People who speak with a stutter experience widespread prejudice in the job market, a new study has found. About 1% of the world's population speaks with a stutter, and 80% of those are men. But no matter their level of qualification, they frequently struggle to gain employment, Dr Clare Butler reports.
The research from the Newcastle University Business School, shows about two-thirds of stutterers who do end up gaining employment perceive that they only got the job because nobody else would take it, usually because it was a lonely or repetitive job. In interviews, many stutterers reported facing direct comments about their speech impediments.
“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,” said Dr Butler.
Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation of America, says stutterers can make good employees because they often try to compensate for their disability by working harder. “Many of them are perfectionistic,” said Fraser. “They’re very good listeners.”
She offered advice for dealing with a person with a stutter at an interview:
Don’t tell them to relax: Simplistic advice like telling someone to breathe can come across as demeaning. Instead, if a candidate has indicated that they suffer from a speech impediment, a polite response like “Thank you for telling me that right up front – knowing that puts me at ease” may mitigate any discomfort.
Don’t be afraid to ask if they’re comfortable with communications relevant to the job: If communications skills, such as telephone use, are important to the position at hand, it’s acceptable to ask how the candidate feels about communicating, as long as it’s done respectfully. “Many people who stutter can handle the telephone,” said Fraser, “and some people aren’t so comfortable. So I think that’s a fair question.”
Don’t tell them they may be better suited to a different position: It’s dangerous legal territory to tell a stutterer that their voice may make them unsuitable for any given position, so choose what you say carefully.