People who stammer are almost certain to face discrimination in the workplace and the jobs market, new research suggests.
The study by Dr Clare Butler, of Newcastle University Business School, found that every one of the 36 men who were interviewed experienced “routine discrimination” at the hands of employers.
Some of the men had been rejected at interviews because they stammered, while others could only find jobs where they were over-qualified.
Norbert Lieckfeldt, chief executive of the user-led British Stammering Association (BSA), said the results were “not a surprise”, because discrimination and bullying of people who stammer remained socially acceptable.
A key problem, he said, was that human resources departments often did not realise that stammering was covered by the Equality Act, even though a reasonable adjustment for someone who stammers was as simple as “good communication, speaking and listening, and good manners”, and that “if you get it right, it helps everyone”.
He said that awareness of stammering was at the same level that dyslexia was at 20 years ago, although it was now “going in the right direction”.
Lieckfeldt said it was often difficult to “own up to something that has a stigma attached, like stammering”, unless the employer has made it easy for employees who stammer to talk about their impairment.
The study, published in the journal Work, Employment and Society, found that two-thirds of those who did secure employment believed they were appointed because no-one else wanted the jobs, which were often “lonely or repetitive”.
Dr Butler said: “Many participants were told not only of their mismatch for the specifics of the job or the likelihood of a detrimental impact on customers, but also of the possible negative impact on team dynamics if they were appointed.”
One man who applied for an administrative post was told by his interviewer to “go and look for something more suitable”, such as gardening, where he would be on his own.
But despite the frequent prejudice, none of those interviewed said they had challenged their potential or current employer.
Dr Butler said: “This is in contrast to the movement for those with other impairments, such as dyslexia, where employees now expect, and employers are expected to make, adjustments to facilitate full access at work.”
One civil servant was told by his manager to stay away from crucial meetings because his stammer “upset the flow of the meeting”.
Dr Butler said that the growth in employment in services and retail, and the fall in manufacturing and other practical jobs had made it harder for people who stammer to find work.
But many interviewees believed that having a stammer had made them better listeners, while Dr Butler said that employers tended to be supportive if an employee had an “increased level of skill in an area where that skill was scarce or speech was not considered integral to the job requirements.”.
Lieckfeldt said that BSA carried out its own survey of 200 adults last year, with two-thirds saying that understanding of stammering at work would make them feel happier in the workplace.
Almost half said they had not put themselves forward for promotion because of their stammer, while two-thirds said they had held back from sharing good ideas.
BSA has set up the Employers Stammering Network, which aims to provide employers with information, support and advice on recruiting and supporting people who stammer. with members including DHL, Ernst and Young, Accenture, First Group, HSBC, Ladbrokes and Lloyds.
Lieckfeldt said: “Every day we get people saying ‘this happened to me,’ or ‘I can’t face the interview,’ so it is going to be a long, long haul I should imagine.”
11 March 2014