Lisa Ventura is an award-winning cyber security awareness consultant, writer, and speaker. She is the Founder of Cyber Security Unity, a global community organisation that is dedicated to bringing individuals and companies together who actively work in cyber security to help combat the growing cyber threat. Lisa is also a mindset and mental health coach and is the Founder of #AllTogetherNow which offers help and support to those affected by bullying and abuse in cyber security and Infosec.

There are 88,000 people with hidden and visible disabilities ‘missing’ from the tech workforce, according to the professional body for IT.

People with disabilities make up 15% of the UK workforce but account for only 11% of the technology specialists, analysis by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT shows.

That means for representation in IT to be equal to workplace norm, there should be an additional 88,000 IT specialists with disabilities employed in the UK.

BCS’ newly published report ‘The Experience of Neurodiverse and Disabled People in IT’, reviewed the latest ONS Labour Force Survey data and also sought feedback from over 50 IT experts all (of which had additional needs) about their views on the tech sector.

The gap persists despite an increase in the number of people working in the tech sector reporting disabilities rising from 196,000 people in 2021 to 208,000 in 2022 (the most recent year of ONS figures).

Matthew Bellringer, founding member of the BCS’ Neurodiversity Specialist Group, said: “It’s clear that the IT profession itself can and should be an excellent place for disabled and neurodivergent people, and digital tools can be a great enabler.

“However, it’s disappointing — though not terribly surprising — that many barriers still exist. While the situation is improving, it is frustrating to see, as many of these are very simple to address.

“Any organisation’s first step is to listen to their staff and customers. Doing this is one of the most effective steps any organisation can take to fully access the incredible talent available.”

Cyber security expert Lisa Ventura MBE, who campaigns for diversity in the tech sector said:

“More needs to be done to promote the positive side of employing people with disabilities and who are neurodiverse –  such as championing their resilience, and ability to look at issues, and solve problems, from a different perspective.

“It’s also essential to ensure accessible products and initiatives are evaluated as fit for purpose and not just imposed regardless – one size does not fill all of us.

“Introducing more inclusive practices can benefit all workers. Everyone’s physical, sensory and cognitive abilities vary, and improving matters for people with more significant requirements can help all who share that need to any extent.”

Some neurodiverse people contributing to the report appealed for better understanding, and one described their anxiety in the workplace: “I feel like an alien trying to hide my neurodiversity.” Another said: “Not making eye contact seems to be seen as submissiveness, not just simply that I don’t want to.” 

Some with hearing difficulties spoke about the practical issues they encountered, such as enduring vastly different audio levels in online meetings. One respondent said: “I miss much of what some people say; not being able to keep up with the rate of speech; complete inaudibility in meeting rooms due to noisy air-conditioning means I can’t turn up my hearing aid volume.”

Recommendations from the BCS report include:

  • Greater education and awareness of disability in the workplace
  • Ensuring clear communication in meetings that encompass all needs
  • Appropriate workplace adjustments 
  • An inclusive recruitment process
  • Suitable assistive technology that works for the individual 
  • A supportive work environment where disabled employees have a voice, are listened to and have their views respected
  • Better training for managers and coworkers to understand and rectify the barriers to work faced by disabled people  
  • Fostering a culture that discourages discriminatory behaviours 
  • Pro-active initiatives – for instance, consciously deploying neurodiverse individuals in teams. 
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