Growing through 50 Million Voices – Iain Wilkie, Helen Carpenter

About the Authors:

Iain Wilkie is an executive coach who stutters and the founder of PathMaker Consulting.  He is a former senior partner and UK leadership team member at global professional services firm EY.

Iain is a recognised leader in promoting disability employment. He founded 50 Million Voices, the EY Stammering Network, and co-founded the UK’s Employers Stammering Network. He is also a Trustee of the UK’s Business Disability Forum and an adviser to the UK government on improving disability employment.

Helen Carpenter. Before working at the British Stammering Association (2015-18) on employment, I’d never given stuttering much thought.What I’ve since discovered has been a revelation. People tend not to talk about stuttering, but we can all play a part in changing that.

I have a degree in modern languages and I’m also a qualified librarian. I’ve a strong track-record in the not-for-profit sector, often leading programmes or new initiatives, in roles concerned with people, places and identity. I see myself as a catalyst and connection-maker, influencing positive change. I’m a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was awarded an MBE in 2008, after co-ordinating a national programme connecting public libraries and refugees. As well as working on 50 Million Voices, I’m currently co-running an initiative bringing people together to explore architecture, environment and social history in London’s fringes.

Globally an estimated 50 million people of working age stutter – every one of us with a voice – that’s 50 million voices.  However, widespread bias means that across the world many millions of people who stutter are either unemployed or in jobs which are well below our potential.

Employers often mistakenly equate verbal dysfluency with low competence, whereas experience shows that, given the right environment, people who stutter can become highly successful leaders and truly authentic communicators. For example, Joe Biden (Vice President, USA), Jess Staley (Global CEO of Barclays), Capt James Lang (British Army) and Ed Balls (British politician and media personality). Concurrently, research[1] suggests that people who stutter can develop strengths in creativity, empathy, resilience and listening – skills which we observe are in increasing demand in the changing workplace.

Further, as the future of work brings greater automation, algorithms and artificial intelligence, millions of new jobs will require different ways of leading, thinking and working together, ones where good interpersonal skills will be at a premium – the very skills often possessed by people who stutter.

To have an equal chance of getting into and thriving at work, we who stutter, our colleagues and employers need to be starting many more conversations and growing together through speaking and learning about stuttering.  50 Million Voices provides a way of accelerating that sharing and growth.

Transforming the world of work for people who stutter – and employers

‘50 Million Voices’ is an ambitious new global initiative to help transform the world of work for people who stutter and for employers too.  Launched in Spring 2019, we’ve brought stuttering leaders from 15 countries together to share ideas and best practice, including with some leading employers.  Our vision is clear and simple: “A world in which everyone who stutters can have a good job and a rewarding career”.

50 Million Voices is led by Iain Wilkie. He is an executive coach who stutters and a former senior partner and UK leadership team member at global professional services firm EY.  Iain is a recognised leader in promoting disability employment and previously founded the EY Stammering Network and co-founded the UK’s Employers Stammering Network. He is closely supported by Helen Carpenter MBE who has a strong track record in the not-for-profit sector, including working successfully with stuttering and employment.

Embracing stuttering as a different way of speaking at work

We’re looking for inclusive employers to come forward to hear and embrace stuttering as simply a different way of speaking. Our strategy includes partnering with employers, supporting our 50 Million Voices country leaders and inspiring role models who stutter at work.  In a nutshell, 50 Million Voices is a stuttering leadership programme.

Our 50 Million Voices country leaders come from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Republic of Ireland, Israel, Japan, Norway, Rwanda, South Africa, Spain, UK and USA and are supported by a small central team in the UK. We are all contributing our time pro bono.

Rapid progress

After just a few months 50 Million Voices is already creating change. Our group of committed leaders from across the world are using our platforms, sharing successes and taking ideas back to their countries for implementation. These include practice interview sessions, speaking events and language translations of best practice materials. Our leaders are also engaging in courageous conversations with more employers around stuttering and these are already resulting in more employer hosted events, workshops and education.

Feedback from our leaders

After an initial pilot, all of our country leaders are keen to continue with the 50 Million Voices initiative.  Here’s a some of their feedback:

“As an advocate for stuttering awareness and outreach in the USA, it has been extremely helpful to collaborate with leaders in stuttering communities around the world.  Making room for the 50 million voices that stutter will add new perspective and value to businesses and I am thrilled to be a part of this exciting initiative. I have already had several robust conversations with leaders from England, France, Israel and Australia and we all see the tremendous benefit of sharing and improving upon the wheel, instead of recreating it.”

Pamela Mertz – USA

“Thanks all country leaders. It’s motivated me so much to join this group.”

Daichi Iimura – Japan

“I think this is a great initiative and a fantastic project!”

Dina Lillian  South Africa

“50 Million Voices has really helped us get started. It opens the door for international cooperation to empower people who stutter at work. Sharing ideas with people from different cultures and points of view is the best way to come up with innovative ideas.”

Juliette Blondeau & Mounah Bizri, –  France

Looking forward – and an invitation

Emboldened by our successes and the positive feedback, we are now working on our two year goals and strategy.

We would be delighted to hear from people and organisations interested in finding out more. This might be as a person who stutters, on behalf of an employer, or a leader for a country interested in becoming involved in 50 Million Voices.

Whom to contact

Please contact either Iain or Helen from the core team, or one of our country leaders.  Also, you can follow us on Twitter at: @50MillionVoices

Core Team

Iain Wilkie

Helen Carpenter

15 Country Leaders to contact


1 Stammering can be seen as something that can impart strengths, such as empathy and compassion for others, personal growth and strength of character and working to compensate through higher resilience or greater creativity (Hughes, S., and Strugalla, E. (2013). Recognizing Positive Aspects of Stuttering: A Survey of the General Public. Poster presented at Stuttering Attitudes Research Symposium (Morgantown 2013)). Butler (Butler, C. (2014) Wanted: straight talkers – stammering and aesthetic labour. Work, Employment & Society, 28, 5, 718-734) also identifies strengths such as “listening intelligence” and this ties in with Brocklehurst’s (Brocklehurst, P (2014). The Hidden Strengths of People who Stutter. findings that “Respondents identified a variety of strengths associated with their stammering and a number of ways in which their stammering had a positive impact on others.”

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Growing through 50 Million Voices – Iain Wilkie, Helen Carpenter — 8 Comments

  1. Thanks Iain and Helen! This is an amazing project and I can’t wait to pass on this information. For my clients applying to university programs or jobs, I often tell them the program/employer wants a well rounded person who can work cooperatively. That is the most desired character trait that a potential employer or academic will want. Show them that you are creative, empathetic, resilient, hard working and charming. Now I have research that supports this and can quote you: “Concurrently, research[1] suggests that people who stutter can develop strengths in creativity, empathy, resilience and listening – skills which we observe are in increasing demand in the changing workplace.”

    This paper will be a great addition to the discussion in my teen and adult support groups. Thanks again for the information!

    • Thanks Rita for your positive and enthusiastic comments. It’s great to read about the practical benefits you can see for your clients from the article. We ran a ‘Strengths workshop for people who stutter at work’ in the UK a couple of years ago. I was the project sponsor but attended as a participant. There were about 8 of us and we all found that, whilst living with a stutter presents us with challenges, through navigating those challenges it has enabled us to develop new strengths or enhance existing strengths. Knowing what they are, and being able to tell others – including in interviews backed up with an example of when we’ve used our strength from stuttering – is valuable for ourselves – and of course for our current or potential colleagues and employers.

  2. I am personally thrilled to be a part of 50 Million Voices.

    It’s bigger than you or me, or the US or the UK. Our collective efforts can really bring change and educate those who do not stutter that it is OK to talk, engage and work with us because we have gifts that can be contributed to the bottom line, and everyone is interested in that, right?

    Even though technology seems to be moving people away from real, in the moment and face to face talking, at the end of the day that’s what we need to do in job interviews, in meetings, on conference calls and to seal the deal.

  3. And we’re thrilled you’re part of 50 Million Voices too, Pam!

    Thank you for your comment. I can hear and I share your passion about collective effort and change!

    I think that increasing use of technology is actually making the whole spectrum of in-the-moment excellent interpersonal communication skills more valuable than ever, and we know that this encompasses a huge amount beyond fluency when speaking.

    It may turn out that we are at a very timely moment to show how different ways of speaking, combined with all those other aspects of communicating well, are a true asset for employers who want to have the edge.

  4. Good Morning Iain and Helen,

    This an amazing project and a very useful resource to pass on to others. I believe there is such a poor understanding of stuttering in the world. It is very sad and frustrating thing that people equivalate stuttering to lack of intelligence. The more advocacy for this, the more change will occur. Your project is changing people’s lives just by educating people. No one should be held from their full potential just because they are a person who stutters.

    I am curious if you have seen a person who stutter self-disclose in the interviewing process and if they do, how do employers respond?

    Thank you!
    Mackenzie McBride

  5. Hello Mackenzie

    Thank you very much for your positive comments about 50 Million Voices and your remarks about advocacy and change. Fully agree!

    To answer your question, yes I know a number of people who have self-disclosed at interview. Some have been applying for promotions and others coming to an organisation from elsewhere.

    In general terms, and depending on the role, my view is that if a candidate who stutters thinks about how they have dealt with different life situations or difficulties, it’s possible to place disclosure in a positive context in an interview. It might be possible to show in what way/how it has given you some strengths that an employer would want to hear about. Examples might include (but are not limited to):
    • Resilience
    • Creativity
    • Patience
    • Listening, writing or other communication skills, such as awareness of others’ needs.

    Or there might be a way of slipping into what you say at an interview examples of work or other activities that show how you’ve turned what might otherwise be seen as a weakness into a strength, such as getting involved in an organisation supporting those who stutter, speaking courses etc.

    But of course a lot also depends on:
    • How you feel about stuttering
    • The application you are making
    • The employer’s organisational culture.

    The main thing I think is important is to consider that it is not just a case of whether to disclose but also how, in order to create a positive impression.

    To give you one specific example, when I worked at the British Stammering Association we produced “Understanding Stammering: a guide for employers.” I know someone who sent this guide to the chair of an interview panel before their interview for a promotion. The panel said it was really helpful. The interviewee also pulled put a few points and explained how these affected them specifically. I was told afterwards by the interviewee that they found it great to have the guide to refer to and back up what they said and were asking for in terms of reasonable adjustments. And they got the job.

    Of course, that’s one example. But we certainly know of others. And of course I also know of situations where people have had very bad experiences with potential employers. But that also begs the question if they behave in a discriminatory way, would one even want to work for them?

    If you would like me to send you the guide I mentioned feel free to email me (see end of paper about 50 Million Voices above for my email address).

    Also, I thought I’d mention the section of the British Stammering Association’s current website which covers job interviews etc. You may have already seen this, but if not, here’s the link:

    Hope this is helpful and thanks again for responding.


  6. Hello Iain and Helen,

    Thank you so much for sharing this project with us. I have found this extremely resourceful and helpful. As a student studying to be a Speech Pathologist, I plan to share this information with my colleagues. In fact, my classmates and I read about this project and posed a few questions. Do you believe stuttering has limited your career opportunities in any way and if so how do you handle this? What would you tell potential employers about stuttering? Also, is there a word of advice that was given to you that has resonated with you since you received it?

    My classmates and I appreciate your responses!


  7. Hello Lain and Helen,

    Thank you for sharing your project and discussing the various resources that you and others have found helpful. I am a student study speech-language pathology and we often discuss creating treatment goals and activities that pertain to the daily activities and life participations of our clients. Furthermore, we have discussed the same phenomenon of stigmas in the work place. Your example about the interview and the resources used help provide a real life example of how I can assist clients with these scenarios if that is something they wish for. I am also excited to be able to share 50 Million Voices as a resource for clients and colleagues.

    Thank you,

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