Dyslexia and my actuarial career
Jessica Huff FIA CERA, senior credit underwriting analyst at Klarna, shares her experience of managing an actuarial career with dyslexia as part of our series of blogs on neurodiversity in the profession.
When did you receive a diagnosis and what impact did it have? What support did you receive in education?
My brother had been diagnosed with dyslexia before me and, after learning that it can run in families, my parents decided to have me tested at age 12 – so I was diagnosed then.
Although I loved to read (particularly Harry Potter), I had been very disorganised at school and had difficulty with spellings and following my teachers’ instructions. The diagnosis showed that my specific challenges involved communication: processing language quickly, auditory short-term memory and word retrieval. This was balanced by strengths including in quantitative and verbal reasoning.
The biggest impact of my diagnosis was understanding my specific learning challenges and realising that I wasn’t simply “bad at school”. This, along with finding a supportive group of friends, helped me to gain self-confidence whilst developing learning methods and organisational skills. Consequently I surprised my teachers and peers in achieving academic success in my GCSEs and A-Levels.
In terms of support in my education I received extra time in exams, several study skills sessions at school and some useful learning tools at university including a laptop and voice recorder. I particularly appreciated the extra time as I had never been able to finish exam papers within the time limit previously.
Did your dyslexia affect your choice of career?
I was keen to find a profession that supported my continued learning and provided structure and peer-support. Dyslexia has instilled in me a love of learning, as I am proud of what I have overcome to get where I am.
I was drawn towards the actuarial profession because I enjoy getting lost in problem-solving and maths and am able to focus intently on my work. I also appreciate the fact that the actuarial profession offers a wide variety of different roles and it’s possible to develop many different skill sets, not just technical ones.
What are the challenges you faced being dyslexic in actuarial work?
There are certainly challenges to being dyslexic in actuarial work; on the other hand, there are also benefits. One challenge for me is that, being very detail-oriented, it can be hard to know what information stakeholders are most interested in. Since I know this is a key focus area for me, I also put significant time and effort into ensuring my work is clear and understandable whilst getting feedback from stakeholders about improvements.
Working to tight timescales is challenging, especially when carrying out a task for the first time. For this reason, I have prioritised learning to code and automate processes, as well as designing easy-to-use software and writing great documentation. My user-friendly projects are popular with my co-workers!
Have employers/colleagues been supportive and understanding?
On the whole my colleagues are supportive and understanding of me in general, although many of them may not know that I am dyslexic or be aware of my specific challenges. I need to maintain a high level of organisation in order to effectively manage dyslexia and this can sometimes be perceived as ‘perfectionism’. Ideally, feedback would be specific and actionable and take into account my needs regarding dyslexia.
Since I know I am capable of delivering work to a high standard, it can be frustrating that some things take longer for me and I need to be particularly careful to manage my work–life balance – and I’m sure many of my neurodiverse colleagues can relate to this! I am lucky in that I have a supportive manager who listens to my concerns and helps me actively manage my workload and stay focused on my goals.
At work I requested funding for a renewed dyslexia assessment in order to receive extra time in the actuarial exams and my manager agreed to pay for this out of the team’s budget. I was lucky to negotiate this and ideally other dyslexic students would also receive this support.
Could and should industry be more supportive of dyslexia?
I believe that industry should be more supportive of dyslexia and neurodiversity in general and that more needs to be done to encourage greater awareness and knowledge sharing. Those in leadership roles are particularly influential in this regard; they can help challenge negative perceptions of neurodiversity and celebrate the strengths of neurodiverse individuals, as well as implementing policies that would make the workplace more inclusive.
As part of our efforts to promote neurodiversity issues in the actuarial profession, IFoA has worked with the National Autistic Society to produce online guidance for actuaries, prospective actuaries and the employers of actuaries around autism and the actuarial profession.