How sharing my disability let me be myself
Joe Hansen is a Shell employee and dyslexic. Shell as an employer challenged his thinking, not least in seeing ability where others see disability.
“When I arrived for my interview at Shell, the HR Coordinator came just to talk to me and asked ‘Is everything set up for you? Is everything OK?’” says Joe. “I remember thinking how nice it was that somebody did that.”
As of December 2016, Joe Hansen is halfway through the Shell Graduate Program for IT. He works as a Graduate Business Analyst in Retail IT and he has dyslexia.
In Joe’s experiences from school and growing up, the condition was poorly understood and even stigmatised. But when he came to Shell he encountered a company that challenged his thinking, and not just in terms of attitudes towards dyslexia.
He explains: “I was doing an economics module on climate change as part of my course at University College London. My lecturer suggested I look into Shell Scenarios. I found it interesting that an oil and gas company was looking to the future of energy like this. It challenged my view of the company; that open, collaborative, innovative dialogue grabbed me.”
Joe was excited to see that behind every function and every business unit in Shell was a cutting edge IT backbone.
He applied to Shell, but he feared the same stigmas he once felt at school, where dyslexic students were often simply seen as prone to making mistakes. Indeed, it was only by a chance self-assessment during his A-levels that his condition was recognized.
The result was that Joe always felt the condition was something that others couldn’t really understand and that he couldn’t properly articulate. As such, he never saw any positives from ‘coming out’ about it. It was with some trepidation that he declared his dyslexia on his Shell application. His concerns, however, were quickly put to rest.
“HR called me and asked me ‘OK, how does this affect you? How can we help you at the assessment center so you can perform to your best?’” says Joe. “That definitely made a lasting impression.”
The help he received throughout the assessment process gave him added confidence about Shell’s working environment. Since joining, he’s found continued support.
As well as the support he receives from the enABLE network, a Shell-wide support network for employees with disabilities, he says he also received support from a mentoring scheme set up to pair people with dyslexia. Joe was partnered with a senior manager who was also dyslexic.
“They showed me how they’ve turned a disability into something that brings a fresh perspective to the table,” he says. “In turn I’m seeing a leader who’s made it this far being dyslexic, thinking ‘if they can do it, so can I.’”
How to stand out
Furthermore, an office visit by the British Dyslexia Association gave Joe and others with dyslexia an opportunity to show their line managers and other stakeholders in their work an insight into life with dyslexia. The program educated managers on how they can better spot signs of dyslexia, what they can do to help that individual, and how to use and shape elements of dyslexia into an advantageous ability.
“I now have a line manager who is very open,” says Joe. “She looks at everyone’s skillsets and gives me more creative tasks, for instance where you’re taking lots of bits of information and piecing them together. That’s something a dyslexic employee excels at. We have a great collaboration.
“With the right support you can turn a disability into something that makes you stand out. What I’d say to others in a similar position is, simply, don’t be afraid to come out of your shell. Excuse the pun.”
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