A collage of headlines about staffing shortages.

How To Address Talent Shortage Using DEI Lessons From Cybersecurity and Healthcare

The U.S. is 22 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the country is no longer facing high unemployment rates, a shortage of workers remains. According to CBS News, two of the best fields to be in right now are healthcare and cybersecurity, given the rise in COVID-19 infections from the omicron variant and an increase in cyberattacks. Since these two industries have been in the spotlight, many of their DEI policies have come under scrutiny, and the lessons learned can inform how other companies implement diverse and inclusive hiring practices.


According to TechCrunch’s Cat Contillo, different minds and perspectives need to be brought together to close the skills gap in cybersecurity. The strategy often involves embracing neurodiversity, a concept that recognizes the natural variations of the human brain in people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, Tourette syndrome and other cognitive and developmental disorders.

Contillo has autism and was always aware she had a “different operating system,” but she didn’t understand why until she was diagnosed.

“My diagnosis gave me a purpose,” she wrote. “It’s a purpose I’ve taken with me into the working world, and it’s helped me realize how vital neurodiverse individuals can and will be to the cybersecurity industry.”

Many people with autism fall into the category of being pattern thinkers and are highly detail-oriented, excelling in math, music and technical disciplines, making them ideal candidates for work in cybersecurity.

“These [attributes] allow someone in a threat-hunting position to find those subtle differences between malicious and non-malicious code and catch the threats that automated tools might miss,” she said. “We also have the ability to hyper-focus, which allows us to concentrate on problem-solving and stick with complex issues that other people may abandon.”

While there’s a lot of neurodiverse talent that may be interested in cybersecurity and other tech-related roles, everyone has different skills, interests, strengths and weaknesses.

However, neurodivergent people can succeed when certain characteristics are nurtured and put in the right environment. Some of these characteristics include being detail-oriented, closely following rules, pattern recognition and thinking outside the box.

Recruiting and Retaining Neurodiverse Talent

Mastercard (No. 5 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021) is one of the leading companies working diligently toward closing the skills gap by focusing on neurodiverse talent.

In an interview with DiversityInc, Alissa Abdullah, or Dr. Jay as she likes to be called, Deputy Chief Security Officer at Mastercard, said her company had a Pilot Neurodiversity Hiring Program late last year. The company conducted a five-day virtual hiring event and adjusted its recruiting process based on what it had learned from its partnership with the advocacy group, Neurodiversity in the Workplace.

“We partnered with them and learned that the recruiting process isn’t the same, and so we made it more of a skills-based demonstration, which we’ve seen is beneficial for those in the neurodiverse candidate portfolio,” she said.

The goal is to find the best way to engage neurodiverse groups, which includes the recruiting and hiring process but also extends to retention. Dr. Jay said once an employee is brought on board, they can enjoy Mastercard’s flexible work assignments and work locations.

“We’ve got rooms that will help stimulate them if they want to recharge and quiet places where they can sit and think,” she said. “It’s available for everyone, but we thought of our diverse workforce as we were putting those pieces together.”

‘Doing Well by Doing Good’

Dr. Jay said Mastercard’s DEI initiatives expand beyond finding and retaining neurodiverse talent; the company also has many employee benefits for underrepresented groups.

“We’ve got different learning opportunities and access to different resources that help the underrepresented employee groups just like we do for the underrepresented groups in finance,” she said. “We are unlocking financial opportunities for countries that don’t even have a brick-and-mortar bank.”

Dr. Jay said you “do well by doing good, not just saying it.” Mastercard looks at customers they would love to have as part of the Mastercard family, who might not have opportunities to be a part of it, and finds ways to give them access — and this mindset applies to its employees.

“There are learning opportunities and access to resources for underrepresented employee groups to show and grow their skill set,” she said.

One of the things Mastercard offers underrepresented groups of employees is a racial justice pro bono program. The program connects employees to the different needs of racial justice organizations across the U.S.

The program is a response to a growing need to connect employees with causes that matter to them and provide support, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and with people working from home.

The company has reiterated its desire for employees to be their best selves and do their best at work. To facilitate that, Mastercard’s racial justice pro bono program “helps employees engage and make the right connections to feel good.”

DEI must also expand beyond employees and reflect the customers and communities of companies, which is why Mastercard has increased its Black supplier base, driving it up 20% year over year.

“We want to make sure that what we’re doing in terms of DEI is not just for our employees; it’s for our customers, it’s for different communities,” Dr. Jay added.

Diversity Challenges in Healthcare

Although healthcare is a female-dominated field for nursing, physical therapy and occupational therapy, the number of women of color in these roles is lacking.

According to research from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS), approximately 91% of nurse practitioners are female, but only one-quarter are women of color.

“Similarly, 69% of physical therapists are female, but only 22% do not identify as white; 84% of occupational therapists are female, and only 17% do not identify as white.

The number of males in these roles is also lacking, and many men face discrimination, “especially in nursing, where stereotypes about ‘male nurses’ abound,” USAHS said.

Underrepresented groups in healthcare (which include people of a particular gender, race, religion or sexual minority group) face discrimination, fewer job offers and fewer promotion opportunities. They also often have trouble “accessing the quality education they need to enter the field in the first place.”

READ: Book Preview: Reigniting the Human Connection – A Pathway to Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity

While women are prominent in some healthcare roles, USAHS notes that they are still “underrepresented at every job level, and the underrepresentation of women in senior management-level positions cannot be explained by attrition.”

USAHS said women are promoted to managerial positions less often than men, and even less so for Black women and Latinas, “of which only 58 and 71, respectively, are promoted for every 100 men.”

The Advantages of Diversity in Healthcare

There are myriad ways in which increased diversity benefits the healthcare industry, but here are just a few USAHS highlights:

  • Better comfort levels
  • More creativity
  • Greater understanding
  • Increased innovation
  • Boosted trust
  • Greater retention
  • Improved communication
  • Fewer health disparities
  • Better engagement

In 2016, President Barack Obama sent a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies on the importance of “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the National Security Workforce.” In the memorandum, which was also cited in the USAHS report, Obama said, “research has shown that diverse groups are more effective at problem-solving than homogeneous groups, and policies that promote diversity and inclusion will enhance our ability to draw from the broadest possible pool of talent, solve our toughest challenges, maximize employee engagement and innovation and lead by example by setting a high standard for providing access to opportunity to all segments of our society.”

Kysha Harriell, Ph.D., LAT, ATC, who co-teaches the Cultural Competence in Healthcare course within the Master of Health Administration program at USAHS, said one method in which health administrators can promote cultural diversity is through “adapting a clinic’s hours of operation to improve patient access, such as offering care beyond a 9-to-5 schedule in a blue-collar town.”

Harriell said healthcare organizations should also hire a culturally diverse staff, hang images of diverse people on office walls and revise forms to ask about gender identity and pronouns. Ultimately, healthcare administrators are key players in removing the biases in policies and procedures and instituting new policies that promote equality and equity.

While healthcare and cybersecurity battle the current talent shortage, it is advantageous for these fields to figure out where they are lacking from a DEI standpoint and make conscious efforts to fill roles with neurodiverse and culturally diverse talent to better their operations, people and communities.

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