Can People Educate Their Workplace About Stuttering?
November 12, 2020
Carl Herder, M.A., CCC-SLP, BCS-F
People who stutter often wonder what work would be like if everyone knew about their stuttering. Research and experience tell us that self-disclosure or "advertising" your stuttering can make huge differences for people who stutter. It can help you expand your comfort zone, increase your likelihood for speaking up, decrease your need to avoid stuttering, and more. But, have you ever considered opening up about your experience with stuttering on a larger scale?
We're tremendously proud of Aziz Grine, who recently did just that. Aziz is a past AIS client and an employee at Societe Generale. In honor of International Stuttering Awareness Day, Aziz was interviewed for a Diversity Month Newsletter about his experience with stuttering. Aziz joins a growing group of people who have taken a stand to educate others about stuttering in a big way. For more on this, check out George's four tips on self-disclosing workplace and 3 basic rules of self-advertising.
We have been granted permission to share Aziz's article here. Please enjoy his amazing display of vulnerability, a wonderful and personal description of the lived experience of stuttering, and advice for listeners.
Aziz Grine, Risk Management
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Rabat, Morocco, and I've stuttered my whole life. Today, we know that 1% of people stutter, it is likely a result of inherited genetic abnormalities, more common among males than females, the brain regions that are responsible for speech movements are particularly affected. But back then, very little was known about stuttering, and growing up with something I couldn't control nor understand was tough, but I held on.
At the age of 17, I moved to Paris to study. I spent two years in a preparatory program, knowing that by the end of it, I'd have to pass rigorous entrance examinations. Some of these were oral exams, which made me very anxious, especially since my stuttering had worsened. Some schools were more tolerant than others. But in the end, I got admitted to HEC Paris business school after ranking first of my section on the entrance exam.
The internship and job hunt was not an easy task either. Besides numerous rejected applications, I also had to deal with all kinds of behaviors. The most memorable one is the interview I had with a man who, at the sight of my struggle, laughed hysterically and could not stop, so we had to end the interview. Today, when I think about this event, I'm fully aware that I wasn't the problem. But it took me time to get to this conclusion.
Luckily, I also met people with a strong emotional intelligence who focused on my strengths. I completed two long internships in project finance then equity derivatives trading at Ixis (now Natixis) in Paris, before joining Societe Generale in 2006. Within SG, I started at Lyxor then joined RISQ in Paris, London and now New York.
I also co-founded a renewable energy company and took a year-long sabbatical to focus on it before a large French energy group acquired it. I met my wife in Paris, and our son was born last year.
What impact has your disability on your current job?
I'm in a client-facing role and am on the phone a lot, which can be "draining." As a person who stutters, it takes me a lot of energy and focus to manage the process of speaking. I also find myself stuttering more when I'm tired, so making sure that I sleep well, eat healthily and exercise regularly is essential. Obviously, that's easier said than done when you have a 16-month toddler at home and have to adjust to the new work environment!
I'm also very grateful to colleagues and clients I work with, who are patient and understanding. Help from professionals in the field always makes a big difference, in my case, the American Institute for Stuttering (AIS) was instrumental in my journey.
For someone reading who is hoping to take a first step towards being more open about their disability, what advice would you give them?
It's a little bit different in my case. I stutter, and I can't hide it, so I have to own it. I learned to accept that words come at a premium for me. But to people who have a disability and are a little hesitant to talk about it, I say just try. I'm often amazed by how kind people are when I tell them I have a speech impairment.
Scientists estimate the odds of one being born to one in 400 trillion, which is less likely than winning a lottery twice in a row. We're all extraordinarily lucky to be here but life is a gamble and sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Some may think having a disability is a loss, but I don't think that's true. A disability is part of you and makes you who you are. In my case, it gave me compassion, tolerance, strength, persistence and courage. If I had the choice today to start my life again without my stuttering, the decision wouldn't be that obvious. Now, I won't lie. If I had the choice to stop my stuttering tomorrow, I probably would! I could finally start my career in politics (just kidding). I know my life would be a lot easier if I could speak freely. But I also know for a fact that a lot of things I am proud of today are somehow linked to my stuttering.
Being disabled isn't a choice, but we can choose how to live it and experience it. I think self-acceptance is challenging, but it's also the best option.
What would you like allies to know?
People often ask me what they should do when I'm stuttering. They often wonder if they should "help me" by finishing my sentences or if they should interrupt me to let me know they "know what I mean." Listen, maintain eye contact; don't interrupt and respond. These are simple tips I give when asked, but I never get offended as long as it comes from a good place.
Many people also assume that stuttering is stressful for me. To be honest, it used to be, but it is not anymore. However, it does require a lot of concentration, so I need to prepare things in advance, and I'm not a great multitasker. My wife always complains about it!
The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY and Atlanta, GA, and services are also available Online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.
Carl Herder, M.A., CCC-SLP, BCS-F
Atlanta Clinic Director, Board-Certified Specialist in Fluency Disorders
Carl is our Clinic Director for the Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Therapy in Atlanta, GA. He joined AIS in New York in 2006 and worked closely with our founder, Catherine Montgomery for nearly five years. In 2016, he moved to Atlanta to open our first satellite office.