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GCHQ: Dyslexic thinkers key to solving UK cyber security challenges

Neurodiverse staff are bringing a unique contribution to keeping the country safe, according to the intelligence and cyber agency

Dyslexic professionals are making the difference in solving the UK’s cyber security challenges, according to the government’s intelligence and cyber agency GCHQ.

In a video podcast by charity Made by Dyslexia, broadcast today (29 April), Jo Cavan, a senior GCHQ director, joined two dyslexic spies, Charlotte and Rob – real names have been changed for security reasons – who discussed how neurodiversity has contributed to their everyday jobs.

The discussion has covered how the spies’ strengths contribute to solutions when considering complex future scenarios and finding solutions to new and challenging problems.

“Since our inception we have looked to hire individuals who are neurodiverse, and as a result we have a thriving community of colleagues who think differently,” said Cavan, a director of strategy, policy and engagement at GCHQ.

In her work as an intelligence analyst working in GCHQ’s 24/7 operations centre, Charlotte finds her approach to finding solutions is very different: “I’m often looking through a lot of data and I find that my dyslexia helps me to see the bigger picture and spot patterns that aren’t always obvious to everyone else around me,” she said.

A “transformational innovator” at GCHQ, Rob works closely with Britain’s armed forces and was deployed with the military in the Balkans and Iraq. He noted that his dyslexic skills have enabled him to do things differently:

“I speak to a lot of people internally who invent stuff and a lot of contacts in industry, and explore how we could use our capabilities in ways we’d never planned, often to deliver amazing effects,” he added.

Read more on neurodiversity in technology

Cavan said the centre is committed to recruiting people with dyslexia as well as other neurodiverse individuals, and that it has a high proportion of dyslexic apprentices.

“We are about three or four times more likely to have apprentices with dyslexia than on other apprenticeship schemes,” said Cavan, adding that it is “mission critical” for GCHQ.

The D.Spot video podcast also noted previous comments made by GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming, speaking at Made by Dyslexia’s Global Summit in 2019 on the value of dyslexic thinking.

“We have kept the country safe for over 100 years,” he said. “When I look at the things ordinary people have done that have ended up with extraordinary outcomes, I can see people who think differently, and I can see dyslexics throughout, from 1919 to the present day.”

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