While April was World Autism Month, it shouldn't be the only time we discuss neurodiversity. It’s an incredibly important topic that’s been historically left off the priority list of business leaders, and not nearly enough is being done to find a place in workplaces for neuro-diverse talent. And this talent-rich group of people include individuals who have developmental differences or on the spectrum of autism.
According to the ABS, the unemployment rate for people with autism spectrum disorders was 34.1 percent, almost eight times the rate of people without disability (4.6 percent) and recent global research found that less than a third of young to middle-aged autistic adults were in employment.
Right now, business leaders have the opportunity to make a positive impact and bridge the workplace gap. While the statistics alone speak volumes about a current lack of neuro-diverse talent, a first-hand experience of mine has been a driving factor to ignite industry-wide discussion of not just neurodiversity, but equal opportunity.
The cybersecurity industry, in particular, should be tapping into a pool of diverse talent that includes non-neuro typical candidates who can bring valuable skills to a sector that’s suffering a significant shortage. Highly sought after skills, such as critical and analytic thinking is incredibly important in cybersecurity roles, such as threat researchers and data security analysts.
We’ve already seen some companies taking a positive step in this area by offering programs and initiatives, yet there’s still work to be done, specifically in the cyber industry, to further break down the barriers of diversity.
By eliminating the preconceived idea of what a cyber-professional should be, and expanding your reach to provide equal opportunity for all, the doors of opportunity will open for an untapped group of talent to potentially fill a skills gaps in cybersecurity.
Equal opportunity is a corporate social responsibility
Now more than ever, the cybersecurity industry needs to create opportunities for individuals who are not ‘neuro-typical’, and this begins with changing how the industry commits to providing equal opportunity. The focus for business leaders should be less on making an intentional effort to hire neuro-diverse talent and more on making a commitment to equal opportunity as a cornerstone of their values.
To ensure organisations are ready to hire, develop and celebrate all kinds of talent, it’s important that business leaders and hiring panels look past demographics and traditional prerequisites such as experience and tertiary qualifications, and instead consider a candidate's soft skills, special interests, and creativity for cybersecurity roles.
Diversity and inclusion programs—such as the one that sits at the heart of McAfee—provide organisations with the strong foundation needed to build upon initiatives, guidelines and goals so that a commitment to equal opportunity stay true throughout the changing tides of an evolving industry.
A lack of equal opportunity is a missed opportunity
There’s potential to fill an existing skills gap by opening the doors to an untapped group of talent by truly considering what it means to offer equal opportunity.
A diverse team is reflective of a high-functioning group of progressive problem-solvers that breed innovation and creativity. This kind of team is exactly what’s needed to combat an incredibly advanced threat landscape.
A realistic approach to support neurodiversity
Organisations need to educate managers and leaders about knowing how to recognise different neuro-diversities in the workplace and they must be able to cater to that. It’s unlikely that organisations explicitly ask whether their talent is on the spectrum or considered as non-neuro-typical—and the reality is, not all talent necessarily want to be identified.
So if we go by the statistics, one in 70 people in Australia are on the autism spectrum—which means, it’s likely all workplaces are reflective of a neurodiverse talent pool, so how we educate our leaders to cater for this is the key first step.
Creating a safe haven within organisations to help neuro-diverse talent is critical, and organisations must have the resources in place to support and develop them. Support groups, specialised training programs and mentors within the organisation which are open to all talent is a great way to further open up the door of opportunity to non-neuro-typical talent.
The cybersecurity industry is a revolving door of progress and innovation, and there’ll never truly be an end to the talent needed to keep these doors turning. To bridge the divide, organisations must start with equal opportunity to pave the way for neuro-diverse talent to excel in the cybersecurity industry.