UK spy agency GCHQ and arms maker BAE Systems have launched a call to attract more neurodivergent women to work for them in cybersecurity jobs.
Employers are actively seeking women on the autism spectrum and women with dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for cybersecurity roles to fill gaps in their workforce.
Neurodivergent people often report challenges in work environments. The Office for National Statistics reported last year that 22% of people with autism were working, the lowest rate among the disabilities they analysed.
However, employers in some industries have said in recent years that they are actively seeking neurodivergent candidates. Code First Girls, a social enterprise that works with GCHQ and BAE Systems to increase recruitment of female coders, said employers are looking for neurodivergent women, especially for cybersecurity roles that require “fast pattern recognition, sharper precision and greater attention to detail”.
BAE Systems said neurodivergent female workers represent “an industry gap that we want to help fill.”
GCHQ, or government communications headquarters, initially said it was looking to recruit more neurodivergent men and women in 2019, but has now backed a call for women in particular from that group to apply. The Cheltenham-based agency focuses on counter-terrorism, cybersecurity and organized crime.
Jo Cavan – director of strategy, policy and engagement at GCHQ – said: “Neurodiversity is key to keeping Britain safe. At GCHQ, some of our most talented and creative people have a neurodiverse profile – including dyslexia, autism, dyscalculia and dyspraxia [conditions that affect the ability to process different forms of information].
“Having a diverse team and a mix of minds allows us to better carry out our mission and deal with new and emerging threats posed by terrorists, criminals and hostile states.”
Theresa Palmer, head of diversity and inclusion at BAE Systems’ digital intelligence division, said cyber industries could particularly benefit from neurodivergent workers.
“Female talent is one of the different types of neurodivergent people we seek to attract,” Palmer said. “Different ends of the spectrum provide opportunities across our products and services, ensuring that we take into account the broadest, most common and most unique visions in the world.
“Some benefits of our employees’ differences are better recognition of patterns, trends, creativity and innovation.”
The growing digital intelligence division of the FTSE 100 company sells cybersecurity and data analytics services and software to other companies as well as governments. Other parts of the business build the UK’s nuclear submarines and warships, but the company has also drawn controversy for selling weapons and surveillance technology to foreign governments with poor track records in matters of human rights.
A Code First Girls survey of 1,250 student or workplace coders found that about one-fifth identified themselves as neurodivergent. Of these, two-fifths said they had not told their employer or university, in some cases because they felt uncomfortable or feared being judged. A third said they thought it could affect their career prospects.
Code First Girls said it encourages employers to offer tools to help neurodivergent workers, including software to map thought processes or projects, noise-canceling headphones, and voice-to-text or text-to-speech software.
The title and text of this article was amended on November 22, 2022 to refer to individuals as neurodivergent, rather than neurodiverse, in accordance with editorial guidelines.