In Conversation With – Emma Philpot, CEO of The IASME Consortium

In the latest of our ‘In Conversation with’ series, we sat down with Emma Philpot, the CEO of the IASME Consortium to chat about Neuro Diversity and how people with Neuro Diversities are a good fit for the cybersecurity sector.

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XQ: Can you tell us a bit about what Neuro Diversity is?


Emma: Neuro-diversity is a term that was coined in the late 1990s to shift the focus away from the language of deficit and impairment. It argues that neurological differences are to be recognised as part of human variation. These differences include but are not limited to, Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia and Tourette Syndrome.  
 
Neuro-diversity is increasingly discussed in terms of creating better and more efficient teams. People who are not “neuro-diverse” are, by definition “neuro-typical” and tend to think in a similar way to each other.  Neuro-typical people share an unspoken and often unconscious understanding of how things “should” be and what is right and wrong.  

For example, most neuro-typical adults in the UK would not ask someone how much they earn the first time they meet them because this is commonly accepted in our culture to be rude.  

However, people from a different culture or who do not recognise unwritten social rules would not think twice about asking such a question.  If all team members are hampered by social rules and understandings typical to people like them, we are very limited in ideas and strategies.  

Of course, if you have a team of neuro-typical people who all live by a set of unwritten rules and then introduce a neuro-diverse person who does not know what those rules are they can appear rude or unfriendly.  This is partly why it can be difficult for neurodiverse people to get jobs and accepted into teams.


 
XQ: Why are Neuro Diverse individuals a good fit for the cybersecurity sector?


Emma: As described above, neuro-diverse people often bring a different approach to problem-solving, which is essential when trying to combat cyber-attacks which have been initiated by individuals in different cultures and situations. In addition to this, people with neuro-diversities such as autism are often particularly skilled in areas which make them a good fit for the cybersecurity sector.  Many of them have excellent focus, attention to detail and ability to spot patterns and changes.  They can also analyse problems in a very logical manner without letting social expectations influence the results.  Many neuro-diverse people are better at aspects of cybersecurity than neuro-typicals.


 
 XQ: How can employers (especially those in the cyber sector) assist Neuro Diverse employees?
 

Emma: Recognising the need to be very specific about all aspects of the recruitment and employment process can help neuro-diverse people but, interestingly, this can also help the rest of the workforce too.  
 
Include very detailed instructions about what you would like employees to do and what they should expect.  The more detail about the work situation you can give, the easier it will be for the individuals to plan coping strategies.  Do not assume they will know social rules which other people have picked up along the way.  For example, tell them the expected way to dress at work, specify any rules about breaks and work hours.  
 
Find out from the individual what issues they are concerned about and do your best to help them manage these. Many neuro-diverse people are particularly sensitive to noise or light so noise cancelling headphones or dark glasses can help. Consider flexible working such as remote working or variable hours. Ensure there is a person they can feel comfortable to approach to ask questions about things they are unsure about in a non-judgemental environment.  It is worth remembering that social occasions are often more daunting to neuro-diverse staff than the work environment. Do make it clear if they have to attend or not and exactly what will happen at the event. 
 
It can sometimes take neuro-diverse people longer to settle into a new working environment than other people but often, once they feel at home, they are much less likely to move on to other jobs.
 
Try not to get caught up with preconceptions or stereotypes about neurodiversity.  If an organisation creates an accepting culture for all where it is ok to talk about what they find difficult without fear of being judged everyone will be better off.  It is essential to put in place the right reasonable adjustments at an individual level for all based upon engagement and review with individuals, recognising these may change-over-time.
 
This may seem a lot of work but the benefits will out way the effort, after all, if you keep seeking to solve problems in the same way you will keep getting the same answers.


 
XQ - Can Neuro Diverse individuals help close the cyber skills gap?
 

Emma: They can certainly help to close the skills gap.  A large number of neuro-diverse adults are out of work due to the social barriers involved in the recruitment and employment processes and these same unemployed adults often have particular skills in cybersecurity.  if the training and hiring process is tailored to accept a wider range of individuals, we can ensure that a broad set of skills are represented in the industry. There is a retention problem in the industry as well as with recruitment, people tend to move on quickly. With a more diverse workforce, it is more likely that this can be balanced with some individuals who prefer to stay in a position for longer.
 
XQ: What more can the cyber sector do to support Neurodiversity? 
 

Emma: Continue to engage with projects like the training run by the UK Cyber Security Forum, BlueScreen IT and the Neuro-diverse academy on Immersive Labs.  When cybersecurity companies are looking to recruit a new employee to consider engaging a neuro-diverse person. Think about how a very literal person would see your job advert and consider being more flexible in the recruitment process, for example, allowing all candidates to know the interview questions in advance in order that they may prepare.

Finally, it is likely that you already have a number of neuro-diverse employees so think about how you can make the workplace easier for them by being more specific about expectations and not assuming everyone has the same understanding. 

Some neuro-diverse individuals might mask the things they feel challenging in order to fit in, this can be exhausting and highly damaging over-time which is why some of the tips above are important.  Small things make a big difference and cost very little, you might find the hardest working talent and most loyal employee you have is neuro-diverse because you have made the right accommodation for them to feel comfortable and valued.

XQ: Many thanks, Emma.


For more information about Neuro Diversity please visit - https://www.iasme.co.uk/communitysoc/

If you would like to take part in a future ‘In Conversation with’ feature please contact – [email protected]

 

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