Posted 23 May 2023
IWD 2023: Celebrating Being Black, Brilliant And Dyslexic With Marcia Brissett-Bailey
In 2020, Marcia Brissett-Bailey lamented “why are all our Dyslexia Heroes so white?” and true to the form of many neurodivergent activists, rather than sit waiting for someone to solve that problem she went out and wrote a book to showcase and feature Dyslexic leaders of colour. Called Black, Brilliant and Dyslexic, the book features the outstanding achievements of those in her community. In doing so, Brissett-Bailey displays the sort of leadership that we tend to associate with female leaders – holding the door open for others. On International Women’s Day, let’s reflect on generous leadership.
Firstly, when minoritised leaders discuss their experiences, it can open minds and hearts. Brissett-Bailey argues:
“Not everyone feels they can bring their whole self to work because the infrastructure of inequalities interwoven into is the education system and workplace limits one’s potential. My book takes us on a journey to challenge structural racism and years of trauma on people who are marginalised by different forms of oppression and may only come forward when they feel safe to be their whole selves. When a workplace does not have anyone with the same racial/ethnic background as them, especially in managerial positions, this limits their productivity. This shows the importance of inclusivity, and necessitates creating anti-racism in the workplace programs, this why this book will provide a better of black lived experience and realities of day-to-day life navigating with neurodiversity.”
Presenting the successful side of Dyslexia and neurodivergence primes hiring managers to see talent and ambition. It is a vital educational piece.
Action And Change
To make meaningful and sustainable progress toward gender equality, employers need to go beyond table talks and policies. They need to be proactive in empowering and providing opportunities for marginalized leaders. Brissett-Bailey says:
“I think in every career path there comes an opportunity for a promotion or leadership where individuals have a level of influence or power to make significate to make change and rethink how business is done.
This book will help business leaders to see why it is so vital in promoting diversity and difference will have many positive results: Feelings of psychological safety, related to improving mental health, increased retention rates, better efficiency and productivity, and position of leadership etc. Managers need to take responsibility and focus on improving workplace conditions to ensure equality for everyone.”
Sponsor And Defend
An area we do not discuss enough in this field is the need to both sponsor and defend marginalised leaders. In an article for HBR, Rosalind Chow argues that we need to show up for the women and people of colour for whom we have opened the door, defending them when they start to buck up against the systemic barriers and the prejudice that remains. Initially inspired to write by Maya Angelou, yet struggling with her Dyslexia, Brissett-Bailey recalls her mentors and allies:
“When starting out on this journey to understand my Dyslexia, I did not know any other Black women who were Dyslexic. Angie Le Mar (A British comedian, actor, writer, director, presenter and producer) was doing a comedy sketch and spoke about her Dyslexia. She became my first ever role model – a Black Dyslexic on TV, which gave me hope in my teens.
Also, whilst working at a Sixth form College as a careers adviser around 16 years ago, I met Asher Hoyles (who provided a quote in the book). I did not know at the time that she would change the course of my direction in life by asking me to feature in her book ‘Dyslexia from a cultural perspective’.
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously, give others permission to do the same. Both Angie Le Mar and Asher Hoyles, in telling their own stories they have automatically liberated mine.”
Stick With Your Allies
Both Asher Hoyles and Angie Le Mar have featured in Brissett-Bailey’s book, showing that the relationship has sustained and they have stuck around through the journey. Brissett-Bailey has some advice for the young, Black Brilliant and Dyslexic women coming up today, which is a wonderful close to this article:
“The message I have for young women starting out in their careers, and something I would have loved to have told my younger self, would be is to do what you love.
Be courageous, aspire, fearlessly, create a vision of where you want to be and take control of your own life. When you set goals or targets, set the priority and set the pace and everything will fall into place, when you follow your own lead and listening to intuition and gut.
Try not to overwhelm yourself by taking too much on and sabotaging your own needs and do not be afraid to ask for help. It is so important to have a support system or tribe of people who champion you with your wins and support you on your falls. When we start believing in ourselves and put in the work to achieve our goals, magic starts to happen.”
My addition would be to stick with your allies, the people who show up for you with their actions not just their words. Who can you count on to give you hard criticism, with love and respect? Find the people who have not only opened a door for you, but remained willing to listen and help when you get in a pickle. Those are the people with whom you should invest your trust.