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I was making $160K last year, now I'm near homeless

This Sydney man was in a well-paying role as a software engineer but he says his employer pushed him out of the company because of his stutter.

An Australian software engineer with more than 10 years' experience said he was forced to leave his high-paying role due to the discrimination he faced for having a speech impediment, which he said had prevented him from securing other work in the sector "because nobody takes me seriously".

The Sydney man, who spoke to Yahoo Finance on the condition of anonymity, said he was paid $160,000 per year at his last role before he made the difficult decision to leave voluntarily due to what he described as discrimination for having a stutter.

He now makes roughly $25,000 per year washing dishes — less than a sixth of his former wage — and said, despite his extensive portfolio and background in software, nobody would hire him. "I was working at a crypto tax company as a senior engineer," the Sydney man told Yahoo Finance, adding that he was 95 per cent non-verbal.

Software engineer and dishwashing jobs.
Software engineer and dishwashing jobs.

Do you have a story to tell? Contact yahoo.finance.au@yahooinc.com

Sydney man 'suicidal' after workplace discrimination

"One of my colleagues on the same level as me had ongoing issues verbally communicating with me, saying that I spoke too slowly for her to work with me. I offered to take it to written over Slack. She didn’t want to do that. I made a complaint to the CEO and GM.

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"I was thereafter sequestered from and excluded from work to the point that I could no longer contribute or operate within the company. I left voluntarily as this company was very quick to fire people and I thought I would be in a better position if I left voluntarily than if I was fired."

Since then, the man said he'd been left with residual feelings of resentment, anger, depression and even contemplating suicide. "It made me suicidal, angry, and scared for the future," he said of his ongoing struggles to find work.

"There’s nothing I can do about it. I will never have a family or a good career or the other things that you can usually work hard for unless I start my own business, and even then there are unique challenges."

The man said he'd been told: "No one will invest in someone who stutters."

"Overall, it’s a feeling of being stuck," he explained. "[I usually receive] a variation of [responses like] ’there are candidates who are more qualified’, or ‘won’t be proceeding’. There haven't been direct references to my communication ability."

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

Discrimination 'common' in Australian workplaces

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Mark Onslow, director of the Australian Stuttering Research Centre, said the Sydney man's "terrible" ordeal was, sadly, all too common.

"Research consistently shows that if you stutter — and in the modern world, some 70 per cent of jobs depend on verbal communication — it could cause you trouble getting jobs," Onslow said.

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Mark Onslow, Director of the Australian Stuttering Research Centre.
Mark Onslow said the Sydney man's "terrible" ordeal is all too common. (Source: UTS)

"Generally speaking, people who stutter have two categories of problems. One is that they functionally have difficulty communicating and the other is they get extremely anxious about those two things together and that might have caused the problem in this instance."

Onslow called on workplaces to do more to accommodate people with speech impediments and Australians with disabilities in general. He said they "definitely" could be doing a lot better, especially given having a stutter didn't necessarily limit an employee's ability to work.

"The common view in this day and age is that stuttering is viewed as a variation of basic normal human biology, rather than something that actually has to be fixed," he said. "And most people who stutter can communicate really effectively.

"If that man came to our clinic, we'd want to really explore the actual issues that he was encountering in his workplace. It may well be that there probably could be two issues here that are driving it. This is a really common scenario, I've seen it often in our clinic, that workplaces discriminate. People who stutter tend to be marginalised."

'Frustrated' but 'grateful to be able to eat', man says

While conceding the situation was "pretty frustrating" the Sydney man said he was at least "grateful to be able to eat". "There are people who are far worse off and can’t even do that," he said.

"But I think things like this build character if you can get through them."

Now facing homelessness, the Sydney man said: "I could have been better with putting money away, but I have lived off my savings for 13 months now."

He said he "tried therapy for several years, but they worked with me to accept that I stutter instead of trying to fix it."