Closing the Cybersecurity Gap: How Neurodiversity Can Be Your Secret Weapon

According to CyberSeek, a website funded by the Department of Commerce, for every 100 open cybersecurity positions, the U.S. has only 72 workers to fill those roles. This talent deficit puts our infrastructure and data privacy at risk.

To attract and retain this coveted talent in today’s competitive market, organizations have learned they need to offer competitive wages and benefits, a collaborative work environment, and clear paths for career advancement. They must regularly engage employees about their job satisfaction, concerns, and suggestions for improvement, and then act on this feedback, to demonstrate that they value employee input and are committed to creating a better workplace.

Identifying Cyber Talent in a Non-Traditional Source

These are known best practices…but what about attracting and retaining a very different type of workforce?

Research shows that over 20 percent of the workforce is neurodiverse. Neurodiversity refers to the ways people think, learn, relate to others, and interpret the world. Individuals who are described as neurodiverse often have been diagnosed as dyslexic or autistic, or having dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, language impairment disorders, and/or ADHD. Many of these individuals have key skills and traits (e.g. attention to detail, ability to focus for long periods) that are ideal for technical environments and increasingly sought after for cybersecurity positions.

Successfully Sourcing, Recruiting, and Retaining a Neurodiverse Workforce

To help fill the critical cybersecurity gap, employers can follow these specific practices to source, recruit, and retain neurodiverse individuals for cybersecurity positions. As a bonus, these practices benefit all employees, not just neurodiverse talent.

For Sourcing, Ensure Information is Relevant, Concise, and To the Point

Make certain job advertisements and position descriptions highlight job-specific duties. The application form should be in plain English, avoiding jargon. Think about the degree to which “social skills” or “interpersonal skills” are required or desired. Some neurodiverse applicants may self-select out of the process when they see these skills favored. To encourage neurodiverse applicants to apply, include verbiage indicating that your organization is willing to provide reasonable accommodations.

For Recruiting, Explore Alternative Methods to Traditional Face-to-Face Interviews

In advance of the job interview, make certain communications clearly outline expectations and the timeframes and purpose for each aspect of the interviewing process. Some neurodiverse candidates may find it easier to demonstrate their job skills, rather than talking about them. Consider leveraging simulations or other task focused activities so that individuals can show case their job relevant abilities. Try conducting interviews in a part of the office where there is reduced noise and other potential distractions.

To Increase Retention, Identify Inclusive Ways to Support Employees

You’ve successfully hired your new employee. Now your job is to keep them! Consider some of the following tips to retain your cyber talent:

  • Use plain English for written communications, eliminating jargon and nuanced phrasing, and using bulleting to deliver clear, concise directions.
  • Establish quiet areas within the office to help employees better focus on their work; eliminate background noise and distractions when possible.
  • When possible, avoid lengthy meetings and talks. Stick to the main points.
  • Be aware that some people may not feel comfortable expressing themselves in a group setting. If you are trying to engage employees, and would like their input, provide an agenda in advance, as well as the type of feedback you are seeking from the meeting. Follow-up with participants individually after the meeting to ensure their voice is heard.
  • Provide employees and managers with awareness training so they have an appreciation for how to support and communicate with neurodiverse employees. Imbed this within an existing course or curriculum so that it becomes an integrated part of how the company managers all employees.
  • Leverage mentor or buddy relationships. These individuals can help in a variety of ways, from proofreading documents to assisting in noticing/identifying social cues during meetings.
  • As needed, provide additional tools to help support employees such as anti-glare screen filters, voice-text software, and/or screen reading software.
  • Allow ample time for the interpretation of data.

Embracing neurodiversity is not just a social good, it’s a strategic advantage in today’s competitive cybersecurity landscape. By following these best practices, you can unlock a hidden talent pool, build a more inclusive and effective team, and safeguard your organization’s future.

Does your organization struggle to find and retain top cybersecurity talent?

Our human capital consulting services go beyond just cybersecurity. We can help you develop a culture of neurodiversity that strengthens your entire workforce, leading to greater innovation, productivity, and engagement. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you unlock the potential of your workforce.

About the Authors

Michael Haynes

Michael is a results-oriented executive with over 25 years of management consulting, business readiness, organizational change management, talent management, business process design, and technology transformation experience. He leads our Digital Transformation team for the Air Force Research Lab.

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