Blog post -
Paving the way for a more neuro-inclusive workplace - It is only from a safe and diverse working environment that we can create a more safe and secure world.
This week is neurodiversity week. It’s my week! I’ve always known my brain is not your “average” brain, but have only recently been diagnosed with ADHD (like 3-5% of the population) and suspected autism. When I told my colleagues at Fox-IT, they laughed and said: ‘why get a diagnosis, we could have told you that’. Still, it was important to me to realize after all these years that I hadn’t just been a ‘difficult, stubborn kid’ who had a hard time in school and needed punishment. I was a kid who needed understanding because I process stuff differently. One colleague told me recently that the first time he saw me and heard me speak, he immediately recognized me as ‘someone like him’. It gave him a sense of comfort to know that I as his Managing Director, would understand him and that he’d be able to follow my line of thought.
I hadn’t shared my ‘label’ with anyone really. Should I have? Should I have put this on my CV or said in my first executive committee meeting… just so you know, I am neuro divergent? I tend to think not. I think our working environment should be fit for all, be open enough to welcome all, and be personal enough for all to feel safe, regardless of labels known or unknown.
So how do I do it? First of all, I have to manage myself on a daily basis. That means suppressing impulsive action and speech (moderately good at this), slowing down my brain so I can put words to my thoughts that other people might understand (pretty good at this) and process an insane volume of impulses that enter my brain and then prioritize them (I’d like to thank my EA Lara for her daily help). I often try and take time to figure out how I feel, which I find difficult. At the end of a working day, I’m exhausted. Not because the work is so demanding but because focusing on the tasks above, really takes up a lot of energy.
Sometimes, I get so bored in a meeting that my brain shuts down completely. I then need someone to reactivate me by asking me to comment on something. This is why I’m not offended when someone goes off cam or is visibly doing something else during a meeting, especially larger meetings. For some people it’s necessary to do something on the side to stay in active mode. Forcing people to be on cam during meetings might work for neurotypical people, but for me it doesn’t. So make sure to give each other a little leeway. I don’t like to be in meetings where I don’t have a role. So please don’t invite me if you do not need any input from me.
Surveys are another problem for me. Questions are often so generic that I cannot answer them. I need to specify because my answer might apply to only part of the question, but these forms don’t often allow for this. If the task requires multiple steps without seeing the context or where and when it’s completed, I have great difficulty with it. I have not been able to complete the last two surveys I received internally because of this. It made me feel it wasn’t meant for me, made me feel inadequate because I didn’t really understand the questions, and left me with a feeling that my specific opinion wasn’t valued. I know it is of course, but no one has made the effort to test if this form is fit for those who’s brains work differently. Recently we have partnered with Neurodiversity in Business to help create a more inclusive workplace at NCC. This is brilliant but there’s still more work to be done.
What do I do to make our working environment a good place for neuro divergent colleagues? To be honest, I don’t focus on this specifically. I find all parts of diversity and inclusion important. The reason is very simple. I’ve worked in security all my life. The care for security, physical as well as digital, revolves around one principle and that is spotting divergence in behavior, situations or data. If you look at something from multiple angles, through different lenses, you can spot divergence far easier. So diversity in general is essential to security care. Neuro divergent people are often good at spotting anomaly. We were made for this business.
So I tend to look at meeting invites and see if multiple disciplines and different kinds of people are involved. Sometimes I ask someone to chip in outside his/her own field of expertise. And more importantly: I make sure that everyone in the meeting speaks. If an opinion is not volunteered, I will ask for it. Because I know there are people out there who might feel their opinion is ‘too divergent’ to express, or they’re simply bored out of their skull because they feel they’re on a different level of abstraction.
Let me close off by saying how much I feel at home and cherished at Fox-IT/NCC Group. I feel that I’m surrounded by like-brained people and by people who are interested in other opinions and insights. This is our secret sauce - this is why we’re so good at security.
True security starts from within. It is only from a safe and diverse working environment that we can create a more secure world.