Episode 188 – Unlocking the Strengths of Dyslexic Individuals on Project Teams

Original Air Date

Run Time

32 Minutes
Home Manage This Podcast Episode 188 – Unlocking the Strengths of Dyslexic Individuals on Project Teams

About This Episode

Carlene Szostak and Madeline Szostak Hoge

Are you unlocking the potential of a neurodiverse workforce and fostering a project team that capitalizes on the strengths of each individual? In this episode we talk about dyslexia and how it impacts a team’s productivity and success. Dyslexia is quite common, affecting 15-20% of the population. Carlene Szostak and Madeline Szostak Hoge discuss the challenges faced by dyslexic employees, and offer innovative strategies to ensure that the workplace becomes a supportive environment that advances employee performance and productivity.

Dyslexia can affect various aspects of work, particularly reading, writing, and organizing information. Yet, by promoting understanding and providing the necessary support, leaders can harness the unrealized potential of their diverse workforce. Hear how project leaders can leverage the unique strengths (Carlene and Madeline call them Superpowers!) that dyslexic individuals often bring to a team, such as creative problem-solving, innovative thinking, and a fresh perspective. Creating open communication channels for all employees fosters an inclusive work environment where team members can discuss their challenges and needs without fear of discrimination or bias.

Carlene Szostak is a seasoned business leader, consultant, author, and educator, known for her expertise in project management leadership and creating inclusive workplaces that understand and support individuals with dyslexia. By fostering an environment that embraces neurodiversity, Carlene encourages the full participation and contribution of dyslexic individuals and also harnesses their unique strengths to drive innovation and problem-solving within organizations.
Madeline Szostak Hoge is the Founder of Belle-Hampton Consulting, where she has earned valuable experience in facilitating projects and project leaders within her role. She and her two sisters are bringing awareness that one in five people have the gift of dyslexia. This diagnosis, once considered an invisible disability, is now a celebrated attribute in the world of neurodiversity. She understands the challenges of dyslexia due to navigating two of her three sons through the school system with the diagnosis of Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and ADHD. Carlene, Madeline, and sister Charlotte, are the co-authors of a children’s book series under CJ Corki.

Earn more PDUs with our online course: QUIET INFLUENCE: THE NEW WAVE OF LEADERSHIP (2 PDUs)

Favorite Quotes from Episode

“I’ve worked with a lot of project managers that have dyslexia, and they are so innovative and bring a unique perspective to the solutions that others don’t even think about. Which is interesting because project management is so rigid. You would think that this would not be a place that a dyslexic person could thrive, but in fact they can.”

Carlene Szostak

“…unfortunately, 66% of HR departments currently don’t accommodate dyslexia. … Remember, 80% of dyslexic people have never been diagnosed. So if you can identify some of the gifts that they have as individuals and promoting accommodations for weaknesses of not only dyslexics, but other individuals, especially with technology, it’s a win for everyone.”

Madeline Szostak Hoge

The podcast by project managers for project managers. In this episode we dive deep into the world of dyslexia and how it impacts a team’s productivity and success. Carlene Szostak and Madeline Szostak Hoge discuss the challenges dyslexic employees face and how to harness the unrealized potential of a diverse workforce.

Table of Contents

03:10 … Defining Dyslexia
03:59 … Dyslexia and Dysgraphia
04:54 … Indicators of Dyslexia
06:20 … Carlene’s Motivation
10:06 … The Impact of Dyslexia in the Workplace
12:07 … Fostering Communication around Dyslexia
13:16 … Managing Disclosure
14:49 … Ren Love: Projects of the Past
17:11 … Leveraging Dyslexic Strengths
20:22 … Addressing the Stereotypes
22:25 … Strategies to Help Dyslexic Employees
24:00 … Inclusive Communication
25:44 … Promote Awareness and Educate Team Members
27:59 … Performance Evaluations and Performance Metrics
30:32 … Get in Touch
31:20 … Closing

CARLENE SZOSTAK: I’ve worked with a lot of project managers that have dyslexia, and they are so innovative and bring a unique perspective to the solutions that others don’t even think about.  Which is interesting because project management is so rigid.  You would think that this would not be a place that a dyslexic person could thrive, but in fact they can.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  I’m Wendy Grounds, and in the studio with me are Bill Yates and our sound guy, Danny Brewer.  We love having you join us twice a month to be motivated and inspired by project stories and leadership lessons, and advice from industry experts from all around the world.

BILL YATES:  Hey, Wendy, I’ve got a trivia question for you.  Try to connect these people.  Tell me what they have in common.  Let’s go with George Washington, Picasso, Richard Branson, Albert Einstein, Keanu Reeves, and Tom Holland.  He’s the Spider-Man.

WENDY GROUNDS:  The Spider-Man, yes, I know.

BILL YATES:  What do they have in common?

WENDY GROUNDS:  They are really varied.  I have no idea.

BILL YATES:  They all have dyslexia.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Oh, my goodness.  And they were incredible people, and are incredible people, very creative, and have done amazing things in the world.  So, folks, we’re talking dyslexia today.

BILL YATES:  Wendy, you remember our conversation that we had on Episode 163 with Hiren Shukla.  He’s with EY and leading up a fantastic effort to not just accommodate, but reach out to those who are neurodiverse.  To his point, 15 to 20% of the adult population is neurodiverse, and they wanted to tap into those resources, source them, skill them, support them so that they could be contributors to EY.  Fantastic program there.  What’s interesting is, okay, 20% of the adult population is neurodiverse.  80% of that population is diagnosed with dyslexia.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Oh, wow.  We have two sisters joining us.  One of the ladies is a guest that we’ve had on before.  Carlene Szostak joined us a little while ago to talk about negotiation.  And you’ve probably heard her name around PMI circles.  She’s a seasoned business leader, a consultant, an author, and educator known for her expertise in project management leadership and creating inclusive workplaces that understand and support individuals with dyslexia.

And her sister is Madeline Szostak Hoge.  She’s the founder of Belle-Hampton Consulting, which works with family enterprises to optimize effective governance practices and long-term success mapping.  Madeline also has valuable experience in facilitating project and project leaders within her role. 

She and her two sisters are bringing awareness that one in five people have the gift of dyslexia.  And this diagnosis, it was once considered an invisible disability, is now a celebrated attribute in the world of neurodiversity. She understands the challenges of dyslexia due to navigating two of her three sons through the school system with a diagnosis of dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD.

We’re very appreciative of their time today as we just delve into what does dyslexia look like on your project teams, and how can you as a project manager help someone on your team who has dyslexia.  Carlene, welcome back, it’s so good to have you joining us again.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Thank you so much.  I’m excited to be here.

WENDY GROUNDS:  And we are very pleased to meet your sister, Madeline.  Thank you so much for joining us today.

MADELINE HOGE:  I thank you, Wendy.

Defining Dyslexia

WENDY GROUNDS:  So we’re going to jump right in.  Could you give us a definition for dyslexia?

MADELINE HOGE:  Sure, Wendy.  Dyslexia’s a neurodevelopmental disorder impacting a person’s reading, writing, and spelling ability, characterized by difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition or decoding, and problems with reading comprehension.  People assume they aren’t smart or lazy.  However, most dyslexic people have above average intelligence.  One in five people are diagnosed with dyslexia, and 80% of people aren’t even aware of it. Dyslexia also runs in family.  In my case, my husband’s dad and brother were diagnosed with dyslexia, and most likely my husband is.  So having two of our three children being diagnosed with the dyslexia is not surprising.

Dyslexia and Dysgraphia

WENDY GROUNDS:  Can you give us a comparison with dyslexia and dysgraphia?

MADELINE HOGE:  Yes.  Not everybody with dyslexia is also dysgraphic.  For instance, my youngest son is a beautiful writer.  He was taught to treat writing like a sandwich.  You know, you start with the beginning, start with an end.  You crunch it.  He writes like he speaks, and he’s a very eloquent speaker.  Our oldest son couldn’t put anything down on paper to save his life.  He had all the ideas in his head.  When he was in eighth grade, he did a project on black holes, and he can verbally have a discussion.  And he had a very eloquent conversation with a contemporary of Steve Hawkins, but he couldn’t get it down on paper.  That is what a dysgraphic person struggles with.

BILL YATES:  That sounds like what I was reading about with Albert Einstein, too.  He struggled with that.  Pretty smart guy.

MADELINE HOGE:  And he is among the dyslexic thinkers that, you know, we use reference to.

Indicators of Dyslexia

BILL YATES:  What are some indicators to look for in someone who might have dyslexia?  How does it present?

MADELINE HOGE:  Well, the biggest clue for dyslexic individuals is their poor handwriting and spelling.  Because of their poor spelling, dyslexics hide their challenge just by scribbling the word.  However, when we are on a computer, spell check autocorrects for us.  Typically, they fix spelling easily for us.  But when somebody with dyslexia types a word, it is far from the intended word, ends up changing the meaning of their thought altogether.

Here’s an interesting example.  My son wrote an essay about soccer, and autocorrect changed the word to “sober.”  As I was proofing the story, I was confused why a third grader was writing about his sobriety.  But in the workplace, most dyslexic people spend their lives accommodating for themselves.  Unless they feel comfortable enough to share their gift of dyslexia, you might never know.  Our recommendation is that everybody in the organization take the dyslexia thinking test by MadeByDyslexia.org.  Not only does it ask questions about dyslexic challenges, but it calculates everyone’s top dyslexic thinking skills like creativity, adaptability, leadership, innovation, problem solving, and critical thinking.  These skills are vital for an organization.  Even if somebody isn’t dyslexic, wouldn’t you want to know who has these skills?

Carlene’s Motivation

WENDY GROUNDS:  What has been your motivation?  Carlene, what got you into thinking so much about dyslexia?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  You know, that’s a great question because we’ve thought about it often as to how we got to this point.  So if you don’t mind, I’m going to break this down into two parts:  first the early years, and then the second is in the workplace.  So like most things, our involvement with dyslexia happened close to home, especially using Madeline’s children as the example.

About 30 years ago, two of Madeline’s kids were struggling in school.  And the stories I heard Madeline share with me is, “Oh, they’ll grow out of it.  Oh, there’s nothing wrong.”  Or like Madeline said earlier, “Your child is just lazy.”  I could give you a thousand reasons, but you get the picture.  So she had to figure out how to help them through their childhood, but more importantly prepare them into adulthood and for the workplace.

So after years of struggling, the oldest was correctly diagnosed with dyslexia, but it took until fourth grade for that to happen.  The younger one was diagnosed earlier, but it was first grade.  So Madeline witnessed their struggles, and biggest struggles were self-esteem.  And the learning differed during the age that they were identified as being dyslexic.  So it motivated us to help the next generation better prepare.

And we decided to use our voice to become a children’s book author, to equip our families with the knowledge to identify the potential learning difficulties early before, they even started school.

So a couple things we’re pretty proud of is that we use a special dyslexic font called OpenDyslexic.  Now, before we even started writing, we had no idea that this was available – it’s free to download – but it makes it easier for dyslexic readers to engage with the text.  It’s weighted so that it helps the eye get to the point of being able to see the word easier.

Finally, we recognize the importance of early intervention.  So we created a complimentary learning guide designed to teach interactive reading, which promotes literacy. These guides enable parents to gain insights to see if their children have any problems.  We just started this writing journey in 2021 to help raise awareness, promote some understanding, and create an inclusive environment for kids with dyslexia.

Now I know that’s a long story to get to the second section, which is the workplace.  Since you don’t outgrow dyslexia, our goal is to bring awareness to project manager team leads on how to support the neurodivergent differences on their team.  So transition from clear identification in school is one thing, and they’re trained to do it.  But, you know, embracing the differences in the workplace isn’t there yet.  So the professional educators are struggling with it and can’t get it right many of the times.  So how can we assume that the bosses can?  By reaching out to kids earlier and having them embrace their uniqueness, we think that they can be their own voice and their own advocate in the workplace.

So it’s easy for us to say, if we’re not dyslexic, say, “Well, tell your story.  Explain everything.  Explain your differences to your boss or your team.”  But we aren’t there yet.  And so educating both dyslexics and employers that they aren’t a project to be fixed or cured is my first step.  So my final point, I promise, my oldest nephew is now 33 years old, and he discovered his entrepreneurial spirit.  He excels in outside-the-box thinking, even though he never finished college.  And we’re going to talk about the struggles of even getting into the workplace because of the expectation of a college education.

And my younger nephew, he doesn’t shout from the rooftops at work about his learning differences, but he has made it a point to surround himself with people who he really trusts so that they can check his work like transposing of numbers.  He knows that that is one of his biggest weaknesses.  So he has a go-to pal that he can trust that will look at it and check his work.

The Impact of Dyslexia in the Workplace

BILL YATES:  Mm-hmm.  So a question, thinking about the workplace.  How do you believe dyslexia can impact individuals in the workplace?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Well, there are so many ways, but I’m going to identify some positives.  The first one is communication.  Verbal communication is one of their greatest strengths because they initially struggled with reading and writing.  So they had to compensate for the things that they couldn’t do well.  So at an early age, you’ll find that their communication skills are just off the chart.  The other one is creativity and problem solving.  I’ve worked with a lot of project managers that have dyslexia, and they are so innovative and bring a unique perspective to the solutions that others don’t even think about.  Which is interesting because project management is so rigid.  You would think that this would not be a place that a dyslexic person could thrive, but in fact they can.

And then the last point is their resilience and adaptability.  You talk about being able to lean into discomfort.  What I mean about resilience is they’ve spent their entire life being flexible and trying to navigate all these challenges for people not understanding or their parents not understanding, so that they’ve spent at least 20 years before they even get to the workplace to having dealt with it. 

I met a project manager when I was in Boston.  He ended up telling me a story about how he used AI.  And he went to AI and said, “All right, what can we do with project management?”  And how do you manage risk, was one that he decided to get into.

So, you know, typically you review the historic data.  You look at the project parameters to understand what the risks are.  He designed a program that actually did all that for the organization.  So as you can see, individuals take something perceived as totally unrelatable and relate to it. 

There is a negative side to their learning differences.  I mean, there are constant struggles with writing and reading.  Of course, not being good at writing and reading really does lead to low self-esteem and self-confidence, especially in the workplace.  So that would be my thoughts in a nutshell.

Fostering Communication around Dyslexia

WENDY GROUNDS:  And like you’ve said, sometimes people, don’t feel comfortable disclosing or discussing or talking about their dyslexia or their needs.  And sometimes people don’t really know they have dyslexia.  They just know they don’t like to read.  So how can a project manager, really foster that communication with the colleagues who have dyslexia and just get a conversation going?

MADELINE HOGE:  First of all, you really have to go to what the company policy is.  So know your company.  Companies like EY, Virgin Airlines, LinkedIn, and Microsoft started creating more inclusive recruiting and learning environments for a dyslexic thinker.  Microsoft started a Be You campaign to raise awareness about dyslexia specifically.  But unfortunately, 66% of HR departments currently don’t accommodate dyslexia.

However, you can take the initiative and raise awareness in your workplace by learning about dyslexia.  Remember, 80% of dyslexic people have never been diagnosed.  So if you can identify some of the gifts that they have as individuals and promoting accommodations for weaknesses of not only dyslexics, but other individuals, especially with technology, it’s a win for everyone.

Managing Disclosure

BILL YATES:  Let’s assume either the project manager has dyslexia or somebody on the team has dyslexia.  How do you handle the disclosure of it or any other learning differences among the team members?  I mean, you want to have trust and transparency on the team, but this could be seen as something really personal.  So how do you manage that?

MADELINE HOGE:  Yes, that is a tough, tough question.  But you really need to look to the individual to guide the disclosure.  Adult dyslexics have spent their entire lives covering the challenges because they were embarrassed by the stigma.  Teachers called them dumb and lazy.  Other children tease them, so they’re concerned about people in the workforce teasing them.  And many parents didn’t even know how to support them.

But here’s an example.  I met a woman last week and told her, “We are children’s book authors, and we’re raising awareness about dyslexia.”  She immediately hugged me and told me she too was dyslexic and wasn’t diagnosed until high school.  And then she continued to share the horror stories of why she never felt comfortable sharing her dyslexia with everyone else.  With a late diagnosis or never being diagnosed, the shame can be worse.  So you have to as a project manager empower them to realize their skills are valuable to the organization.  It’s not just a disability, it’s a gift.  My son is a good example.  He doesn’t hide his dyslexia, but he doesn’t openly discuss it.  He self-accommodates by using technology to help with his spelling and grammatical sins and other characteristics of dyslexia.

Ren Love: Projects of the Past

REN LOVE:  Ren Love here with a glimpse into Projects of the Past; where we take a look at historical projects through a modern lens.

This week’s feature is going to be the highly fraught Panama Canal –in fact this project was undertaken twice – first by the French then the US. The French sunk 260 million dollars into it over 20 years before abandoning the project around 1880. The first iteration of this project failed due two things: poor living conditions for the workforce and very poor management of finances. It was said that only a third of 260 million was actually spent on work while another third was wasted, and the final third was stolen. People were sent to prison for their part in the financial fraud related to the Panama Canal project.

So, this project already seemed a bit cursed when the US took over in 1903 – but here’s the thing: connecting the Atlantic & Pacific Oceans through Central America had been a goal for a long time – especially for the United States who could shorten sailing trips from New York City to San Francisco by a full 2/3rds. .

Originally, the Scope of the project included one giant canal, but this was changed by the US into a series of 17 lakes & 3 locks making up the final 50 mile long Panama Canal. Fun Fact: The removed so much dirt during construction that they ended up building a whole new 500 acre town with it.

As for Schedule, the US portion of the construction only took 10 years to complete – but again, that’s with a head start of about 20 years from the French project.

And the Cost of the Panama Canal came out to around 380 million dollars for the United States – or around 8 billion in today’s economy.

Was this project a success? Well, technically yes, the Panama Canal does exist, but the true cost was in loss of life. The Panama Canal is considered to be the world’s deadliest construction project of all time with a total death toll of around 30,000 people it’s used as an example of why safety should be prioritized in Project Management.

On a lighter note, this project also brought us one of the largest palindrome phrases in the English language:  A man, A plan, A Canal Panama

Thanks for joining me for a look into Projects of the Past. See ya next time.

Leveraging Dyslexic Strengths

BILL YATES:  Carlene, when I think about the benefits that you’ve mentioned before, some of the things like creativity, problem solving, innovative nature of those who have dyslexia, it seems to me there’s some great strengths there that we should tap into as leaders, as project managers.  Talk more about that.  What benefits can individuals who have dyslexia bring to a team or an organization, and how do we leverage those strengths effectively?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Dyslexic thinkers really can’t be replaced in the work environment.  In fact, I think dyslexic thinking and AR are a perfect combination because it really makes them unstoppable because every workplace needs to drive their business forward.  And they’re so creative and outside the box, they now have the ability to look at the world that, you know, we’ve always done it this way, and change it up.

So I’m going to use my nephew again.  He luckily got into a startup company because he struggled with going to a big organization, a big company.  You know, they had rigid rules about how you can play in that space.  So he thought his career was totally limited.  He didn’t have a college degree.  He couldn’t pass the HR screening.  But when he came up with an idea – so he got hired by this small entrepreneurial company.  He came up with an idea.  He took two months off of work and said, “You know what?  I’m going to do something different.”  He came up with a whole idea about how to use AI as a solution for one of their pain points in their business.  The team said, “Okay, we’re cool with this.”

He took two months off, and he came back with this brilliant idea.  He obviously presented it.  The written form was not necessary.  And it really helped him grow personally.  He did a podcast just recently.  We shared that information with you.  Part of it is because his team embraced the fact, and they didn’t dismiss his idea.  So it has helped his self-confidence.  And I think it really is making a difference as people start embracing and seeing that they can trust somebody that is dyslexic to do the bigger picture.

MADELINE HOGE:  Well, on the other hand, there is a negative side to that, unfortunately.  I’ll give you an example of a team failure.  As we know, Steve Jobs, who was also dyslexic, had an idea to build a computer.  He went to Atari with the idea first, but they turned him down.  Not because the idea was bad, but because he didn’t have a college education.  So he did it on his own.  That is why so many dyslexic people end up as entrepreneurs.

BILL YATES:  I’ve heard of Steve Jobs [laughter].  You know, as we were preparing for this, I was looking over the transcript from our conversation with Hiren, Episode 163 with him.  One of the quotes that he had just seems so applicable to this because he talks about innovation, and he talks about those that are neurodiverse.  They bring something unique to a team.

And here’s his quote.  He says, “We want to retain all of the beautiful spiky edges.”  I love the way he says that.  “Innovation comes from the edges.  Innovation comes from thinking differently.”  And his point was we don’t want to assimilate and converge and make everybody conform to one standard.  Then we lose the beauty of that strength that they bring.  So to your point, those with dyslexia have had to overcome and cope throughout their life; and through that they’ve become great problem solvers and great innovators.

Addressing the Stereotypes

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah.  So sometimes there are some misconceptions or some stereotypes around dyslexia.  What are some of the stereotypes that you see?  And how do we address that in the workplace?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  So the top one off the top of my head is, “Oh, you could outgrow it.”  And so if someone who is dyslexic, they already know that it’s a lifelong condition with neurological origins.  So I would say overshare.  As comfortable as you are with your team, I would overshare where appropriate, and then ask for the accommodations that you might need that can help the individual manage that challenge.

The other one I thought was, I hear over and over again is, dyslexic individuals are lazy, or they just don’t try hard enough.  So I would promote a culture of empathy and understanding in the workplace.  But again, I would do that for all differences.  To Bill’s point earlier, those spiky edges for all differences is really critically important for businesses to move forward.  And then I would encourage open communication about the challenges.  Emphasize that dyslexic individuals really often put in more effort in order for them to overcome their differences.

And the last one I love to talk about is, “Dyslexic individuals can’t excel in certain careers or roles.”  So let people know about other successful people that are dyslexic.  Madeline mentioned Steve Jobs, but there are people within your organization or your vertical that are also dyslexic.  Emphasize that with the right accommodations and support, individuals with dyslexia can thrive in any career.

There are some well-known, I don’t know how much you’ve done a study on it, but some of the ones that jump out at me, obviously Steve Jobs.  Agatha Christie, even though she couldn’t be tested on it, they went back to her writing and saw that she had all the signs of a dyslexic person.  And obviously we know what her work is like.  Daymond John from Shark Tank is dyslexic.  And everyone knows Henry Winkler, the Fonz from “Happy Days.”

BILL YATES:  The Fonz, thank you.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  And he’s also a children’s book author specifically addressing dyslexia.

Strategies to Help Dyslexic Employees

WENDY GROUNDS:  Dyslexia affects many different aspects of work.  It’s going to affect reading, writing, organizing information.  Can you give us examples of strategies or accommodations that you have seen that have been helpful to dyslexic employees?

MADELINE HOGE:  Sure.  In today’s digital world, there are many options.  Back when our son was in third grade, his teacher identified his issues that he was struggling with, as well as his gifts.  But she would say, “Don’t worry, honey.  When you start working, you’ll have an assistant to help you.”  A team member might not have the luxury of an assistant to review spelling or numerical transpositions, but technology can help.  Software that reads texts and software that records what you say are key helpers for team members.  I can share some examples of those software if you would like.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, yeah, go ahead.  Give us some examples.

MADELINE HOGE:  Okay.  NaturalReader, Speechify, and Sonocent Audio Notetaker are just a few.  Our son is also dysgraphic, meaning he has trouble with writing.  So having software to record his ideas are keys to success.  And then of course installing the open source dyslexic fonts on computers, as Carlene mentioned we use in our books.  It can make reading easier for everyone, not just dyslexic.  The font weighs down the letters so they don’t jump around the page.  There’s also various Agile programs such as Trello or ClickUp can help with project management and keep a dyslexic person on track since most dyslexics are also ADHD.  They’re typically visual thinkers, so these programs can benefit them tremendously by seeing everything on the screen.

Inclusive Communication

BILL YATES:  Communication is a crucial aspect at the workplace.  How would you ensure that communication channels stay accessible, open, inclusive for all the employees, including those with dyslexia?

MADELINE HOGE:  Well, yes, communication is key to success of a project.  So varying the mode of communication to being inclusive of all the different styles is important.  As I mentioned, for dyslexics, the text-to-speech recognition, Carlene said that good communicators, they had to perfect their oral skills during their lifetime since written communications were lacking.  The only thing is never ask a dyslexic employee to read something out loud.  It will probably come across like a first grader.

Our youngest son was asked to read something out loud in college, but he politely declined.  And after class, his teacher pulled him aside to ask him about his perceived disobedience.  And this child is a rule follower, so he would not be disobedient.  He explained his dyslexia, and her response was she needed proof of this disability.  She didn’t want to give accommodations until she got proof.  This was frustrating for him.  However, when it was time for a class presentation, he quickly moved forward and represented his team. 

A dyslexic person can capture an audience easily, but the written word will constantly be a strain, especially if they’re unprepared.  And as a project leader, just be open to presentations instead of requiring a report.  Before asking somebody to read it out loud, ask extra time for them to review the material, and more time especially if your work environment requires a lot of reading.  Don’t require it the next day, just give them extra time.  And of course, having it on audio format is also an option.

Promote Awareness and Educate Team Members

WENDY GROUNDS:  It’s important to create an inclusive workplace.  How would you promote awareness and educate other team members about dyslexia and its impact on work performance?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  So this question I thought long and hard about, and I would first talk to those that have identified that they are dyslexic and then ask them, are you okay with me promoting awareness with your team or educating other employees?  Again, remember we talked earlier about the struggles that they’ve had their entire life.  And so to just make the assumption, well, you’re dyslexic, so let’s just jump forward.  Because again, there’s readiness levels that we have to take into consideration.  But, you know, ask them if they’re okay with promoting it.  And remember, they’ve spent their entire life struggling with this.  There could be pushback, and so they have to think about it.

The next thing I would do is to be sure that this isn’t just a check-the-box activity.  So HR says, “We’re going to have a meeting.  We teach it once, and we’re done.”  It’s got to be ongoing.  Some things that I have found that worked are lunch and learns, where you get together in a casual setting, talk about what dyslexia is.  Use these sessions to share some personal stories.  Maybe the famous people that we’ve talked about earlier about how they’ve dealt with it.  Take away some of the myths about, we talked about earlier, the misconceptions of dyslexics.  And then just talk about ways that we can support the colleagues that have dyslexia.

The other one is I’d go back to policy and procedure in HR.  Madeline mentioned this earlier.  And I’d be sure that the company actually integrated information about dyslexia into their organization’s diversity and inclusion policies.  That way you can make sure that the policies emphasize equal opportunities.  And the tools that we talked about earlier are really easily accessible tools that would help a boss help an employee.

And then finally, this is my favorite, is role model profiles.  You know, check out if there’s any other senior leaders that are dyslexic in the organization.  And if they’re okay with sharing it, highlight their success.  I mean, this is the president of our organization, and they’re dyslexic.  Talk about their achievements and how they overcome their obstacles.  Not only can this inspire other employees, it really does help everyone understand that anyone can succeed.  And I think this last one really could help other dyslexia gifted people to speak up.

Performance Evaluations and Performance Metrics

WENDY GROUNDS:  Taking it a little further, if we look at performance evaluations, how can a manager ensure that someone with dyslexia feels confident in their performance evaluation so  this isn’t going to adversely affect how they come across?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Yeah, managers play a critical role in creating an inclusive and supportive work environment, but that’s for all employees, including those with dyslexia.  Performance metrics, again, evaluate employees based on overall performance.  And if they spend time focused on where the dyslexic person has challenges like writing and reading, then they’re really missing the point of what the performance metrics is about.  So focus on outcomes.

The second one is, you know, there should be reasonable accommodations.  And so work with the employee in the HR department to figure out what reasonable accommodations might be necessary.  Not everyone with dyslexic fits one mold.  You know, somebody that has a struggle might find the one tool really good, and another one says it isn’t doing anything for me.  So it’s not a one and done, fit it and move on.  So reasonable accommodations, maybe extend some deadlines if that’s part of the problem.  Modify the work process.  Or again, like I said, have access to specialized tools.  I like NaturalReader, a great tool to go to.

And then the third one would be, if areas of improvement are necessary, they have to work together to collaborate and to come up with an action plan.  But it’s got to be focused on behaviors and skills, again, not on the writing communication abilities.  By beating that down as a performance metric doesn’t change because it’s not like they’re going to magically be able to write brilliantly.

BILL YATES:  I think back to the strategy that Hiren really embraced at EY; and it was source, skill, and support.  That means even things like performance reviews need to be looked at with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective and say, okay, how do we encourage people to hit the metrics, perform the things that are most important?  We want to get great results.  How do we get there?  How do we reflect that and support it in a performance report?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Well, and Bill, performance reports when they first started were one a year, and then it was two a year.  And then some companies have a review every month, you know, a one-on-one meeting.  But the one that gets to HR that they file away, that performance review is many times asked to be written by the employee.  And so the employee can write in there, you know, these are some of the accommodations that I might need, or these are the things that I did that shows that they’ve overcome some of the challenges that the boss may not notice.  So again, it’s their opportunity to speak up.

Get in Touch

WENDY GROUNDS:  If our listeners have more questions, and they want to talk to you ladies, what’s the best way they can contact you?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Well, since there are two of us on this call, the easiest way to reach both of us is either through you guys, or they can email us at author@cjcorki.com.  And we’d love to hear from your listeners.  Of course, your listeners can also use the PMI website and look for Carlene Szostak, and I can take it from there.  Again, we would really love to hear from them.  I am so excited about the podcast that you do.  You know, we need to just keep playing it forward.

BILL YATES:  Thank you both, and thank you to your sons, your nephews for their willingness to let you share their story and their experiences because this will really be helpful to our listeners.  I appreciate that.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Well, it’s been great having the time to sit with you and everything’s been wonderful.

MADELINE HOGE:  Yes, thank you.


WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  Thank you for joining us.  You can visit us at Velociteach.com, where you can subscribe to this podcast and see a complete transcript of the show. You’ve also earned free PDUs by listening to this podcast.  Go to Velociteach.com, choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and click through the steps.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.


  1. Bill Baker Avatar
    1. Wendy Grounds Avatar
  2. Karen Delaney Avatar
    1. Wendy Grounds Avatar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


0.5 Power Skills

Podcast PDUs

Step-by-step guide to getting PDU credit with PMI for listening to our podcast.

Subscribe to Podcast

Stay connected and get notified of every new episode through Apple Podcasts.

Subscribe to Email

Join our PM community and select the types of updates you’d like to receive.

Recent Episodes