We’ve talked a lot in our interviews about best practices for selling tech to the C-suite through good communication. On the other side of the management coin is understanding how the members of your team think and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
There’s been an increase in dialogue around the importance of diversity in the workplace as it relates to gender and people of color. Another term that is currently being discussed is neurodiversity. Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits. The word is often used in terms of people on the autism spectrum but also includes ADHD and PTSD.
The technology industry, with its many roles and functions, from data scientists to developers to security pros, needs to work harder to understand the unique strengths and challenges of guiding a neurodiverse team. Diverse teams lead to better, more profitable outcomes.
We spoke to IT practitioner Dustin Decker, who is himself neurodivergent, about the need for employees and managers to get on the same page when it comes to a smoothly working neurodiverse team.
“I’m far from being an expert on the topic. I can only speak from my own experience,” Decker said. “But if you have any of these neurodivergent issues, your midline manager, your immediate supervisor, needs to be aware. It doesn’t have to be something that everyone in the organization knows about. And we don’t really even need to talk about diagnosis or anything like that. It’s personality traits and characteristics.”
A clear line of communication is step number one and that step should be initiated by the employee. What can you share with your manager to make you more successful in your position? Maybe working in the office for part of the day and then taking work home is something that works for you. Whether you’re talking about the autism spectrum or ADHD or PTSD, part of adjusting to your work environment is making sure your manager understands what you need to be successful.
“It’s a matter of taking a personal inventory yourself, and then sitting down with your manager. ‘Here are my strengths and weaknesses.’” Decker said. “If someone is in a situation where they’re being triggered for whatever reason, they need a process in place where they can notify their supervisor. Get that in advance so that it’s not a surprise. In terms of PTSD, we have a lot of veterans that enter this space, whether it’s just pure IT or InfoSec. They bring issues home from the battlefield that, frankly, are never going to go away. It’s on us to assist them as best we can within the parameters of the business when a big rollout is planned on a certain day and one of the people responsible has to delay their arrival to the office due to anxiety issues. Then the team can implement Plan B.”
It’s not just accommodations that should be discussed. It’s important that a manager understands the particular talents that neurodiverse people bring to the job. One of those could be an acute attention to detail, which would serve well in cybersecurity, or the ability to memorize and learn information quickly. An honest dialogue between a manager and his or her employee can make sure those strengths are being used in the best ways.
If you’re interested in learning more about neurodiversity and IT, the SANS Institute is hosting a virtual summit Thursday, May 12.