to them?

Kirsty:

First of all, I want to say, don’t worry. And the reason I say that is because people still see quite a lot of it as a negative.

And for me, it’s, A lot of the clients I work with, we have this discussion around going through assessments. Do you go and get assessed, do you not? That is a real personal choice about whether you do or don’t. Yes, there are, you know, the pros, having an assessment meant when I went and did my exams, I, that there, is purely a dyslexic scenario where my brain was working faster than what my mouth was, so I consciously slowed my speech down to enable my brain to catch up.

And So going back to what I was saying was that the benefits of the assessment were the fact of in exams, I got extra time. When I went and did my degree, I got different support through software and laptops, and actually I had a slightly different marking scheme for my degree, which meant they didn’t penalise me for things like grammars and commas and semicolons.

I don’t know what a semicolon is. So those bits were very, very helpful. But I think it’s going, what is it that’s making you think you are? What are those traits that are there? Actually, if you’re in HR, this is a brilliant scenario. If you think you are neurodiverse, why not go and test all the processes that you’ve got in a company to see how it works, to see how it flows?

There’s no better way than to go through something yourself to see how supportive it is, how accessible it is. and how you’re able to find it. So I would say look at that, that support mechanism potentially if you’re in an organization that’s there. Also there are things out there like access to work that can help you.

But I’d say talk to people. Talk to people that are dyslexic, have a chat with them, be inquisitive. I always say to people you can question me about my dyslexia in any way because I’d much prefer people to have a true understanding. And there is no question that’s going to offend me because if you don’t know something, just ask me.

I’d much prefer that. That’s the way we learn and grow. So I think it is about thinking about those traits. What would it mean for you if you wanted to go down that assessment, the positives versus the other aspects, because politely, they are not cheap and they’re very draining to do, and they are set up, remember, to show that there is a difficulty there.

So when the reports come through, they are written, they will explain the strengths, but they will explain those frustrations as well. And I still find it hilarious that quite a lot of dyslexic assessments send you a written report. I would love to then have a meeting, please, for you to explain it to me, because I’m not going to read all those 30 pages on it.

It’s too much.

Fay:

Gosh, I hadn’t thought about the fact that they send you that really long report and that that then may be a challenge to read. That’s a really good point, Kirsty.

Kirsty:

It’s a massive challenge and because they use particular words that I may not actually be able to understand. I’m then having to take the word, put it into Google or something to understand what the meaning is, because I can’t work out how to say it. So my tech will read it out for me, which makes my life a lot easier.

But then when you come to a word and you don’t know, and you have to look it up to find the meaning and then even the meaning, you’re like, uh, I don’t quite what that’s meaning. I’d find it a lot easier if someone just sat down and explained it to me.

Fay:

It definitely sounds like it’s not an ideal process at the moment, but moving on from that, so thank you for talking us through your advice for someone listening, who is wondering if they may be dyslexic. For someone who’s got the other hat on and is actually listening because they’re thinking, how can we make sure we are being as inclusive and supportive of our dyslexic colleagues as possible?

What would your advice to them be?

Kirsty:

Talk to people, don’t assume, because that’s where some difficulties come, like I said, everybody’s dyslexia comes up in a different way. But it’s also a lot of the support strategies that you can put in place will not just help dyslexic people, they will help everybody.

So it’s thinking about how you communicate with people. For me personally, I’d much prefer someone to explain something to me verbally. What the task is, what the process is, what the outcome they’re wanting to have is, and then back it up in an email. An email that’s bullet points, nice and clear. But by having that verbal communication and then the written, backing up, for me is my preferred style.

Even when you look at meetings, look at making sure, do meetings have an agenda? Even if it’s a one line agenda, or documentation, share it in advance. My processing speed is slightly slower, so that means I will take longer to read information, but it doesn’t, and the other way to look at it is, a web page may take a couple of seconds to load, but the information on that web page may be just as vital, it doesn’t change the actual value and richness of that information.

So if you share meeting, information supportive documents in advance. You give people like myself that time to read it, that time to reflect on it. So then when we come to the meeting, we’re coming prepared. That was something that I put into place in organizations myself, from a very selfish point of view, it made a massive difference to my part time members of staff.

It also reduced the amount of meetings we had because we’d all had time to reflect and we were coming already with some thoughts and ideas about the topic we were going to be discussing in that meeting.

Fay:

The message that just comes through loud and clear, and has come through loud and clear with every person who I’ve had on the show to talk about neurodiversity, is that any of these ideas and changes that you decide to implement don’t just benefit one person or someone who happens to be neurodiverse.

They benefit everybody. I mean following up with a really clear email with just bullet points. That’s going to be useful for so many people isn’t it? Giving people information ahead of time. It makes me think of the recruitment process and how now Companies are starting to move towards, which I think is such a good idea, sharing interview questions in advance. Now that’s going to benefit Almost everyone, because you’re so much more likely to be able to give a true representation of your experience and your skills and your ideas.

If you’ve had more than a couple of seconds in an actual interview to think about that. So I know that that’s a recommendation that’s come through to support people who are neurodiverse.

Kirsty:

Definitely. And I think it’s also how we actually ask people to share that neurodiverse condition. Yes. My dyslexia, because I’m born with it, it is covered under the Equality Act.

However, I do not class myself as disabled, so I’m never going to tick a box about disability. But if we were to rewrite a question, or an area, to say, we’re a company that celebrate neurodivergent minds, if you’re neurodivergent, please tell us the strengths this would bring, and how we could support you to shine at your best.

I’m more likely now to one, disclose, and if I’m still not feeling safe and comfortable, it’s still sowing that seed that that company is open and that company is wanting to support me, because that’s what it all comes back to is someone feeling trusted and safe to actually be able to disclose.

And I think it’s about when we implement things as well, not just doing, not just changing and implementing them, talking about it. For me, that communication and collaboration is huge when it comes to things like this. There are so many different bits. I have on my emails, I’m proudly dyslexic. That is one of my strategies, not only to help raise awareness of dyslexia, but it means that when I send emails out, I’m not re reading them seven times.

I re read them three to four times before I send it. The amount of time that’s saved by two words. I’ve already forthwarned somebody. It’s those little strategies that really, really help people.

Fay:

It’s amazing how it’s just these tiny tweaks that can have such an impact. And you’ve really got me excited about what your next answer is going to be, Kirsty, because we’re sadly coming towards the end of our time together, which means I’m going to ask you the question I try to ask every guest on the show, which is, do you want to share a nonfiction book recommendation with us or have you got a confidence building tip that you’d like to share?

Kirsty:

I’m going to go on a confidence tip.

And my confidence tip is, Eddie Izzard said it actually in one of their books, on borrowing your confidence from your future self. And what I mean by that is before you go and do something where you’re wanting to that confidence, sit, visualize how you perceive that confidence to be, how you want to be, and then borrow that confidence from the future you, go out there, and deliver it.

Fay:

I love it.

It’s always fabulous to have a confidence building tip. Well, I love the book tips as well, but my reading list is actually completely out of control. I keep trying to put myself on a book buying ban because I can’t get through all of the books that are being recommended. But that’s great. Was that in a book that you read that from Eddie Izzard, or did you see it?

Kirsty:

It was, yeah. It was in the book that, one of the books that actually transformed my life, which is ‘The Bigger Picture Book of Amazing Dyslexics’, which I started reading as a way of exploring dyslexia and finding out different people who are dyslexics.

And it was in there, and I thought, That makes so much sense to me because actually, even before I used to go on stage and do kind of drama, it was that case of getting into that, um, character, imagining how they would feel, how they would deliver. It’s exactly the same. And yeah. That, that future confidence and leaning into your future self and how you want to be.

Fay:

I love that I’ve managed to actually weave a book recommendation in anyway, so, oh, it looks like the book buying ban’s gonna have to pause for a minute. I’ll make sure I pop a link to that book in the show notes for anyone who’s interested in checking it out.

For anyone listening who would like to connect with you or learn more about the work that you do, what’s the best way of them doing that?

Kirsty:

Finding me on LinkedIn is probably one of the easiest way, or looking on my website, which is www.kirstyheap.com. And reaching out via them. More than happy to reach out and explain all about what I do regarding the talks I do, training and coaching.

Fay:

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Kirsty. It’s been absolutely wonderful talking to you today, and I so appreciate you sharing all of your knowledge and advice and wisdom with me and everyone listening.

Kirsty:

Absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me, Fay.

Fay:

That brings us to the end of the episode. I really hope that you found it helpful, and I’d love to hear if you decide to put any of Kirsty’s ideas into action, or if anything that she said had a particular impact on you. You can always reach me on LinkedIn, or you can get in touch through my website, which is Bright Sky Career Coaching.

And if neurodiversity is a topic that you’re keen to learn more about, the other HR Coffee Time episodes that you might find useful to listen to next are episode 70, Supporting Yourself or Your Colleagues at Work with Tourette Syndrome with Devon Lovell, episode 68, Real Life Insights into Understanding and Supporting Autism in the Workplace with Sybil Watkins.

Episode 59, ADHD, A Personal Story of the Strengths, Struggles, and Strategies that Help with Julie White. And the episode that started all of these episodes off, which are on the neurodiversity topic, is episode 24, Understanding and Supporting Neurodiversity at Work with Melanie Francis. Finally, before I say goodbye for now, can I ask you for a small favour?

If there’s anyone you know who you think would find this episode helpful, please do share it with them and encourage them to listen to it, because I would love to help as many HR and people professionals as I can with this free podcast. Thank you so much, take care, and I’m looking forward to being back again soon with the next episode for you.

Transcript
Kirsty:

Dyslexia for me is like a magic potion. That's how I see it. It's a magic potion because to me it's a lot of good stuff. And when I was first diagnosed, that wasn't how it was described to me. So I've done a lot of work on researching it myself and getting to understand what my dyslexia is. Because it is unique to me.

And being able to see the strengths it brings has been really, really important. And that's where that magic happens because for me, The strengths and the magic helps me with the frustrations and how I find strategies around that. And that's what I love about it.

Fay:

Welcome back to HR Coffee Time. I'm your host, Fay Wallace, a career and executive coach with a background in HR, and I've created HR Coffee Time, especially for you.

To help you have a successful and fulfilling HR or people career. In this episode, we're focusing on how to unlock the strength that dyslexia brings to your workplace. We'll explore what dyslexia is, how unique it is for each person, the challenges it can present, and most importantly, the many strengths it can bring.

And of course, we'll also dive into advice on inclusive practices that help everyone to thrive at work. We've focused on neurodiversity several times on the show before. We've been lucky enough to have some fantastic HR practitioners sharing their personal experiences of being diagnosed as neurodivergent, the strengths and challenges they faced, and the strategies that helped them excel at work.

I'll make sure that I put a link to all those other episodes in the show notes for you in case you want to hop back and listen to those as well. You've just heard a little snippet from neurodivergent specialist coach Kirsty Heap, who has kindly joined me on the show. For this episode, Kirsty had a successful career in HR before she made the switch to coaching.

So she felt like the perfect person to invite on the show. She's a passionate advocate for neurodiversity and proudly embraces her dyslexia. Kirsty recognizes the untapped potential and values that neurodiverse individuals bring to the workplace and drawing from her own experiences, she's dedicated to supporting and empowering.

Neurodiverse individuals through coaching and advocacy. She's also a keynote speaker and she conducts impactful training sessions for organizations, guiding them on effective strategies to support and harness the strengths of neurodivergent employees. I hope you're going to enjoy learning from Kirsty as much as I did.

Let's go ahead and meet her now.

Welcome to the show, Kirsty. It is so fabulous to have you with us here today.

Kirsty:

It's great to be here and finally kind of meet you as well.

Fay:

I know, it's so exciting. For anyone listening, Kirsty and I have been in touch, oh gosh, for a really, really long time, but it's been lots of messages over LinkedIn and lots of emails, so it's a real special treat for me today to get to actually see her in real life as well as talking to her in real life instead of everything being over written text.

But Kirsty, you have very kindly agreed to come on the show to talk about dyslexia. And I was listening back to all my other episodes where we've talked about neurodiverse topics on the show, and I realized, oh my goodness, I don't think I ever asked anyone to define what the thing was that they were talking about.

So for today, I thought, right, do a better job, Fay. If I could start off by asking you to explain what dyslexia is, or to share a definition with us. That would just be fabulous.

Kirsty:

Yeah, not a problem. Okay, so dyslexia is a neurological condition and it will come into play in the sense of, it has a significant impact during education, work and social as well.

When we look at it, it can impact a whole range of different areas. So predominantly people think dyslexia is reading and writing, that you may struggle in those areas. It is loads more than that, and it comes into play with the processing speed of things, and probably as we go along, it will make more sense as to things like how we even sound words out.

All of that can come into play with dyslexia. There is a scale of it, so you can have mild dyslexia, severe dyslexia, and there's actually different types of dyslexia as well that come into play. It's hereditary, so it's passed down through families, and with lots of neurodivergent conditions, and I'm sure people have mentioned this, they can co exist with other conditions as well.

So you might have someone that's dyslexic and ADHD, for instance. So yeah. Dyslexia for me is like a magic potion. That's how I see it.

Fay:

Ooh, a magic potion. I'm going to have to ask you to say more about that then.

Kirsty:

It's a magic potion because to me it's a lot of good stuff and when I was first diagnosed that wasn't how it was described to me.

So I've done a lot of work on researching it myself and getting to understand what my dyslexia is because it is unique to me and being able to see the strengths it brings has been really, really important. And that's where that magic happens because for me, the strengths and the magic helps me with the frustrations and how I find strategies around that.

And that's what I love about it.

Fay:

Oh, well, that's fantastic to hear. I'm loving this description of the magical potion. My youngest son is dyslexic and it's really only from seeing him go through his diagnosis that it gave me a full appreciation of just how differently. It can present in different people and just how much more there is to it than just reading and spelling, for example.

So it's great to have you talk us through that. And I think it's wonderful that we're going to be able to talk about some of the strengths that it brings as well. And to talk about that in detail, but before I ask you to talk through some of those fabulous strengths and benefits that it can bring, I'm just going to take us back a step and ask if you're happy to share what your journey was to getting your diagnosis and how you realized that you had dyslexia?

Kirsty:

Yeah, absolutely. Being very transparent, I didn't know and I didn't notice it was my mum that did. So I was diagnosed at seven, which is quite a young age. I'm one of three. So my elder brother and sister are 10 and eight years older than me. So they're a bit older than me. And she said, when I was growing up verbally, I was chitter chatter, chitter chatter, learning all these words from them, probably good ones and not so good ones.

So verbally, I was able to articulate quite well, but when it came to things like writing. There is a whole different person there. I became very, don't want to do that, find it hard. My writing was very, um, I want to say doctor like, and nothing against doctors, but quite unique, they can have some good handwriting.

So I really struggled with that, and she really noticed it when I went to school and we had to start doing written work and she was saying to me you know describe this story you want to write and I was giving her all this beautiful rich detail about colours and sounds and then when she looked at what I'd written it was really really flat.

So there was no descriptive, and she was like, that doesn't, that doesn't quite correlate here. And when I was learning to read, she noticed that I was really struggling. How people break down words! How they can sound out words and go c - a - t and get to cat. That blows my mind! Because I can't do that. So, for her trying to teach me, she was thinking, she's really struggling with this sounding and this blending.

There doesn't seem to be that connection there. And she could see this disconnect between what I was verbally presenting and what I was writing. trying to achieve, but also the frustrations within me was showing up a lot. So that was her first kind of, I want to say, um, her first kind of sparkle, let's use it in a more positive way, her first sparkle that made her think, okay, Kirsty is different in a beautiful, unique way.

That led her to seek support. And that was when I got my diagnosis. Now I haven't, you know, I was born in 76. So we're talking about this diagnosis being in the early eighties. It was very much shared to me as you're going to struggle. You're going to find things difficult. Age 7, Fay. Age 7, you're told, life's going to be hard.

Whoop whoop! You know, that's just great, isn't it? There was no, there was no real explanation of how, why, or what this thing was. And that's how I saw my dyslexia, as this thing that I had to, it's like a weight. It's like an extra couple of kind of bricks in my rucksack that I had to carry around because I didn't know what to do with it.

And she was really, you know, mum was really good. She got me additional help, which was fine. So I had a tutor at school. That happened in break time. And can I just say, you know, when I wanted to run around with my friends and be normal, I then had to go and sit in more lessons. Not the best time, But, what I got from it was great, um, and then that journey through, I would say it wasn't until my mid to late twenties where everything changed.

And you've touched on, um, I think you mentioned your son, my second child, he knows I say this, he might as well have come out waving a dyslexic and ADHD flag, because it was so clear. And I just looked at him like, you know, mothers do, and I just thought, I'm not having you suffer little one. You're not going through how I felt.

So I thought, right, better go and put your big girl pants on then and find out what this thing is. And it was as if I'd been carrying this weight around, not knowing what it was, too frightened to open it. And it was really scary actually to open it and to start going, what is dyslexia? What does it mean?

And that was when I realized all these strengths were actually because of it. And that was the first time where I saw it in a completely different aspect from that negative to positive, but nobody had shared what those strengths were with me. So I had to find it out a lot myself. And so that was my journey.

And then within the workplace, because of the preconceived ideas other people had, which also were imposed upon me, I didn't share it in the workplace. Not until I was a senior leader, again, I was like, only person above me is the CEO, he already knows. Okay, let's actually be open about it. And I wanted to do that, one, to lead by example, but also, being in HR, uh, we often have to do capabilities, grievances, disciplines, and the amount of times people were disclosing them about their own neurodiverse condition.

And I would be, you know, stop the process, we haven't done the supporting element. And I was just like, Kirsty, you're such a hypocrite. You're happy to help everybody else, but you've not been open yourself. You need to lead by example to help those others. So that's what I did, and when I changed and was open, Oh, it was like that whole weight had totally gone.

That weight had been transformed into wings. I felt physically lighter within myself.

Fay:

Well, that is wonderful to hear that you did feel that you were able to disclose it. And thank you for talking us through all of that information and sharing all of that detail. And again, I'm really excited that we are going to be able to talk about some of the wonderful strengths that it brings.

So actually it feels like the perfect time to ask you about that. Can you talk us through what some of those fabulous strengths are?

Kirsty:

For me, and this is the bit that I love about dyslexia, is everybody's dyslexia will be different.

So for my strengths are definitely around my imagination. So as a child, I used to actually scare myself with my imagination because I could really put myself there. And then that was great for when it came to writing stories at school. I could, in my head, create the imaginative, imaginative? Is that a word?

Yes. Stories. That's another great thing with dyslexia. A strength? I blend words together. But normally I will say it with such confidence and conviction that people will think they're a normal word. Vigibility was one I used recently. And I was with a client and we were talking and I said, Yes, you just use your vigibility with it.

And I could see their face. Kind of look perplexed. And I said, Oh, is that a made up word? She said, I think it is. I said, well, she said, but you sound it's made it sound so confident that I'm sure it probably is a word. And I knew what you meant was your ability to use your visualization. Well, yeah.

Vigibility. Let's just put it into one word. Um, so sorry, there you go. Digressing. That is one of the strengths. So with that imagination though, in the workplace, it can be coming up with different solutions and ideas to things. So the problem solving is definitely another strength of mine. And that will be where I will see things in a different way to other people.

I will look at things from a different area and come with a different solution. Yeah. From a different angle to people. And the way I describe, describe that is if you come across a gate, yes, you can open that gate. You can maybe go over that gate.

Might even be able to go under it, depending on the gap. I'll be the one that decides to take it off the hinges, or vault it, or look at the bars and go through the gap in the middle. That's what I mean by I might come from a different angle and a different way with that problem solving side of it. It can also be the emotional intelligence that comes into play for me with strengths, which was fantastic within HR.

That being able to read people, being able to adapt, being able to understand that when someone says one thing, that may not actually be what they're meaning. There's a whole other iceberg underneath. That side of it for me was really important. And the verbal reasoning skills, verbally, as much as yes, I may make up my own words or slip on words, the verbal aspect is normally much better and easier for me than the written side of things.

Fay:

I now just have this picture of us being out for a walk together, Kirsty, and being blocked by a gate. And seeing what you're going to do to get us past it.

Kirsty:

I so want to do a social media post like that where I can kind of like record it and show all the different ways of doing it.

Fay:

I think that would be a fantastic social media post.

You've got to let me know if you ever decide to do it so I can take a look at it.

Kirsty:

Yeah, just need to go and get the farmer's permission before I go and take his gate off the hinges.

Fay:

I don't know, Clarkson's farm's on for the third series, isn't it? You could ask him, I bet that would make a great um, a great spot for the fourth series maybe.

Kirsty:

Do you know that's a great idea, I'd love to go on that.

Fay:

Hearing you talk about that problem solving, it really makes me think, Oh gosh, when we talk about how important diversity is in organizations, that just really goes to show.

Some of the value and the benefit in supporting colleagues who are neurodiverse, just how much they can bring to an organization because of course, problem solving, creative thinking, innovation. Oh my goodness. They are all the things that drive our organizations forward and help them to succeed.

Kirsty:

Yeah, they are. And that's the thing. And I'm so glad we started with the strengths because it's really important for me to start always on the strengths. And it can be that good empathy is another strength that comes into play. And what I find is, you know, the education system, unfortunately, it's very focused down one way.

You don't see exams on creativity. In the sense we're talking all these social skills, so therefore that can be misjudged on potentially applications for when people apply for jobs. It's how do you, you need to be able to kind of tease out and get those skills out and for people to be able to share them.

You know, someone may score a lower mark on the GCSE, but they may have that higher intelligence and problem solving element, but yet we can discount them straight away on a grade. It always makes me think of the saying of art is in the eye of the beholder. What one person sees as good art, somebody else won't.

And it's that recognition of when it comes down to exams, somebody has created those exams in a certain way that unfortunately just are not set up for a dyslexic creative brain.

Fay:

No, and not really set up for the modern world either, I think, are they? Well, that's what my teenage son who's in the midst of A levels would say to me anyway. Ha, ha!

Kirsty:

Yeah, and, you know, I have no ideas of solutions on the education, so I won't go down that line, because hats off to all of them for doing it, so, yeah.

Fay:

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And then thinking about everyone who's listening to this episode, I think they could be listening with two different hats on.

One may be listening because they think, am I dyslexic? And the other reason they could be listening is because they want to make sure that they are being inclusive and supportive of their dyslexic colleagues. So I would love to ask you for your thoughts and advice, thinking of those two different hats.

If we start off with the first one. For anyone listening, right now, who is thinking, I wonder if I'm dyslexic? What would your advice to them be, what would you like to say to them?

Kirsty:

First of all, I want to say, don't worry. And the reason I say that is because people still see quite a lot of it as a negative.

And for me, it's, A lot of the clients I work with, we have this discussion around going through assessments. Do you go and get assessed, do you not? That is a real personal choice about whether you do or don't. Yes, there are, you know, the pros, having an assessment meant when I went and did my exams, I, that there, is purely a dyslexic scenario where my brain was working faster than what my mouth was, so I consciously slowed my speech down to enable my brain to catch up.

And So going back to what I was saying was that the benefits of the assessment were the fact of in exams, I got extra time. When I went and did my degree, I got different support through software and laptops, and actually I had a slightly different marking scheme for my degree, which meant they didn't penalise me for things like grammars and commas and semicolons.

I don't know what a semicolon is. So those bits were very, very helpful. But I think it's going, what is it that's making you think you are? What are those traits that are there? Actually, if you're in HR, this is a brilliant scenario. If you think you are neurodiverse, why not go and test all the processes that you've got in a company to see how it works, to see how it flows?

There's no better way than to go through something yourself to see how supportive it is, how accessible it is. and how you're able to find it. So I would say look at that, that support mechanism potentially if you're in an organization that's there. Also there are things out there like access to work that can help you.

But I'd say talk to people. Talk to people that are dyslexic, have a chat with them, be inquisitive. I always say to people you can question me about my dyslexia in any way because I'd much prefer people to have a true understanding. And there is no question that's going to offend me because if you don't know something, just ask me.

I'd much prefer that. That's the way we learn and grow. So I think it is about thinking about those traits. What would it mean for you if you wanted to go down that assessment, the positives versus the other aspects, because politely, they are not cheap and they're very draining to do, and they are set up, remember, to show that there is a difficulty there.

So when the reports come through, they are written, they will explain the strengths, but they will explain those frustrations as well. And I still find it hilarious that quite a lot of dyslexic assessments send you a written report. I would love to then have a meeting, please, for you to explain it to me, because I'm not going to read all those 30 pages on it.

It's too much.

Fay:

Gosh, I hadn't thought about the fact that they send you that really long report and that that then may be a challenge to read. That's a really good point, Kirsty.

Kirsty:

It's a massive challenge and because they use particular words that I may not actually be able to understand. I'm then having to take the word, put it into Google or something to understand what the meaning is, because I can't work out how to say it. So my tech will read it out for me, which makes my life a lot easier.

But then when you come to a word and you don't know, and you have to look it up to find the meaning and then even the meaning, you're like, uh, I don't quite what that's meaning. I'd find it a lot easier if someone just sat down and explained it to me.

Fay:

It definitely sounds like it's not an ideal process at the moment, but moving on from that, so thank you for talking us through your advice for someone listening, who is wondering if they may be dyslexic. For someone who's got the other hat on and is actually listening because they're thinking, how can we make sure we are being as inclusive and supportive of our dyslexic colleagues as possible?

What would your advice to them be?

Kirsty:

Talk to people, don't assume, because that's where some difficulties come, like I said, everybody's dyslexia comes up in a different way. But it's also a lot of the support strategies that you can put in place will not just help dyslexic people, they will help everybody.

So it's thinking about how you communicate with people. For me personally, I'd much prefer someone to explain something to me verbally. What the task is, what the process is, what the outcome they're wanting to have is, and then back it up in an email. An email that's bullet points, nice and clear. But by having that verbal communication and then the written, backing up, for me is my preferred style.

Even when you look at meetings, look at making sure, do meetings have an agenda? Even if it's a one line agenda, or documentation, share it in advance. My processing speed is slightly slower, so that means I will take longer to read information, but it doesn't, and the other way to look at it is, a web page may take a couple of seconds to load, but the information on that web page may be just as vital, it doesn't change the actual value and richness of that information.

So if you share meeting, information supportive documents in advance. You give people like myself that time to read it, that time to reflect on it. So then when we come to the meeting, we're coming prepared. That was something that I put into place in organizations myself, from a very selfish point of view, it made a massive difference to my part time members of staff.

It also reduced the amount of meetings we had because we'd all had time to reflect and we were coming already with some thoughts and ideas about the topic we were going to be discussing in that meeting.

Fay:

The message that just comes through loud and clear, and has come through loud and clear with every person who I've had on the show to talk about neurodiversity, is that any of these ideas and changes that you decide to implement don't just benefit one person or someone who happens to be neurodiverse.

They benefit everybody. I mean following up with a really clear email with just bullet points. That's going to be useful for so many people isn't it? Giving people information ahead of time. It makes me think of the recruitment process and how now Companies are starting to move towards, which I think is such a good idea, sharing interview questions in advance. Now that's going to benefit Almost everyone, because you're so much more likely to be able to give a true representation of your experience and your skills and your ideas.

If you've had more than a couple of seconds in an actual interview to think about that. So I know that that's a recommendation that's come through to support people who are neurodiverse.

Kirsty:

Definitely. And I think it's also how we actually ask people to share that neurodiverse condition. Yes. My dyslexia, because I'm born with it, it is covered under the Equality Act.

However, I do not class myself as disabled, so I'm never going to tick a box about disability. But if we were to rewrite a question, or an area, to say, we're a company that celebrate neurodivergent minds, if you're neurodivergent, please tell us the strengths this would bring, and how we could support you to shine at your best.

I'm more likely now to one, disclose, and if I'm still not feeling safe and comfortable, it's still sowing that seed that that company is open and that company is wanting to support me, because that's what it all comes back to is someone feeling trusted and safe to actually be able to disclose.

And I think it's about when we implement things as well, not just doing, not just changing and implementing them, talking about it. For me, that communication and collaboration is huge when it comes to things like this. There are so many different bits. I have on my emails, I'm proudly dyslexic. That is one of my strategies, not only to help raise awareness of dyslexia, but it means that when I send emails out, I'm not re reading them seven times.

I re read them three to four times before I send it. The amount of time that's saved by two words. I've already forthwarned somebody. It's those little strategies that really, really help people.

Fay:

It's amazing how it's just these tiny tweaks that can have such an impact. And you've really got me excited about what your next answer is going to be, Kirsty, because we're sadly coming towards the end of our time together, which means I'm going to ask you the question I try to ask every guest on the show, which is, do you want to share a nonfiction book recommendation with us or have you got a confidence building tip that you'd like to share?

Kirsty:

I'm going to go on a confidence tip.

And my confidence tip is, Eddie Izzard said it actually in one of their books, on borrowing your confidence from your future self. And what I mean by that is before you go and do something where you're wanting to that confidence, sit, visualize how you perceive that confidence to be, how you want to be, and then borrow that confidence from the future you, go out there, and deliver it.

Fay:

I love it.

It's always fabulous to have a confidence building tip. Well, I love the book tips as well, but my reading list is actually completely out of control. I keep trying to put myself on a book buying ban because I can't get through all of the books that are being recommended. But that's great. Was that in a book that you read that from Eddie Izzard, or did you see it?

Kirsty:

It was, yeah. It was in the book that, one of the books that actually transformed my life, which is 'The Bigger Picture Book of Amazing Dyslexics', which I started reading as a way of exploring dyslexia and finding out different people who are dyslexics.

And it was in there, and I thought, That makes so much sense to me because actually, even before I used to go on stage and do kind of drama, it was that case of getting into that, um, character, imagining how they would feel, how they would deliver. It's exactly the same. And yeah. That, that future confidence and leaning into your future self and how you want to be.

Fay:

I love that I've managed to actually weave a book recommendation in anyway, so, oh, it looks like the book buying ban's gonna have to pause for a minute. I'll make sure I pop a link to that book in the show notes for anyone who's interested in checking it out.

For anyone listening who would like to connect with you or learn more about the work that you do, what's the best way of them doing that?

Kirsty:

Finding me on LinkedIn is probably one of the easiest way, or looking on my website, which is www.kirstyheap.com. And reaching out via them. More than happy to reach out and explain all about what I do regarding the talks I do, training and coaching.

Fay:

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Kirsty. It's been absolutely wonderful talking to you today, and I so appreciate you sharing all of your knowledge and advice and wisdom with me and everyone listening.

Kirsty:

Absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me, Fay.

Fay:

That brings us to the end of the episode. I really hope that you found it helpful, and I'd love to hear if you decide to put any of Kirsty's ideas into action, or if anything that she said had a particular impact on you. You can always reach me on LinkedIn, or you can get in touch through my website, which is Bright Sky Career Coaching.

And if neurodiversity is a topic that you're keen to learn more about, the other HR Coffee Time episodes that you might find useful to listen to next are episode 70, Supporting Yourself or Your Colleagues at Work with Tourette Syndrome with Devon Lovell, episode 68, Real Life Insights into Understanding and Supporting Autism in the Workplace with Sybil Watkins.

Episode 59, ADHD, A Personal Story of the Strengths, Struggles, and Strategies that Help with Julie White. And the episode that started all of these episodes off, which are on the neurodiversity topic, is episode 24, Understanding and Supporting Neurodiversity at Work with Melanie Francis. Finally, before I say goodbye for now, can I ask you for a small favour?

If there's anyone you know who you think would find this episode helpful, please do share it with them and encourage them to listen to it, because I would love to help as many HR and people professionals as I can with this free podcast. Thank you so much, take care, and I'm looking forward to being back again soon with the next episode for you.