A senior executive at one of America’s biggest financial institutions has issued a plea for employers to be more attuned to the outlook of neurodiverse individuals – not just to harness their talents, but to ensure their needs are met in the workplace.
In an opinion column at Business Insider, Bank of America chief information security officer Craig Froelich says that the vast majority of employees are currently experiencing a new – and often disruptive – ‘surround sound’ in their homes, comprised of dogs barking, doorbells ringing and children laughing, playing, or crying.
However, he writes, for some workers that domestic ‘surround sound’ is nothing new, because “it’s always existed in the office.” (Business Insider, 22 October 2020)
Froelich then quotes something that one of his neurodiverse colleagues told him before the pandemic broke: “I can hear every conversation of the people on my floor. I can hear the resistance of your shoes as they glide against the carpet. I can hear the high-pitched noise from the ceiling lights. I can hear all the pings on the computer and all the rings on the phone. I can hear the building shift and the wind outside the double-paned glass. I hear everything.”
Froelich points out: “Current conditions have provided an opportunity for neurotypical people to have greater understanding of, and empathy for, neurodiverse colleagues … Using this knowledge, we can influence work environments, understand how our neurodiverse employees can thrive, and recognise the advantage of a neurodiverse team.”
He notes that cybersecurity has a constant demand for outside-the-box thinking, pattern recognition, idea generation and problem solving – hard-to-find skills that often exist among neurodiverse individuals.
With that in mind, he urges employers to honour three points:
- Encourage neurodiverse people to explore technology/cyber careers and hire them. By next year, 3.1 million cybersecurity jobs could go unfilled – so the talent pool must be as deep as possible.
- Understand the neurodiverse advantage. Hiring for neurodiversity is mutually beneficial. It provides an opportunity for individuals to demonstrate their unique skills and could help companies deal with evolving threats faster than ever.
- Acknowledge that supporting neurodiversity in the workplace must be an intentional act. Rather than thinking of people that are neurodiverse as differently abled or having ‘special needs’, think of them as people that require greater support.
Is Froelich on the right track – and are there any important measures he has left out?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s chief executive John Mark Williams says: “Froelich’s views are absolutely supported in new Institute research on neurodiversity that we will publish on Wednesday 28 October. ‘Surround sound’ is a great analogy that helps us differentiate quite neatly between the experiences of neurodiverse and neurotypical people – and evokes very clearly the experience that neurotypical employees are having in their homes right now.”
Williams comments: “Our research shows without any doubt that it’s absolutely vital for organisations to establish a supportive environment for neurodiverse people. But in parallel, with that, there’s a more important point. Employers must not only encourage neurodiverse and neurotypical staff alike to look for new opportunities in their organisations – they must provide those opportunities, too. The examples that Froelich gives – such as pattern recognition, ideas generation and a different approach to problem solving – are key identifiers of the additionality that neurodiverse individuals can provide.”
He adds: “As Froelich points out, we as organisations should certainly have an intentional consciousness of the values of diversity in general – and of neurodiversity as a significant element within that portfolio.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on the healthy workplace.