Equality in Opportunity – Cheryl King

Cheryl KingAbout the Author:

My name is Cheryl King and since 2018 I have been a trustee of the Scottish Stammering Network.

I have stammered since I was 3 years old.  In April 2018, at an open day of the Scottish Stammering Network, I finally reached acceptance of my stammer.  Acceptance has helped me to gain more control over my stammer, or my holding back as I now see it, and I actively speak out about stammering in the hopes of raising public awareness around this.  

Stammering has taken so much away from me, and I have let it control me for far too long. I am now taking back the control, little by little, and absolutely loving my new crazy, busy life! My life has changed so much since 2018 and the fantastic Stammering Community has helped in my personal transformation.  Thank You! #HearThePerson

…. Excellent Communication Skills …  

Hands up who knows what this means?  Nuh, me neither!  

For those of you (perhaps only in the UK) who have looked at job advertisements recently, you will know that these 3 words appear on almost all job adverts.  But what exactly does ‘excellent’ mean and what is the communication type referred to?  Communication is not just verbal, and yet, we as job seekers, are meant to instinctively know what the communication type is.  

These 3 words on job adverts, could, and probably do, put some people off applying for the post.  Employers therefore, could be missing out on the ideal candidate, just because they did not fully explain what type of communication they are referring to, and how they would measure for excellence.  For those of us with speech disorders, who are hearing impaired, or whose first language is not English we could very well feel excluded. 

The Change I Want To See – more inclusive recruitment. Equality In Opportunity

So, in 2021,  I decided I wanted to run a campaign and challenge Scottish employers to re-think their job adverts and the wording around communication.  Excellent, is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as meaning – “extremely good; outstanding” but how is this measured at an interview?  Or how is this measured by employers in general?  And what exactly does “extremely good” mean?  Surely, this is open to individual interpretation, and potentially unconscious bias or even conscious bias. Who judges if the candidate has ‘excellent’ communication and how?

For Public Sector employers, I began to write to the individual recruiting managers where the job adverts asked for ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ communication skills, in the hope that they could explain what they meant by this.  All these managers passed my letter on to their Human Resources (HR) Departments! In all honesty, this was what I expected.  Job adverts are not created anew for each post that is advertised, nor are they necessarily created by the recruiting manager or department.  Job advertisements are used time and again with no real update unless an issue is highlighted.

It was then that I decided, as I was doing this campaign on my own, that this may be the best way to make contact for public sector employers – it would certainly be a lot quicker than searching internet job sites to locate the job adverts. 

I drafted a standard letter around the employers’ use of the wording ‘excellent/good communication skills’ and asked them to respond with their thoughts.  Many HR Departments replied to say that they had never actually thought as to the wording and how it wasn’t very inclusive.  Some of the employers asked for a video call with me to discuss how they could change their job adverts to be less exclusive.  

On the video calls, I highlighted how in the past, if a job advertisement had asked for ‘excellent communication skills’ I moved on to the next job advert as I thought this didn’t apply to me and I never even looked at the full job specification where oftentimes the communication type was explained.  So, in effect, I was inadvertently being excluded from applying just because of those three words which had no full explanation.  

On these video calls, I always made it very clear, that I was in no way saying that those who (sometimes) stammer are not good communicators.  We are!  I was only addressing the wording around communication and that it was not explained, along with words excellent or good.

Some public sector employers are now looking to amend their job advertisements and remove any reference to communication where there is no character allowance to include exactly what the communication entails.  All reference to communication would then be on the full job specification and it would detail, as much as possible, what the postholder would be required to do – for example, make internal telephone calls, make external telephone calls, use email, present at meetings etc.  As for the terms ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ these would only be used if it were absolutely necessary for the post.  

The Private & Charitable Sectors were a little more time consuming as I had to spend time searching through internet job sites to locate job adverts where they asked for ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ communication skills.  Some of these employers did not provide a contact email address either, so this took extra time trying to locate this on their official website.  Some employers I had to leave as there was no email address on their website and I simply didn’t have time to phone them all and explain the campaign – although this would have been great speech practice for me!!!  

Again, the responses I was getting from the Private and Charitable Sector were very promising.  Many of the employers that I emailed, or spoke to via video call, are also going to re-think their wording on job adverts.  

Interviews were another area that I wanted to address.  Many people, not just those with communication difficulties, experience interview stress and anxiety. A simple way to alleviate this would be to give all interviewees a copy of the questions at the beginning of the interview.  I know when I go for an interview, I must consciously remember to breathe, remain calm and try to listen to what the interviewer is asking me.  Many times, I have completely missed the question as I am trying to keep my breathing in check and, there is probably only twice per interview that I can ask for the question to be repeated.  By making it standard practice to give all interviewees a copy of the questions would make the whole interview process inclusive for all.  It is optional whether you read or listen to the questions which therefore also means it is not excluding people who are dyslexic or whose first language is not English.   

The Change I Want To See – more inclusive recruitment. Equality In Opportunity

REFLECTION

I have really enjoyed running this campaign and feel that I have helped to make a small difference to the recruitment process.  However, I wish I could have contacted more employers, but I simply had no more free time in which to do so.  

Overall, I am happy with the outcome from this campaign, and I hope that more employers find out about this and look to amend their job adverts too.  Covid has given us all a chance to rethink how we do things and has opened so many doors of change and opportunity.

I have also helped to increase the reach of the Scottish Stammering Network as some employers were unaware of the charity.  This can only lead to more help and support for People Who Sometimes Stammer or Hold Back (I don’t like using the term People Who Stammer because we do not stammer all the time, so what are we when we don’t stammer?) Eugh – labels!!!  

WANT TO HELP?

Keep your eyes open for job adverts that ask for ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ communication and contact the employer to ask what they mean by this.  Even if you are not intending to apply for the post this will help to make employers aware of how their wording could potentially be excluding the ideal candidate.  

Lets have Equality in Opportunities! 

 #EqualityInOpportunity    #HearThePerson     #ISAD2021

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Comments

Equality in Opportunity – Cheryl King — 29 Comments

  1. I LOVE this initiative! Completely agree that we need to be more detailed about what good communication skills really means! Are you willing to share the letter you sent to the employers to amend their job advertisements? I would love to see a copy so can share with others. Thank you for taking on this work as it is little changes like this that make all the difference in the world!

    — Kunal (kunalmahajan2008@gmail.com)

    • Hi Kunal. Thank you very much for your comments.
      In all reality it’s a really easy fix for employers.
      I can certainly send you the standard letter I sent.
      We as a community need to keep challenging things like this.
      Take care and stay safe
      Cheryl

  2. Hi. Thanks for clicking on my blog post. I hope you enjoy reading about the work I’ve done to try and change the ideas around communication in employment.
    Any questions… ask away!
    Cheryl

  3. Hi Cheryl – wow, GREAT WORK!! I can only hope that once someone in a recruiting and/or hiring role is more informed, this will change. As mom to a 25-year-old who no doubt has job interviews in his future, I thank you for this!! One step at a time – and you’ve taken a huge step. I’m not in Scotland (sadly – I love Scotland) but now this message can be amplified all over the world! Thank you!

    • Thank you Dori! I’m really hoping this message gets out to employers far and wide. I think these 3 words are just used as something else to add – no employer was able to actually tell me what excellent communication skills meant 😄 #EqualityInOpportunity

  4. Hi Cheryl,
    That’s absolutely the case here in Israel as well. Around 80% of the job ads (and I’m looking for a job for a year now) add that freaking line. When it says “must”, or “excellent persuasion/presentation skills” I don’t even bother to apply. I will definitely embrace your course of action because that really should change.

    • Absolutely Shiran!! We need to keep asking employers this question until things change. I’ve yet to get a proper explanation of ‘excellent communication skills’ Best of success with your job search.

  5. Hi Cheryl,

    This campaign is such a great idea and and an eye-opener. Thank you for acknowledging something that many people do not think anything of significant importance to, but can be very impacting to others. It is important that everyone is treated and viewed equally during job interviews. I am not from Scotland, but you are broadcasting your voice to the whole world and it is amazing.
    Thank you,
    Jena

    • Hi Jena. Thank you for your kind words. I only hope my voice will be heard all over the world and real change will take place. #Equalityinopportunity

  6. Hi Cheryl. I agree with you about how people could be put off by the phrase “excellent communication skills” based on how there’s little explanation for what that means. I thought that your campaign is an extremely good way to bring the matter to the attention of hiring managers. The little changes made now can help make a difference in the future.

    I also really liked your suggestion about giving all interviewees a copy of the questions to be used in an interview. Implementing this solution could go a long way in alleviating the stress and anxiety associated with the interview process and making the interview process more inclusive.

  7. Hello Cheryl!

    My name is Sophia and I am a student at Cal State University, Fullerton in California. I loved reading your paper! Your paper sheds light on how most employers’ copy-&-paste job descriptions often exclude those who would fit the job wonderfully if it weren’t for the alienating phrase, “excellent communication skills.” It is vital that we pursue equity in the workplace, and a great way to do that is following your call to action: inquiring potential employers about what precisely “good communication” means.

    A question I would like to ask is, how can we as co-workers support our stuttering colleagues? I’ve had a few jobs, from movie theaters to bowling alleys, and I would like to know how to advocate for them, especially when dealing with superiors like managers and supervisors.

    Again, thank you so much for your article, and have a great day!

    Sophia H.

    • Sophia thank you so much for your feedback!
      Also thank you for caring so much for your co-workers.
      In answer to your question I’d probably take the lead from them. Some of us desperately try to hide our stammers. If you see someone struggling try to let them know you’re aware first of all. If they want help they’ll likely ask for it from someone they trust. If you can see they are being bullied by others try to have a quiet word with them or confidentially speak to a manager about it.
      Most importantly treat them as an equal which I know you clearly do.
      Take care
      Cheryl

      • Hello Cheryl!

        Thank you for your response! Navigating the workplace as a person who stutters can be challenging, but by knowing this information, I feel much more empowered to advocate for my fellow co-workers. No one should feel ashamed of their stutter, including at the workplace.

        Thank you so much, and I wish you all the best!

        Sophia H.

  8. Hi Cheryl,

    Thank you for such an important paper. I agree – people who stutter often limit themselves when it comes to applying for jobs that indicate “excellent communication”. Here is where we need to look at communication being so much more than fluency. Communication also means good listening skills, connecting, being present and knowing the importance of eye contact.

    Stuttering can be the source of self stigma as well as public stigma. We’d all do well by examining the language we use to describe stuttering and to describe communication.

    I am in the USA and am one of the leaders behind the National Stuttering Association’s employment advocacy program, “We Stutter @ Work”. We provide all kinds of career outcome related resources, for people who stutter and employers. Check it out at http://www.westutter.org/CareerSuccess

    Pam

    • Hi Pam. Thanks very much for your feedback.
      I totally agree that communication is much more than verbal – something I have pointed out to the employers I have spoken too. I had some visual communication made up for the campaign too just to highlight all the different types of communication.
      I’m really hoping we get some changes around the world with this.

  9. Cheryl, WOW! Excellent! Your bold initiative will make it better for people who stammer. You saw a need and took action. May I emulate your dedication to our community!

  10. Hello Cheryl,
    I truly love the idea of your campaign! The requirement of having excellent communication skills tend to get overlooked and with employers being unaware of what it entails. I also agree with giving out the interview questions beforehand to create an equal opportunity for everyone as the stress and anxiety does not equate to poor job performance as a future employee. Stammering may make it even more difficult to communicate what you want to say.

    I do want to know if you have any tips to help educate employers about stammering?

    • Hi 👋🏻
      Thanks for your feedback
      With regards to how employers can help – I’d probably advise they get in touch with the main stammering organisations Scottish Stammering Network, World Stuttering Network, NSA etc and really speak to people who actually stammer to see how they can help or make the work environment more inclusive

  11. Hi Cheryl,

    I really enjoyed reading your article and learning how making small changes can help make the recruitment process more inclusive. I love that you are not only advocating for change but also raising awareness about speech disorders in the workplace.

    Can you share what job recruiters thought about giving interviewees a copy/audio of questions prior to the interview?

    Thank you for all you do!

    • Hi Mercela. Thank you for the feedback!
      Most employers think giving out interview questions a really good idea and don’t know why they haven’t thought of it before. Just have to hope there is some real changes afoot!!!

  12. Hello Cheryl-
    WOW! Your paper has left me with zero words, but admiration and it truly has made me realize how we are so oblivious at certain points of our lives. I have never thought about this issue before and you have truly made an impact on the way I see job posting and or other types of public announcements. We need to truly think before we speak or post something. When you speak to employers, has it been an easy conversation, or is it a topic they get uncomfortable with?

    • Hi Karen. Thank you for your feedback 😊
      All the employers I met with were really supportive and could see that the wording is exclusive. They were very open to change but as we all know this takes time. It’s just up to us to keep asking what excellent communication skills really means. Hopefully with some kind, well meaning, pressure the changes will start happening soon 👍

  13. Hello Cheryl!
    Wow that was a fascinating and interesting read. I would like to say thank you for sticking up for something that may seem so small but actually has such a huge meaning behind it! I love that you took that initiative and started your own campaign.
    I loved when you said “Many people, not just those with communication difficulties, experience interview stress and anxiety” because it is so true!!

    If you could, how would you help employers and employees, as well as big companies, with the education process of stammering?
    Are there certain view points that would help them understand easier?
    As for myself, any tips on advocating for stammering?

    Again, thank you so for your insight and the wonderful read!!

    • Hi 👋🏻 thank you so much for your feedback!
      With regards to your questions – it’s really up to us, the people who sometimes stammer, to educate others in what it really means – what goes on below the iceberg. We need to do what sometimes seems so hard for us – talking – to illicit real change in awareness and education around stammering. We need to teach the world to #Heartheperson and not the stammer. 😊

  14. Hi Cheryl! Can I just say that I absolutely love this campaign! I agree with everything you stated and how these terms of “good” or “excellent” can be vague to applicants. Also, another thing I observed was when you questioned how these terms were being measured, which is absolutely true. How are these companies measuring what “good” or “excellent” communication is? I want to commend you in starting this initiative and encouraging others to reach out when they see or experience something similar. When dealing with these conversations with HR departments, by any chance did the topic of continuing that inclusivity in their workplace get brought up? Don’t get me wrong, it starts with making the application process more inclusive, but I believe companies should also be aware of how they seek to continue implementing inclusivity with people who sometimes stammer (or stutter) in the work environment? Thank you so much for this amazing article!!

    • Hi 👋🏻. Thanks so much for your feedback and for reading my blog.
      The employers I spoke to were really keen to make changes and I just have to hope that they do. I’ll certainly be emailing again to ask the same questions if those words are still being used!!!
      I agree with you on making work practices more inclusive – maybe that could be my next campaign???? 😂

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