THE BLOG
22/10/2017 06:32 BST | Updated 22/10/2017 06:32 BST

An Obsession With Fluency In The Workplace Creates Barriers For Those Of Us Who Stammer

everybody

Today is International Stammering Awareness Day - and I want to invite you to talk about talking at work.

If like 99% of the population you are a person who doesn't stammer, think about the last time you went for a job interview, presented to a client, or tried to win over a colleague about a good idea. My guess is that talking fluently and sounding right for the job was almost as important at winning your listener over as the content of your words.

In many businesses, respect, credibility and promotions are often awarded to the most articulate rather than those with the best ideas. In contrast, stammering - or stuttering as it's also called- is often regarded as a problem to be fixed rather than a difference to be accepted.

And for the 1% of the population who, like me, live with a stammer, this presents a serious problem, even though research shows that people who stammer often possess above average skills in listening, creativity and empathy - highly #valuable skills to most employers and customers.

As Co-Chair of the Employers Stammering Network (ESN), people often tell me that their employers' expectation of fluency stops them from trying to speak in groups at work, fearing that they won't be taken seriously; fearing that their stammer will make them a figure of fun. So they withhold their great ideas and become fringe contributors, losing out on development opportunities and falling behind.

Stammering is a complex neurological condition where the audible speech dysfluency is just a small part of the issue. Stammering, even as simple as not being able to say one's name, causes feelings of anxiety, shame and self-stigma. However, with an accepting culture and colleagues, these negative feelings can be exchanged for positive energy, full contributions and great outcomes.

That's why at EY we've just run an ambitious campaign headlining "It's OK to Stammer at EY" in the run up to International Stammering Awareness Day. We've been thrilled by the universally positive response!

The ESN has one core objective: changing employment culture so that everyone who stammers can achieve their full career potential. We want employers and employees to feel - to know - that it's OK to stammer at work.

To meet this objective, two key things need to happen.

Firstly, employers, managers and employees must find the courage to be open to having an honest conversation about stammering at work, and the role that the 'fluency over content' culture is likely to be playing.

But this isn't easy. Employees with interiorised stammers, whose speech typically sounds fluent on the outside, find it so difficult to reveal their hidden dysfluency while colleagues can find talking about stammering awkward and embarrassing. It requires the public commitment of the leadership, the encouragement of role-models and courageous conversations that ask for and explain how to achieve that change. Once engaged in conversation, people are often eager to learn and keen to do whatever it takes to accommodate colleagues with a stammer.

Initiatives such as Caroline Casey's #valuable campaign are critical to getting employers to create workplace cultures that embrace difference, and make it easier for those with a stammer to simply be themselves and build great careers.

#valuable calls on businesses across the world to recognise the value of the one billion people living with a disability, and urges businesses to come forward to sign a commitment to putting disability on their board agendas by the end of next year.

Fundamentally, what #valuable is trying to do is to encourage more conversation in business about disability. The more we talk about it - in board rooms, and socially, by the water cooler, at after work gatherings - the more disability will become normalised. When that happens millions more people around the world will be reaching their career potential.

In the UK, it's estimated that if the gap in employment levels between people with and without disabilities could be halved, then the gains in productivity alone would benefit the economy by over £50 billion per year. Additionally, the wages and salaries earned would help to reduce income inequality and provide the social and health benefits of being in work.

On International Stammering Awareness Day, I encourage everyone to be open to entering into courageous and vulnerable conversations about stammering - and disability more broadly. Within work and outside, we need courageous leaders to drive forward the necessary cultural changes that will make it OK to stammer at work. Why wouldn't it be?

HuffPost UK Lifestyle has launched EveryBody, a new section calling for better equality and inclusivity for people living with disability and invisible illness. The aim is to empower those whose voices are not always heard and redefine attitudes to identity, lifestyle and ability in 2017. We'll be covering all manner of lifestyle topics - from health and fitness to dating, sex and relationships.

We'd love to hear your stories. To blog for the section, please email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with the subject line 'EveryBody'. To flag any issues that are close to your heart, please email natasha.hinde@huffingtonpost.com, again with the subject line 'EveryBody'.

Join in the conversation with #HPEveryBody on Twitter and Instagram.