- Bank of America CISO Craig Froelich is at the helm of a neurodiversity hiring push.
- Neurodiversity is a broad term that encompasses differences in brain function and development.
- Process changes and accommodations made for neurodiverse employees have led to broader benefits.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Carly Ott tells people she tends to think differently than others.
Whether it’s learning a new piece of software in a shorter period of time than her peers, or knowing the best way to load a dishwasher based on the configuration of the racks and shapes of the plates, Ott has a knack for understanding complex systems in ways others can’t.
Ott is neurodivergent, a term used to describe people with differences in brain function and development in comparison to neurotypical people. She was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when she was 28.
However, Ott’s different way of processing things hasn’t slowed down her career.
In fact, that distinct advantage comes in handy in her job as VP of process design for Bank of America‘s enterprise document tools. Ott oversees the way paper moves in and out of the organization and the digitization efforts of physical docs.
With a job that requires her to rethink processes and optimize the way people work with paper, Ott is “literally paid to think differently,” she said.
And Ott isn’t alone. While Bank of America has embraced neurodivergent people as part of its diversity and inclusion efforts for the past decade, its chief information security officer, Craig Froelich, told Insider he’s put a micro focus on the topic for the past two years.
That effort coincides with a looming talent gap that is set to leave about 3.5 million open cybersecurity jobs unfulfilled around the world, many of which are good fits for neurodivergent candidates.
Bank of America is trying to hire more neurodivergent people to fill its ranks
As a chief information security officer at a bank, Froelich’s job is to out-think others.
The best way to do that is to have smart people — who think differently and come from diverse backgrounds — sitting around the table, Froelich said.
“When you think about roles like
reverse engineering or incident management,” spotting patterns or anomalies in different logs is an important skill, Froelich said.
“Neurodivergent people have the ability to process that information at superhuman rates in comparison to their neurotypical folks,” he added.
Within cybersecurity, many roles lend themselves to people who are very technical and have a high level of pattern learning or recognition, he added. Those characteristics are common among the neurodiversity community, which includes people with autism and ADHD.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports roughly one in six children between three and 17 in the US are diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental difference. For autism spectrum disorder specifically, prevalence is estimated to be one in every 189 girls and one in every 42 boys; almost five times more common among boys than girls, according to CDC data.
The bank applied a neurodiverse lens to its hiring process
While Bank of America has looked to hire neurodivergent people for the past decade, an interaction two years ago led Froelich to give a deeper focus to the topic.
While setting out to identify top performers across the bank, Froelich spoke to someone with a learning disability who suggested he make slight tweaks to his work style, like sending a meeting agenda a day prior, that would help the employee perform better.
Froelich soon discovered many top performers on his team were neurodivergent, and that relatively small accommodations would not only create a more accepting environment, but improve employee performance and collaboration overall.
Bank of America also overhauled its job listings to craft posts with a neurodiverse lens. That included simplifying language and removing internal vernacular and jargon. Bank acronyms and industry language were also dropped, when possible.
The bank also rethought whether certain qualifications listed on job postings were required or preferred.
Neurodivergent people can think in very literal terms, Ott said. If someone on the neurodiversity spectrum checked off nine of 10 requirements, they likely wouldn’t apply for the job because of that single outstanding trait, she added.
The result was a higher number of applicants than before and a more diverse pool of applicants. A Bank of America spokesperson declined to offer specific figures.
And changes didn’t just occur at the recruitment level.
Another cultural revelation was the way management worked to understand what neurodivergent employees needed to succeed in the office — like providing a desk lamp for different lighting or noise-cancelling ear phones to phase out distractions. That led to more open lines of communication between employees and managers overall, Froelich said.
The adjustments led to projects getting done faster and with less money as teams were more collaborative thanks to different voices being better understood, Froelich said.
Ott, who is part of the bank’s 17,000-member Disabilities Advocacy Network, said the group is working to grow the number of training courses and resources and to make them more accessible to the wider org.
Neurodiversity is not about the bottom line, but it does help when there’s a talent shortage
The impact of having better neurodivergent representation is more qualitative or cultural than quantitative, Froelich said.
Bank of America doesn’t track the number of neurodivergent people hired, Froelich said, nor does it have a target number it would like to achieve. Its support services business line, which is an in-house marketing and fulfillment operation, employs more than 300 people with cognitive differences, many of whom are neurodivergent.
“It comes from a very simple premise that I’d rather do the right thing than try to hit an arbitrary number,” Froelich said.
In fact, justifying a business use case or benefit to the bottom line was “not something that was ever part of any of our considerations here,” Froelich said, nor has it come up in conversations with peers looking to start similar programs at their respective workplaces.
That said, the efforts do broaden a talent pool during a critical time. There are an estimated 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs globally that are available but will go unfulfilled this year, according to data from Cybersecurity Ventures, an analytics and research firm.
To be sure, the bank has been deliberate in “creating a level playing field,” and not just tacking on a neurodiversity track to its broader diversity and inclusion efforts, Froelich said. Rather, the focus has been on an individual level, neurodivergent or neurotypical.
That mindset has led management to better understand how to match an employee’s skills to a role, or have clear communication between managers and employees about expectations. While these efforts may have stemmed from creating a more diverse workforce, they have improved culture and policy more broadly.
“Each of the people that work with [Carly] today are meeting her where she’s at. They’ve chosen intentionally to be able to say, ‘What can we do to have a more successful working relationship?’ First of all, that requires a lot of empathy and understanding and real maturity to do that and do that at scale,” Froelich said. “That’s goodness regardless of whether or not you’re talking with someone who’s neurodivergent or neurotypical.”