National Stuttering Association

Jonah OtisSenior Manager

    Jonah Otis

    Portland, OR
    Sr. Manager, Learning & Development and People Operations

    Briefly describe your daily job duties.
    I’ve had several roles during my tenure at PayPal. Currently, I am responsible for learning and development, employee experience, and people business operations across PayPal’s technology platforms and infrastructure teams. That means I look after how our employees learn and grow, how our managers can best support their teams, and helping to ensure we’re building an inclusive workplace.

    As a person who stutters, share the most challenging part of your job.
    Definitely public speaking. I have a mild stutter and I’m prone to fluctuations in my fluency depending on the circumstances. The most challenging part of my job is usually when I’m anxious about something I’m working on and need to present it to a group. Sometimes I’m so focused on my fluency that I forget the flow of information I’m trying to communicate. In other words, when the message can get lost because the stutter has stolen all my energy.

    How supported at work do you feel by your co-workers, supervisor(s) and the company itself?
    I feel very supported, but not in an intentional way. I’ve spent most of my tenure at PayPal as a covert stutterer, and I never self-disclosed despite the fact that I know people can see and hear my stutter. Not once have I felt that I was not welcome or not included because of my stutter, and I’ve never been told that my stutter is a hinderance to my ability to do my job.

    Did you self-disclose your stuttering during the job hiring process? If so, how did you do it and how do you currently disclose your stuttering to unsuspecting co-workers, clients and or customers?
    I did not self-disclose my stuttering during the hiring process, and I kept it to myself for the next 14 years. Of course, I knew that people could see my facial contortions, blocks, clenching, etc., and hear prolongations, repetitions, and pauses in my speech. But I didn’t want to acknowledge it. That was, until an executive leader approached me about talking to his son, who also stutters. That unexpected request sent me on my own journey to self-disclosure and involvement with the stuttering community. Since then, I’ve been very open about my stutter, even mentioning it during public presentations I’ve given. PayPal has also publicly featured me in social media where I disclose that I’m a person who stutters.

    Describe how stuttering makes you a better, more valued contributor at work.
    While the disadvantages of stuttering are obvious, no one really talks about how it can be a superpower. In the competitive, fast-paced world of corporate America, stuttering gives me the superpowers of vulnerability and relationship-building. It goes without saying that as a stutterer, I’m vulnerable. But that vulnerability allows other people to let their guard down with me and be more open and honest. That openness leads to better ideas, innovation, and willingness to cooperate and collaborate. I’ve built a lot of relationships over the years which have helped me achieve professional goals.

    From a neurodiversity standpoint, being a stutterer has given me perspective on products, features, and usability that neurotypical people might not necessarily have. This helps when I am developing my own programs, helping to drive change in an organization, or supporting a product launch or test.

    What’s your best advice for people who stutter just entering the workplace and for those in a career striving to achieve greater success?
    My best advice is to self-disclose, own your stutter, and join a local NSA chapter for support. I can’t emphasize enough how much those things have changed my life for the better. Self-disclosure can be very hard but knowing that I have a community behind me makes all the difference. When we self-disclose and own our stutter, we disarm detractors and find our allies. We also neutralize some of our anxiety related to stuttering at work, taking away the worry about colleagues finding out that we stutter. I also recommend learning about the neurodiversity movement; the perspective that it offers helped me to see the value in being a stutterer.