How neurodiversity can help fill the cybersecurity workforce gap


One of the most vexing problems in cybersecurity doesn’t have to do with technology; it has to do with people. Finding enough cybersecurity professionals to fill open positions in the public and private sectors has been a problem for more than a decade, and despite efforts from both sectors, the situation has not improved. The most recent report (2022) from ISC2 places the United States IT workforce gap at 410,695 – up 9% from the 2021 report. ISC2 says the global gap is 3.4 million, pointing out that the supply of cybersecurity workers is failing to keep up with demand. The global workforce gap increased more than 25% from 2021 to 2022, and nearly 70% of IT professionals surveyed for the ISC2 report said their organization has a worker shortage.

One ISC2 recommendation Closing the gap requires recruiting a more diverse population, as cybersecurity work requires a variety of skills at various levels and a good portion of the job comes down to troubleshooting. Having a diverse workforce generates different perspectives and ways to solve problems, adding important dimensions to the IT skill set.

While many companies are focusing on major diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. race and gendermany gods leading science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) companies., such as Microsoft, SAP and EY, are trying to increase neurodiversity in their workforce. Neurodiversity describes the natural variation in the human brain that leads to differences in how we think, learn and work. While neurodiversity hiring programs originally focused on autism, many employers have expanded their hiring to include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and other (sometimes unlabeled) differences. who bring a fresh perspective to their workforce.

Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage

Research in psychology and neuroscience points to several resources that neurodivergent people can bring to the workforce. Some people with autism excel at detailed pattern recognition and systematic thinking, skills that software companies have exploited in areas such as quality assurance and debugging. These skills are particularly suited for cybersecurity tasks such as monitoring and detecting security breaches.

ADHD and dyslexia are associated with increased idea generation and the ability to see connections between new ideas. Additionally, employers have found that the nonconformity and innovative thinking that people with ADHD or dyslexia bring to the workforce is invaluable in addressing problems in new and different ways. Employers also appreciate the persistence and focus demonstrated by many of their neurodivergent employees, which leads to thorough problem solving and follow-up. Many STEM employers say neurodiversity in their workforce is a competitive advantage.

How to recruit neurodiverse talent

One of the problems these companies face is not finding enough neurodivergent talent. Unfortunately, many of our best students are discouraged from STEM by an education that focuses on their deficits rather than their talents. Many brilliant problem solvers leave school thinking they are intellectually unsuited for any professional career, let alone cybersecurity.

This is why we need to start looking at neurodiversity differently in our education systems. We need to engage students in student-centered learning, where their interests and talents guide the learning process. When this happens, each student can discover their own strengths and work from those. When they feel confident and strong as students, their deficits can also be addressed. But if we make them feel like losers from the start, we’ve abandoned them before they can play.

My research shows that companies with successful neurodiversity workforce programs have changed the way they recruit, interview, hire and manage their employees.

  • Place more emphasis on performance than communication.

  • Provide opportunities for employees to work and express themselves in different ways, not always adhering to a single cultural norm.

  • Encourage managers to promote clear guidelines and expectations, with meeting agendas prepared in advance and meetings clearly documented afterwards, so that nothing is missed or misinterpreted.

  • Working in teams where each person can play to their strengths, contributing where they are best suited and relying on others for areas where they struggle.

It’s no surprise that many companies find that the accommodations they offer neurodivergent students are what all their employees see as good management. Everyone benefits from new ways of working.

THE need for cybersecurity professionals will expand as artificial intelligence (AI) and other new technologies come online. Meeting these needs will require an innovative, creative and persistent workforce with a keen eye for detail and systematic thinking. These people are out there. They are in our classrooms today. Educators and cybersecurity companies just need to reach them where they are and give them a chance.

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