Neurodivergent women sought for jobs at GCHQ and BAE Systems

Organisations want to recruit more autistic women and those with dyslexia and ADHD to work in cybersecurity roles

The British spy agency GCHQ and weapons manufacturer BAE Systems have issued an appeal to attract more neurodivergent women to work for them in cybersecurity jobs.

The employers are actively seeking women on the autism spectrum and women with dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for cybersecurity roles to address gaps in their workforces.

Neurodivergent people often report challenges in work environments. The Office for National Statistics last year reported that 22% of autistic people were in work, the lowest among the disabilities they analysed.

However, employers in some industries have in recent years said they are actively seeking neurodivergent applicants. Code First Girls, a social enterprise that works with GCHQ and BAE Systems to increase recruitment of female coders, said employers were looking for neurodivergent women in particular for cybersecurity roles that require “fast pattern recognition, sharper accuracy and greater attention to detail”.

BAE Systems said neurodivergent female workers represented “an industry gap we are keen to contribute to filling”.

GCHQ, or Government Communications Headquarters, first said it was looking to recruit more neurodivergent men and women in 2019, but has now backed a call for women in particular from this group to apply. The Cheltenham-based agency focuses on counter-terrorism, cybersecurity and organised crime.

Jo Cavan – GCHQ’s director of strategy, policy and engagement – 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 better equips us to carry out our mission and tackle 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 benefit particularly from neurodivergent workers.

“Female talent is among the varying types of neurodivergent people we are looking to attract,” Palmer said. “Varying ends of the spectrum offer opportunities across our products and services ensuring that we take the broadest, most common and unique views of the world into account.

“Some benefits of our employees’ differences are better pattern recognition, trending, creativity and innovation.”

The FTSE 100 company’s growing digital intelligence division sells cybersecurity and data analysis services and software to other companies as well as governments. Other parts of the business build the UK’s nuclear submarines and naval ships, but the company has also attracted controversy for selling weapons and surveillance technologies to foreign governments with poor human rights records.

A survey by Code First Girls of 1,250 female coders either studying or in work found that about a fifth identified as neurodivergent. Of those, two-fifths said they have not made their employer or university aware, in some cases because they felt uncomfortable or fearful of being judged. A third said they believed it could affect their career prospects.

Code First Girls said that it encouraged employers to offer tools to help neurodivergent workers, including software to map out thought processes or projects, noise-cancelling headphones and voice-to-text or text-to-voice software.

• The headline and text of this article were amended on 22 November 2022 to refer to individuals as neurodivergent, rather than neurodiverse, in line with editorial guidelines.


Jasper Jolly

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Autism in India: how a pioneering jobs scheme is opening up opportunities
Company says adapting recruitment processes for neurodiverse groups disproportionately affected by unemployment has led to increased innovation

Amrit Dhillon in Delhi

09, Feb, 2021 @6:30 AM

Article image
Siena Castellon: 'Autistic people are really struggling with how uncertain things are'
The 18-year-old autism campaigner and international children’s peace prize finalist on why diagnosis of the condition for girls urgently needs improving

Hannah Summers

11, Nov, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
GCHQ seeks to increase number of female coders to tackle threats
UK intelligence service funding ‘nano-degree’ courses in effort to improve diversity in technology roles

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

29, Aug, 2022 @9:54 AM

Article image
People with dyslexia have skills that we need, says GCHQ
UK surveillance agency says it has long valued neurodiverse analysts such as Alan Turing

Rachel Hall

29, Apr, 2021 @6:00 PM

Article image
Women work two months for free, reveals TUC analysis
New research reveals a 15% pay gap that widens dramatically after women have children

Rupert Neate and Alexandra Topping

23, Feb, 2023 @12:01 AM

Article image
UK retailers not passing on tampon tax savings to women, report says
Exclusive: Abolition of 5% VAT on period products only resulted in 1% cut in prices at most, research finds

Zoe Wood

10, Nov, 2022 @1:29 PM

Article image
Gender diversity in UK tech industry ‘still terrible’, says Martha Lane Fox co-founder, now a peer, says little progress has been made in recent decades

Jasper Jolly

29, Nov, 2022 @6:01 AM

Article image
Women in UK ‘more likely than men to be on low pay and struggling’
Half a million more women than men are paid below real living wage and 13% are on zero-hours contracts

Joanna Partridge

03, Mar, 2023 @6:00 AM

Article image
BAE Systems to cut nearly 2,000 UK jobs
Defence contractor deals blow to manufacturing sector after lack of orders for its Eurofighter Typhoon jet

Julia Kollewe

10, Oct, 2017 @11:06 AM

Article image
Newport semiconductor factory: ‘Losing these jobs would be devastating’
UK government blocked new Chinese ownership on security grounds, but Nexperia bosses had ‘planned to build two new plants’

Jasper Jolly

24, Nov, 2022 @2:08 PM