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CyberPsych Episode 3: CISOs: Empathy for Neurodivergence Required with Wendy Nather, Head of Advisory CISOs, Cisco

Episode #3| October 31, 2023
Also listen on: Spotify Apple Podcast

About the Guests:

Wendy Nather

Head of Advisory CISOs, Cisco
Wendy Nather leads the Advisory CISO team at Cisco. She was previously Research Director at the Retail ISAC, where she was responsible for advancing the state of resources and knowledge to help organizations defend their infrastructure from attackers. Wendy was also Research Director of the Information Security Practice at independent analyst firm 451 Research, covering the security industry in areas such as application security, threat intelligence, security services, and other emerging technologies. Wendy has served as a CISO in both the private and public sectors. She led IT security for the EMEA region of the investment banking division of Swiss Bank Corporation (now UBS), as well as for the Texas Education Agency. Wendy is co-author of The Cloud Security Rules, and was listed as one of SC Magazine's Women in IT Security "Power Players" in 2014, as well as an “Influencer” in the Reboot Leadership Awards in 2018; she was inducted into the Infosecurity Europe Hall of Fame in 2021. She serves on the advisory board for Sightline Security, an organization that helps provide free security assessment services to nonprofit groups. Wendy is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council's Cyber Statecraft Initiative, as well as a Senior Cybersecurity Fellow at the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin. She is based in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Read The Transcript

Dr. Stacy Thayer: Hello and welcome to CyberPsych, a Netography podcast where we talk with industry professionals about the human side of technology how it relates to the field of security, and how it impacts the overall business I’m your host Dr. Stacy Thayer. I’m a cyberpsychologist and Senior manager of research and engagement at photography so I’m here today with special guest Wendy Nather. Wendy leads the advisory CISO team at  Cisco she’s also served as a ciso in both the public and private sectors been an industry analyst is the co-author of the cloud security rules and has numerous accolades that reflect absolutely just how awesome she is uh and if you’ve been lucky enough also to attend one of her talks or meet her in person you know she has an incredible amount of experience and knowledge in just about every area of the security industry to but today she’s here to talk about something that’s near and dear to her heart which is neurodiversity in the security industry which is a topic I’m also really excited to talk with her about so welcome Wendy we’re happy to have you here.

Wendy Nather:  Thank you thank you Stacy. I’m so excited to have this conversation with you 

Dr. Stacy Thayer: So if you could start off by just sharing your experience with neurodivergence and what it was about this topic that when we first started talking about it got you excited about it and it’s near and dear to your heart and experience I’d love to hear more about uh your experience with it 

Wendy Nather: You know we we’ve gained so much more awareness and knowledge and understanding of of neurodivergence in the last you I want to say 10 years or so uh but before that uh well I grew up with neurodivergent people in my family I married somebody who was neurod Divergent my kids are neurodivergent and I discovered  while getting them diagnosed in my 40s that I’m als also neurodivergent so um there’s just so much that I’ve lived through and experienced and tried to learn both from my kids and from myself and from my colleagues that  I think it’s a rich topic that we absolutely need to talk about more 


Dr. Stacy Thayer:     absolutely and what’s been what I’ve noticed it’s been interesting is when we look at what neurodivergence is Right neurotypical versus neurodivergence or not and and the understanding that there the brain works in different ways whether it’s so when we talk about neurodivergence being um uh ADHD OCD uh being on the um autism spectrum or I mean really any of it and I always tend to see neurodivergence as a spectrum that all of us that we all have a little OCD we all have a little ADHD I mean not to to to um you know say that not everybody’s diagnosable and that you know that there’s certainly the diagnosis of it but that it’s something that everybody can at least on some level empathize with to be able to understand and and kind of reach out and bridge the gap between an individual who is diagnosed neurodivergent or not there seems to be more 

Wendy Nather:   and you’re right it’s a spectrum or you know kind of a constellation and there’s so much overlap uh between different sympt symptoms there’s some things that tend to cluster together uh where you see one you see another one and one of the most important things I’ve had to do to explain to my kids as they try to understand themselves is to say you know the labels are not as important they’re a way of trying to capture a constellation of symptoms but um you know they depending on what you find out about yourself and where you fall they might change the label and say well now we think of this it’s this or you responded to this medication so therefore you’re now this and I I try to explain to them that it’s you know they can’t take the label for the whole truth because we you know as adults are still trying to figure all this out and we’re just trying to cast different nets on it to try to capture it and understand it ourselves but it doesn’t mean that they’re trapped within the net I don’t know if that makes sense 

Dr. Stacy Thayer:   well I think actually if you think about in society today I mean there’s all sorts of thing all all sorts of labels right are you Facebook official are you in a relationship are you you know what is it     you know do how do we label anything right now when it when it things are shifting and um you know what to to when I was younger and so for for me I was uh ADHD and that didn’t really even exist as a label I was just that annoying kid that the teachers hated who clicked her pens all the time or you know chewed on her fingers or you know whatever it was that like one of these things is not like the other and that one thing was always me um but there was no for it just the experience   and and 

Wendy Nather: I understand that for some people a label comes with a certain amount of validation   so you can say oh it’s not just me and and that’s where a lot of advocates uh for neurodivergence say you know it’s not it’s not just you it’s the world is designed in a way that makes it difficult for you to function in it but it’s not necessarily your fault so that that’s another really important message that you know I think we need to get out there for people um that a lot of this where we and this is just my opinion you’re the professional but um uh my my own experience is that a lot of the neurodivergence shows up in the in the difficulty in matching or aligning or sinking between a person and an environment or two people and you start noticing it when we we sort of expect a certain amount of synchronization to just happen when we talk about empathy we imagine that we really know how somebody else feels but it’s very clear when I’m talking with you know my kid who is on the autism spectrum that things can go horribly horribly wrong even though I think that I’m explaining something in a way that um most people would understand they may completely misinterpret it and so it was um it for example it’s not that autistic people don’t have empathy or or that they don’t um you know they’re not upset when they upset somebody they’re at they care deeply they they absolutely do but and my kid can read me and read my emotions but the problem is that they can’t um kind of reverse engineer it and figure out exactly why I’m feeling that way that’s where it’s difficult for them they may completely misinterpret why I’m feeling that way so it’s been painful for me as a parent to realize you know that kind of natural bonding thing that mothers are supposed to have with their kids didn’t happen and uh I didn’t know for many many years why it didn’t happen that way and it’s still you know problematic for me but it means we have to do a lot of extra explicit work to try to synchronize in places where those gaps are 

Dr. Stacy Thayer:  you when I when I was growing up and you know clearly the way that I learned wasn’t the way that everybody else learned and my my mother was a learning and reading specialist actually and the this gonna be I’m gonna put this on her tombstone I think sorry Mom but good students use good resources and and what she meant by that she would tell me that over and over and over again um what she meant was that was that you find your way around it if you don’t learn this way then you go and you get a tutor and you go and you do this you persevere and that’s not the easiest thing I’m pretty sure if I went back in time and asked my you know 16-year-old self how I felt about it the outlook is not good there my friend but but you know to this day when um like I I will personally I’ll forget you’re not in my head so I’m talking about something as if you just are going to know exactly what I’ve talk what I’m talking about because I’m you know 10 sentences ahead and the person who I’m talking to is like wait okay you just skipped   what way ahead of me

Wendy Nather: you didn’t you didn’t show your work there   flashbacks 

Dr. Stacy Thayer:   exactly I didn’t show my work here’s the answer here you go and I to stop and stop and slow down and basically to compensate in some way is really really hard and so you say a little bit more about you know your experience with with that and and how either with your own experience with your kids I mean how have you learned to uh either identify areas or or kind of just overcome the the what to me always feels like a a wall I have to climb over 

Wendy Nather:   and it’s very difficult the the first thing is to teach you kids I think self-awareness to understand um you know what’s going on in their head and be able to analyze it and do Reality Checking against it because uh I also have experience with one of my kids um having U skitso effective disorder which is schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and so when they have had psychotic episodes um that was taking things to another completely different level and trying to reach them where they were and giving them the emotional support that they needed because they were terrified but also saying okay let me teach you how to test your reality because what you’re thinking right now is not uh you know is not correct and you know want to reassure you but I have to do it in a way that you’re going to accept so you know I had to do a lot of adaptation on the Fly and figured this out because this is not in parenting books none of this stuff is you know when when your kid comes home and and is is telling you that somebody followed them home and they’re bullying them you tend to just believe it and you know you go okay let me talk to the teachers let me find out who it is then when they say that they’re outside and they’re on the roof and they just fell down and broke their leg and you outside and there’s nobody there then your brain just does a huge shift and goes oh my God this is completely different from the way I thought it was   and to kind of move this into the workforce um I’ve had this experience too where you talk with an employee and you think you’re having a logical argument with them and they’re reacting very differently from what you would expect and you finally realize that they’re on a completely different planet from you and they’re not com coming back  so you have to think as a manager and go okay how do I deal with this now because a lot of the assumptions that I had about being able to reach them are not going to work   so so what do I do and again this is something I’ve had a lot of management training this is not something they teach you in management training either so I know I’m kind of lumping together what we usually call mental illness with neurodivergence but I really don’t think there’s a big difference um I don’t know if it’s you know very crude to say that that the one type of problem you can treat with medication and the other you can’t but I I don’t know there there are all sorts of things that are it’s

Dr. Stacy Thayer: The Human Experience   it’s The Human Experience One One Way or Another and I think you know what as you said when you’re a manager um you’ve got all different types of people and I mean this can be anything from just your person who you usually understand is suddenly having a bad day or something has happened in their life that’s disrupting them I think as any manager is trying to um work with different people it’s it’s a challenge there’s a lot of different personalities and so   I’d love to get your thoughts on so you know the role of neurode Divergence in the security industry because we’re seeing you know a lot of that for lots of different reasons whether it’s Focus complex problems um you know the the different the ability to multitask um and then   what what it’s like managing them uh you know so let’s say you’re a you’re a CISO or security leader you’ve got a thousand things that are stressing you out but then you also have a team with one or more neurodiivergent individuals can you share your thoughts or experiences with that

Wendy Nather:      um and and as you said you know neurodivergence presents itself in so many different ways um and I think as a manager I’ve learned that I just cannot make assumptions about how somebody is going to want to operate when they join my team what they like what they don’t like what they’re stronger at um there I I’ve known some people who are just you know if you have social anxiety I’m not going to send you into a meeting to try to present something to a very skeptical audience that’s just not fair I’ll say look okay you can work on this on the other hand um you know I I discovered that I had ADHD in my 40s and it wasn’t until well a lot of things made sense after that like the fact that I have moved house you know and state and Country approximately 70 times you know was that kind of you know that that sort of thing is kind of a tip off or you know that I have jumped from very different role to very different role because anytime I see something really interesting I’m like sure I’ll try that   why not um so you know recognizing that in other people and realizing that it can often come with a problem with executive function where I will see somebody on my team who’s got like 15 things started and none of them finished and they don’t realize that they may you know be in the same situation I am and you know I’m it’s not my job as a manager to diagnose them I certainly can’t I shouldn’t but what I can do and what I have done is um for example offered all of my people the opportunity um to have a free session or two with an executive coach who I know you know can can point out some of these issues and it’s you know in a way that I don’t have to get involved with as a manager I can just say look you know I’m going to give you some free sessions whatever you want to do with these sessions is up to you but sometimes they come back and go huh I wonder if I have ADHD and I go well you know that might be something to look into   because it can affect everything in your day where you cannot just sit up and do things I will I will have a form that I have to print out and sign and if I’m not on my ADHD meds I will go oh God printing is hard and I’ll put it off and I’ll put it off and I’ll put it off and then 15 minutes after I take my pill Suddenly It’s not a problem it’s fun I can do the thing and it’s such an incredible difference that I know internally that it is not just a case of well you just need to be more disciplined   because I was compensating for this for 40 years it’s not you know that I wasn’t able to organize or think or everything it was just that additional neurological thing that needed to be fixed and now I know that I can take a pill when I’m fighting something and I can do the thing and I know you know when the pill wears off I end up sitting like this with my head in my hands my head just blank trying to think of the next thing to do and I I’ve told people close to me if they see me sitting like this tell me because I need to take another dose of my medication so I can get back to it so it’s that sort of thing the day-to-day um operations of somebody on the team and being able to look at it and go you know have you thought about this because um you know this is again this is not your fault and I’m not as a manager I’m not you know trying to um you know to give you a hard time about this and I’m not you know I don’t want to put this in a performance um you know report or anything like that because I know this is not your fault but let’s see what we can do to help you with this because you’ve got these 15 things open and you’re not you’re not getting any of them done and that is a performance problem so walking that line you know without diagnosing them because you’re not a medical professional but saying I see the this type of thing going on and I’m very familiar with it myself you know is there anything I can do to help   um it’s a tricky thing

Dr. Stacy Thayer: it is it is and one thing that I’ve been sensitive to my life is being what I call set up for success and so there’s because there’s things that there’s things that I can do that I love doing and just come out naturally and it’s like it’s amazing and then other things that I know are not my strong suit and usually those are attention to detail like my whole life more attention to detail slow slow down more attention to detail and so like if I’m doing a job and it’s here look at this spreadsheet for patterns and error like I’m gonna gloss over I’m not going see like it’s too it’s too detailed and my my brain goes crazy I get super irritable about it because if I get distracted if somebody comes in and distracts me I’m like you don’t you don’t know how bad this is to distract me right now because focus I’m going to make mistakes I live in fear of this um and so I know that if there’s roles or jobs that include that is that really the best match for me versus my colleague over here or you know somebody over there who excels who could who can you know like editing right I’m a terrible editor and I always need to have somebody edit that’s one of my compensation ticks have somebody edit what it is that I’m writing for typos and things like that but um   that I mean have you been able can can CISO and leaders afford to to do that when things are moving so quickly and go okay you with who’s really good at attention to detail you’re going to be awesome at spotting and looking at all of these reports and you over here who’s kind of the big picture I want you to be thinking about how we’re going to communicate security practices to the team like or is it for a CISO so just we got to get this done I don’t have time to think about what you’re all good at we don’t have enough resources as it is get going 

Wendy Nather:   I would definitely not encourage that second attitude because uh to me being a leader is is you know not just saying this is what we have to do just go do it but helping everybody you know setting them up for success as you put it and that means you have to be able to match your management style to theirs and figure out that deploying your resources in the right ways they do this really well in the military you know that the best corporate leaders do this as well it’s really understanding your people because you are nothing without your people   and so again it’s it it’s trying to um you know find like for example if there’s somebody on my team who does not have attention to detail I’m not going to send them an email because I know they’re not going to read it or they’re going to skim over it but I know that uh sending them an instant message in in you know just a giant a little piece is much easier for them to digest because they’re really good at responding to all sorts of stimuli coming in from every place and they’re going to notice everything as long as it’s short enough they’re going to they’re going to see it and they’re going to ingest it so I know that that’s the best way to communicate with them um I know that there are people who just absolutely love moving from one topic to another uh you know to get interested interested in something and there are other people who are very happy just doing the same thing over and over again for years and you have to know all these these differences and you have to be aware and open to the fact that there’s something you’re going to miss for example um both my kids have auditory processing disorders which never showed up because it’s not a hearing problem they can hear they can pass hearing test just fine it’s just that if there’s a room full of people talking they cannot make out what somebody is saying to them so fine you know got to figure out not to put them in crowds because they they just can’t process it as well so if I notice that somebody you know didn’t pick up on things in a meeting and that and this happens regularly I me think okay if I want them to you know be able to hear and and understand and analiz something it can’t be in a crowded room so that you know you have to be prepared for anything that comes to you from your people in the form of something that they you know can or can’t do something that you assumed was fine for everybody is not necessarily fine for everybody so that that’s the simplest way I I think I can put it.

Dr. Stacy Thayer: No that it it makes a lot of sense and you had said earlier which I think really hun it in is that if you can have that self-awareness so one self-awareness is an individual who may or may not be neurodivergent I mean even just in general if everybody has a self-awareness of their strengths and their weaknesses that’s helpful but then as a manager and a leader having that awareness of your team and hopefully the trust in communication where if somebody comes to you and says I I’m trying it’s not that I don’t want to do these 15 things I’m stuck and I need your help getting unstuck or uh my attention to detail isn’t great I’m sorry that there there’s a lot of edits you have to make or mistakes what can I do how can we get around this and it becomes teamwork 

Wendy Nather:   absolutely and and the more time you spend helping to hone your team for you know towards their strengths the better it’s going to be when you’re dealing with unexpected things uh and situations especially if you’ve got an incident that everybody’s got to work with everybody knows who’s best at what on the team and they can work better together once they know that once they understand that instead of all of this thrashing of people trying to do things they’re not suited for and they’re trying to do it in a hurry and they’re under stress that’s just going to make your your situation worse as a CISO

Dr. Stacy Thayer:   now have you ever had the experience say when neurodivergence meets neurodiivergent so you’ve got say somebody who uh maybe has visual processing meets auditory processing or OCD meets ADHD um you know now you’ve got two people that need to work together and it’s just the communication isn’t there uh and sometimes there’s not even a willingness to have it be there it’s just too frustrating 

Wendy Nather:     absolutely and it’s again it’s the gaps that I talked about the the you run up against they go why why does she not get that you know this is so frustrating because I get it I think it’s obvious why does she not get it that’s why I think neurodivergence has to be maybe not with that term but just part of the cultural awareness of a team that you know some people can do some things and some people can do different things better and don’t assume that you’re you’re communicating  perfectly with your with your colleagues get to know them and how they prefer to do things and this can be in any sort of situation for example non-native English speakers uh if you’re speaking in a a language that’s not your your native tongue you tend to you know be um insecure about it you tend to use simpler words because that’s the vocabulary you have and as a result you feel kind of stupid speaking this other language because you’re saying it like you know I like the thing you know instead of being able to say what you’re used to in your native language   and that and this can also make you sound very blunt so when I’ve worked with International Teams uh for example German speakers tend to come across as very blunt when they’re speaking or writing in English and uh it doesn’t mean that they’re rude or antagonistic or anything like that it’s just they’re not using their native language and they’re just being very plain about what they’re saying so I’ve had to take people who you know tend tended to get upset at these communications and say look just get on the phone with this person and have a virtual beer and just talk about don’t talk about work, talk about anything else but you know just get to know each other and then you’ll get to understand that the way they speak you know is is just a function of it not being their native language and you got to you know make allowances for that   um so all sorts of different neurodivergence things again if if you if you have a a if you’ve built up a cultural awareness around it so that people know that they can’t assume things and they are ready to try to figure out what’s going wrong in this communication or  why this person is not getting the thing done that they asked them to or you know or things like that um I think it’ll be more natural to um you know kind of reach out and try different tactics now not everybody is capable  of trying different styles again because neurodivergence um so they might say look this is the way I talk this is I can’t do it any other way uh I’m sorry this is just me and especially if you’re neurodivergent and less aware because that that sort of that sort of internal modeling doesn’t come with your wiring because of your neurodivergence you just can’t do it uh i’ I’ve known some people who were like that too um they realized it was a problem but they just you know they couldn’t they couldn’t change that’s when you have to step in as a leader and go okay you know here are the things that are you can safely do or maybe you know write things out like have some sort of not a contract but sort of a memorandum of agreement with the person you’re having trouble with and saying when I say this you know I think it means this what do you think it means what are you going to do if I say this to you um what should I say to you instead and in as much as you have to work together negotiate the terms of those interactions you would think that you wouldn’t have to write them out and with me with ADHD I hate writing things out it feels redundant to me but it it does uh it does help when you have to get that explicit 

Dr. Stacy Thayer:   well I’ve run into uh Security leaders or just leaders in general they say I have this person on my staff who just says just let me do my work my way I’ll deliver but leave me alone and and puts up that wall around them and a lot of times there’s that hesitation of okay they’re delivering is that just who they are do I try and get them over the wall do we like is the only way to connect to them I just have to kind of persevere through it or do you just let them be an outlier to the team but can that be detrimental have you run into any situations like that we’ve just go to I am who I am leave me alone don’t talk to me I won’t talk to you but I’ll get my work done kind of people 

Wendy Nather:   absolutely and again if the assumption is in order to have a team everybody has to be happy happy and you know engage with each other and all that that’s not necessarily the case either   um because you’re you’re there to to to do work to perform functions to be of service to each other not to control each other uh and because that’s a a mistake a lot of people make in security they think it’s a Control Function in the organization it shouldn’t be it should be a service organization and so   there are some people that you know espe I I’m not sure why but I see this a lot in networking that there are people who are just leave me alone you know I’m brilliant in what I do I’m just going to do my thing but don’t try to make friends with me don’t try to create the same emotional engagement you do with everybody else because I’m just not down with that   and you have to be okay with that and and realize that um you know know that was your assumption as to how things were going to go and you have to let that go 

Dr. Stacy Thayer:     it’s really great advice uh so what do you think are the advantages of hiring neurodivergent individuals

Wendy Nather:  um well it I I think it’s I don’t know that’s kind of a tricky question in that it it it it makes me feel kind of like you know I wouldn’t you wouldn’t ordinarily hire a neurodivergent person and I’m trying to make the case that you should whereas you know I feel like everybody’s neurodivergent in a little in larger or smaller ways and so it’s not that I’m going to go look for a neurod Divergent person I know there are organizations that deliberately seek out people on the autism spectrum you know for one thing or another um I think that oversimplifies what types of neurodivergence there are and it almost stereotypes especially people on the autism spectrum to say oh you’re good at details I’m going to get you to come and do nothing but Excel spreadsheets   uh because I need somebody who will do this but with autism comes so many other things which can include volatile emotions um and and you know all sorts of overlapping um symptoms with other issues including OCD or um you know everything else that you can’t pick people for one character istic and so I think what you have to do is hire the whole person and figure out what they can do but once you figure out their strengths it’s like anybody else you’re like great you know you really love doing this you know doing this thing with details I’m going to let you do that because I’m really bad at it um and that’s the way I think we should be thinking about this not doing a campaign to hire people because that kind of others them and people start to think well maybe I shouldn’t hire them because you know what if they’re a problem to manage right and and we want to get as far away from that as we can   

Dr. Stacy Thayer: When I was applying for jobs and there’s like the little tick of you know are you ADH you know I forget exactly what the question is but you can basically indicate okay yes I am I’m some way of neurodivergent and I must have spent way too much time overthinking it going like well are you hiring this like or should I but then I don’t and it it kind I’m an overthinker right it’s like well     how how does that that work is it a good thing are there people out there and I imagine you know like anything there’s people out there who a want to avoid neurodivergence and hiring because they’re not comfortable maybe or you know for whatever reasons and then there’s people who might be looking for that whatever it is so why I like your statement

Wendy Nather: HR is just you know saying I want you to I want you to track the numbers that’s that’s the only thing this is for but you don’t know that when you’re filling out an app 

Dr. Stacy Thayer:  It’s better just to hire for the person because right nobody’s guaranteed superpowers nobody’s guaranteed anything uh which kind of brings us back to the labels right like just you’re more than just a label You’re More Than Just A diversity hire you know whatever it it is um 

Wendy Nather:     I mean it’s great when you get somebody who thinks differently from the rest of the team and you think wow you know you’re bringing perspectives that we couldn’t have thought of that is really awesome but it’s really hard to go shopping for that when you’re looking for a candidate yes. It’s better just to ask them what excites you what are you interested in what kind of things have you done that you’re really proud of and you can kind of glean from that um you know I picked up on these these issues that nobody else saw and then you go wow great we could really use that or somebody who’s just you know I love to learn about things I love to learn about as many things as I can just throw me into something new and I’ll figure it out   that’s another really great strength so and we need that in cyber security because the field is so broad

Dr. Stacy Thayer:    I also like to ask people what’s their working style like because for for years for me I I sitting there from 9 to5 was almost painful I mean really it was just hard on do and I would end up okay this is when I was in college doing the like you know I I would end up okay is it time oh I can go early oh okay you’re done for the day and then there would be my you know colleagu to be like I want more hours and if I could get a break and then come back like that night or something like that I I mean I’ll work 247 for you if you allow me my intermittent breaks throughout the time I’ll I’ll be on the I’ll be checking my email at 7 night 9ine at night I don’t just just work 9 to5 but I need those 12 hours 13 whatever it is you get my you know you know what I’m saying I but um   and it’s been when I’ve had people work for me and they say look sometimes I’ll take the afternoon but then I’ll reply to something at night that doesn’t mean that you have to respond right away and we just talk about it right up front what are your peak hours of working um and not even just for general not just neurodivergence in general but sometimes that can uh help you know I know people that I focus really well from 2 am to 4 am okay

Wendy Nather:   that is so important for people to be able to you know feel free to talk about this is what I can do and when I can do it uh like for example right now I’m struggling with with brain fog as a result of long coid and that means that I can’t do more than one maybe two meetings in a row and then I have to lie down and I get mentally exhausted as well as physically exhausted I cannot focus I cannot solve anything I have to lie down and I think we’re going to see more of this as the pandemic continues I’m sorry it’s not over and you know people coming in maybe not realizing that they have brain fog they just know that they get really tired and they need a nap at 2m. and they need to be able to come back to work after that and we got to be ready for this we have to be able to accommodate it because it’s it’s going to be part of the fabric of of humanity     uh and I think that that comes to again what are people’s working Styles

Dr. Stacy Thayer: I said earlier so I have I have issues with my thyroid and when it is off right I’m tired I have trouble focusing I have trouble saying the right words like   I’m like wait that’s not the word I meant to say what just came out of my mouth and like and you know when I it’s not that I can’t deliver or I don’t care or I’m not a good employee uh I’m ready to show up and and work as hard as I can but I’m human and have limitations and when I’ve had people work for me when I’ve said you know do what you can do but as you said earlier there’s that open communication and awareness of like and trust like I’m going to deliver I’m not just here you know and and I’m not going to get these things done um but letting people be human because we are that 

Wendy Nather: that’s so true and I think part of this ha has been poisoned by the Silicon Valley originally Puritan work ethic sort of thing where you think if you’re not going 247 if you’re not working hard you don’t care or you’re not smart enough if you make mistakes it means you’re sloppy um you know all these negative things that we have about people who don’t act the way the CEO might or you know some EVP who you know is is not dealing with the same challenges that other people are and like you said we we have to make a space for these people to be able to come in and say this is this is how I need to work these are the limitations that I have and not Fe or not even say limitations but you know this is the structure that I work best with I think that’s a good kind of you know corporate way of putting it instead of saying I have all these limitations which makes you think you know that you’re you’re telling them that you know you’re crappy at your job um but just to understand that we all need these different things even if we’re not aware of them and we find out we don’t find these things out in school necessarily we just know that something’s difficult for us and we think the problem is us but when you get older and and you finally figure out oh   that why I was never really good at this or this is why I only have an attention span of two to five years in any given job um and realizing that I cannot remember things anymore the way I used to and so if I if I see you at in at a conference and you know you remember that we had you know this wild evening where we went and climbed up a glass pyramid and in Switzerland and all those kind and I don’t remember it don’t take it personally you know this is this is just just what I’m living with now but I can still come up with really good ideas I can still have inspiration and that’s what I want to focus on so we all need the freedom to be able to do you know one or the other ask for what we need and we need as managers to be able to maybe anticipate it and offer it because uh that will help make for happier employees   

Dr. Stacy Thayer: How do you think that we can bring awareness of neurodivergence I mean not just you know from managers but also for um the people who may be neurodivergent or ex having some of the um signs of it but may not know it 

Wendy Nather:   that again that’s really difficult because you can’t as a leader you can’t just walk up to somebody in in an environment and say I think you have ADHD

Dr. Stacy Thayer: HR will be called very quickly. Do not recommend 

Wendy Nather:   not recommend so you know and and also it’s still in a lot of circles sounds like a weakness or an illness or a disorder I mean it’s got a d right on there disorder and I I hate that um because some of the people with ADHD are some of the most brilliant people I know and some of the best innovators um it’s just that there are things that they they like to work at and things that they don’t like to work at so I think having the discussion openly and starting with yourself you know and and working with employees and going   you know God I hate doing time sheets don’t ever make me do a time sheet um but you know II will do this do you like doing time could you do it could you do this thing for me um and and you know figuring out and having that that open discussion but trying the challenge is not trying to paint it as though everybody on your team has a disability of some kind because some people really hate that label too and even though legal it is to your advantage as an employee if you put it in writing and say look you know I have ADHD and I need these accommodations um legally and from an HR perspective it’s better these days if you do it that way it can have a psychic toll on you because you’re you know you’re acting like you’re not 100%  or you know or you may feel like you’re not 100% And you absolutely are because you were hired for certain talents and certain skills and you’re doing those things uh you’re fulfilling them don’t try to compare yourself to somebody else who is uh you know has a different brain than you do   um so I think just making having the conversation building that trust as you said by by opening up doing disclosure um role modeling how you interact with people how you take the time to make something explicit that you would think didn’t need to be said but but it does um modeling all of that with your team and letting them see that I think can is better than making them watch an awareness video go god I hate videos people talk to slowly it drives me crazy do not put anything in a video.

Dr. Stacy Thayer: no double the speed to go through it!  I think kind of going back to what we were saying about labels and um so for me I grew up in a very academic household my mother was a dean like this is one of the reason why I knew by the time I was like eight years old that whatever I was doing in school I was going all the way with it because Academia was God as far as like it was in my house and but this was a generation you know my parents are older it was and and you know we’ve gotten into a lot of discussions about that this is not the way of thinking because hands down some of the smartest people I know are have not followed through the educational food chain right and and I’m not as one of the reasons why even though for me I like school and I just like the learning process when somebody is hiring and they say well they need this degree and it’s like no they don’t no they really don’t it doesn’t mean anything and I think all of us in one way or another are limited are strong or you know and and we don’t want to be put in a box or necessarily a label yes it has its advantages yes sometimes it’s it’s a past to saying okay this is how you know who I am and how you can help understand me but as a leader I think I would think that understanding everyone on your team whether they’re neurodivergent or not but their strengths their weaknesses how they interact uh and then not pinholing people like oh you you had those careless errors because you didn’t care it’s like well no it’s not that I didn’t care I just I I don’t see them in the same way somebody who is having a mood can’t smile that day like you know or doesn’t want to put on a happy face I mean we all have our our pieces to us that make us human

Wendy Nather:  exactly I mean I’m I’m a liberal arts Dropout myself and uh and I like it turns out that I like liberal arts because there were just so many different things to learn that that tickled my ADHD but I dropped out because I couldn’t stand to sit in the classroom anymore I cannot do training cannot stand it um and so that’s you know just you know understanding myself and knowing that I I shouldn’t make myself do that and I don’t have to make myself do that is is good but if you trying for example if you’re neurodivergent and you were trying to figure out what would be area would be best for you in cyber security um I don’t know if we have enough ways of figuring this out that really address the way you think um you know like I’m I’m a generalist and people say no there there can’t be any generalists in in uh infosec anymore I don’t believe that I mean I can go and on a stage and talk for 10 minutes about anything maybe not cryptography but you know anything else I I can talk about um and that’s the sort of position I’ve built for myself if you are the sort of person who is really good at finding things that are wrong or finding gaps finding vulnerabilities then you know  hence to security research and and Pen testing and and vulnerability if you’re the kind of person who likes going oh you missed a spot then maybe don’t put that person in front of the board but they’re going to be very valuable in in particular ways so I would encourage people who are are working on their career in cyber security to take this opportunity to think about you know honestly what things do you really enjoy and what just just drives you crazy when you have to do it and then try to find those paths in in security that that meet your strengths and and your enjoyment it it’s not always going to be something that you enjoy but at least it it shouldn’t be torture you know you shouldn’t think there’s something wrong with you and um and make yourself do it anyway 

Dr. Stacy Thayer: Well said well said. Thank you so much for your time and your Insight it’s been such a pleasure to have you I love these conversations and you know looking at the security industry from a different perspective so thank you so much for your wisdom and expertise here 

Wendy Nather: oh thank you Stacy this has been great

Dr. Stacy Thayer:  For those of you tuning in thank you so much for tuning in to this episode and I will see you next time