Bringing order to chaos: What Bank of America's new 'surround sound' taught me about the neurodiverse experience on Wall Street

Bank fo AmericaCraig Froelich, chief information security officer at Bank of America
  • Craig Froelich is the chief information security officer at Bank of America.
  • In this op-ed, Froelich explains the benefits of hiring neurodiverse employees and how to create work environments for them to exceed in.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Dogs barking. Doorbells ringing. Teachers teaching. Birds singing. Children laughing, playing, or crying. A new, and often, disruptive “surround sound” at home has emerged. The place where people once sought solace after a long day in the office has fundamentally changed since earlier this year.

But for some, that “surround sound” at home is nothing new; for them, it’s always existed in the office. Adjusting to the new normal, for myself and my team, I was reminded of something one of our neurodiverse (estimated at 15% – 20% of the global population) teammates shared with me when we were in the office together before the pandemic:

“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.”

Just imagine trying to be able to focus with all of the distractions going on in the world around you. Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that refers to the breadth of human neurocognitive functioning. It includes people with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and dyslexia, to name a few.

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Current conditions have provided an opportunity for neuro-typical people to have greater understanding of and empathy for neurodiverse colleagues. Everyone has heard the complaints about constant distractions at home, factors that neurodiverse colleagues often face in typical environments. Using this knowledge, we can influence work environments, understand how our neurodiverse employees can thrive, and recognise the advantage of a neurodiverse team.

Diversity and inclusion is fundamental to all that we do, and neurodiversity is an important advantage in the cybersecurity industry. Why? In cybersecurity, we need out-of-the-box thinking, pattern recognition, idea generation, problem solving, and innovation. These hard-to-find skills can exist within those who are neurodiverse. These critical skills and unique ways of thinking empower innovation in the cyber world.

So, here are a few ways we can understand the neurodiverse advantage and consider environments that set everyone up for success.

Encourage neurodiverse people to explore technology/cyber careers and hire them

In my industry, we are currently facing a severe and sobering reality — 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs could go unfilled worldwide by 2021.

In order to prevent that, we need to be open to the deepest talent pool. Understanding more about neurodiverse candidates will help uncover where biases might exist and how you can work to eradicate those. Some neurodiverse candidates may not follow common social protocols (like making eye contact) or may not have typical qualifications, so it’s important to listen, learn, and look beyond a standard set of criteria.

Understand the neurodiverse advantage

Hiring neurodiverse workers is mutually beneficial. It provides an opportunity for individuals to demonstrate their unique talents and helps companies solve evolving threats often faster than ever before.

Neurodiverse individuals are often technologically-inclined and able to spot patterns in large data sets quickly. They have strong skills in analytics, information processing, and mathematics, all of which are critical for the cybersecurity workforce. Also, cognitively diverse teams solve problems faster, a critical factor when combatting cyber threats.

As one of our teammates David Andersen, a senior cybersecurity scientist with Bank of America, explained, “Being diagnosed as both ADHD and having mild autism, I find a certain belonging at Bank of America that I have not felt with other types of work. The desire to bring order to chaos, to solve problems, and to give a home to the hypothetical is rewarding.”

Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace must be an intentional act

Rather than thinking of people that are neurodiverse as differently abled or special needs, think of them as people that need more support.

When introducing people that are neurodiverse into the workplace it requires preparation, planning, and thoughtful consideration. Ensure that there are places in your building that are designed to support their unique requirements. This includes how seats are configured, how their workstations are set up, and use of common areas like conference rooms.

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One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received from a teammate is to send written information in advance of a meeting. That allows people that process differently to be prepared. Just that one change in my routines has led to richer discussions and better insights.

The key is to remember that if you meet people that are neurodiverse on their terms it unlocks the brilliance of their capabilities and you and your larger team will benefit.

Recognise neurodiversity is one way to strengthen teams

A strong team is built on a foundation of support, cohesion, creativity, and efficiency. True teamwork means supporting individual talents, recognising where people excel, and identifying where they work best.

Our teammate David explained it well by saying, “The cohesiveness of the team working on a common mission lets me know I am not bearing a burden alone. A defeatist attitude doesn’t work in cybersecurity and being on the spectrum, I want to be part of a supportive team focused on finding solutions.”

Having people on your team who approach and solve problems differently is key. Everyone should welcome the visual processing skills and pattern recognition that people with dyslexia may have or rely on the strong memory or attention to detail some with Asperger’s syndrome have. We should bring forward the creative thoughts often recognised in those with ADHD to solve the greatest challenges.

A successful cybersecurity team utilises the combination of individual strengths and ways of thinking to work toward the common goal of protecting their company, customer, and employee data.

Let the new “surround sound” of working from home teach us more about the neurodiverse experience. Recognising and utilising the collective brain power of all those around us will lead to trailblazing ideas.

Craig Froelich is chief information security officer for Bank of America. He leads a team of experts in 13 countries dedicated to protecting the money and information of the company’s individual consumers, small and middle-market businesses and large corporations. The Global Information Security (GIS) team provides defences for current and future threats within the company and partners closely with industry and government associations to keep the sector secure.
He has long supported programs that narrow the gender gap in technology, serving as an executive sponsor for Girls Who Code and participating in the company’s employee networks, and advocacy groups such as Women in Technology & Operations.

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