Why we can’t forget the ‘neurodiversity’ in cybersecurity

Neurodiversity inclusion is essential to any equitable workplace, Exabeam's Gianna Driver sheds light on her firm's direction

In tech, there are more neurodiverse workers than you might think who are resilient and think outside the box. Cybersecurity is no exception, and leaders must remember the sector’s thriving neurodiversity community. Here, Diversity speaks to Exabeam’s Gianna Driver about what her firm is doing to better support this cohort.

As Chief Human Resources Officer at Exabeam since last year, how far have you got with the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy, especially for neurodiverse people in the workplace?

Our DEI strategy is developing all the time and our recent initiatives include establishing the Exabeam CommUNITY Council. This is an employee-led group that focuses on diversity and inclusion and is made up of different Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) from across the company.

Exabeam’s approach to DEI is focused on a range of priorities, like awareness, inclusion and unconscious bias training for all employees including senior-level executives, directors, managers and individual contributors. Our goal is to maximise levels of trust and psychological safety for everyone at Exabeam.

By having representatives to date from groups including LGBTQIA+, Black people, veterans,  women (ExaGals) and AAPI communities on our CommUNITY Council, we are making progress toward representing the broadest possible set of voices. We are planning to extend the CommUNITY Council’s reach even further, which includes establishing a neurodiverse ERG. As a parent of a daughter with dyslexia, I see neurodivergence as a gift. Dyslexia, like so many neurodivergent conditions, is something to be normalised, celebrated even. By having honest conversations that raise awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity, we can create workplaces where everyone can contribute to their full potential, which helps drive innovation and the development of creative solutions to complex problems.

What was your first critical project in this role?

From the outset, I saw my role as creating a framework for the future, from building an HR technology stack and increasing operational rigour, to ensuring better management training. It’s an exciting time, and I’m very focused on ensuring we continue to evolve as an inclusive and fun workplace.

For example, we are also currently focused on building for scale, particularly around people and culture. We’re working on rolling out career pathing and creating a framework for the future so everyone can see the host of great opportunities for them here at Exabeam. These are all critical initiatives, so it’s difficult to single out just one ahead of the others.

What’s wrapped around everything are some fundamental principles, not least that both thoughts and behaviour matter in the contemporary workplace. What’s also crucial is that, yes, we all work hard and strive to deliver the best possible outcomes for our customers and stakeholders, but we also have fun doing it – these are not mutually exclusive.

Traditional processes are not designed for neurodiverse candidates. What are you doing at Exabeam to make processes more inclusive?

Neurodiverse (ND) people often see the world in a different way from many of their peers, and as a business, we have to understand this, embrace these diverse points of view, see the value in divergent thinking, and provide support wherever necessary in our processes and attitudes.

Our approach to recruitment and interviewing, for example, is now less focused on qualifications and years of experience and instead highlights competency and potential.

How can you ensure that neurodiverse talent has everything they need to thrive at Exabeam?

Our focus is on creating a psychologically safe working environment, which means advocating for what neurodiverse people need to thrive while also equipping them to be productive. In this context, differences are normalised and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach – instead, we offer flexibility for people that supports their specific needs.

When you have these strong guiding principles backed by sound judgement, it’s much easier to focus your efforts. There is always work to be done, but that’s why we love it – working with people and creating spaces where everyone can thrive at work is fun stuff!

How have you engaged decision-makers regarding hiring a neurodiverse profile, especially regarding cultural change within the organisation?

The whole process begins with education, such as training our hiring managers. While qualifications and experience are important, they are not the be-all and end-all. We need neurodiverse candidates that can look at complex challenges, spot patterns and see things differently.

In taking this up a level, we are creating an environment where ND talent feels safe and where these differences are normalised. For our decision-makers, this means building an understanding that it’s ok to be ND atypical, and for them, it’s OK to go for training to make sure they’re open to this.

Why are cybersecurity jobs so suitable for neurodiverse candidates?

In cyber, ND represents an important group of qualities that improve our capabilities as a company. Hackers and people who perform malicious acts think outside the box; as a cybersecurity company, we need atypical thinkers, people who see things differently and find new ways of solving problems. I view hiring neurodivergent talent and creating workplaces where they thrive as critical to long-term success in cybersecurity.

Do you think that the pandemic has an impact on this awareness?

Yes, to an extent, in that it has shown people we all process the world differently; it’s harnessing this diversity of thought that yields the best solutions. In the pandemic, we had a common enemy, the virus itself, and we saw those old ways of thinking wouldn’t allow us to mobilise quickly enough and find life-saving vaccines. So we thought differently; we developed new technologies; we thought outside the box, and ultimately we found new vaccines to help prevent the spread and severity of Covid.

Translating some of these insights to a post-pandemic environment, it is critical that we as leaders create safe spaces in the workplace where atypical problem-solvers are welcome and honoured for their innovative ideas. The pandemic has been hard for everyone, but a silver lining is that it has also helped create awareness about the value of ND thinking.

What are your arguments for retaining talent, especially neurodiverse talent, in these times of the Great Resignation?

When people don’t feel they belong, they are more likely to leave. Instead, organisations need to create environments where everyone knows they have meaningful contributions to make and are tied to the success of the team as a whole.

This addresses the basic human need to feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself – that’s what we try to do at Exabeam.

As an experienced HR professional, what best practices can you share for recruiting a neurodiverse candidate? What is your gold standard approach?

The best recruitment practices for hiring neurodiverse talent involve focusing on competencies and potential instead of narrowly focusing on what school someone went to, the certifications they have, the years of experience under their belt, or their personality type.

I also think having multiple ways candidates can showcase their skills in the interview process is important. For instance, some types of neurodiverse individuals do better in distraction-free environments where they can code and solve solutions without an interviewer looking over their shoulder.

Ultimately, if we want to attract neurodiverse talent who think differently, our recruitment process needs to respect these different ways of thinking and provide opportunities for ND talent to showcase their competencies. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, so instead, I focus on awareness and having processes that are flexible, open, competency- and potential-based. The future of work, especially in cybersecurity, depends on leveraging creative solutions, many of which will come from the neurodivergent population.

Finally, what would you say to decision-makers still afraid and struggling to open the door to neurodiverse candidates?

Adapting and embracing change can create uncertainty for decision-makers, but transformation is only possible when we do things differently. If we want innovation and game-changing improvements, we need diversity of thought; we need neurodiverse employees on our teams.

To decision-makers hesitant to hire ND candidates, approach recruitment with an open mind, be humble, and when you hire neurodivergent people, ask them what they need to thrive. Ask them how you can support them and what accommodations might make their work more productive. Create awareness and a culture of inclusivity. And as you have won, and you inevitably will with a diverse team, remember that these are shared successes. Honour the contributions of your neurodiverse talent!

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