The Military and the Neurodiverse- Important Research with Cortney Weinbaum
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Cortney Weinbaum (she/her) is the lead author of a new RAND Corporation report on Neurodiversity and National Security (link). She is a senior management scientist and senior national security researcher at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think-tank in Washington, DC. She specializes in intelligence and space topics, and she has worked with the Intelligence Community (IC) and Department of Defense to improve policies, practices, and technologies. She has improved analytic and collection tradecraft; identified emerging technologies and their impact on space architectures, special operations, countering weapons of mass destruction, and intelligence; and examined new workforce models for intelligence agencies. The study: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1875-1.html
I am beyond excited that this study and research are basically backing up IN WRITING so many of the things we’ve been saying for almost THREE HUNDRED EPISODES!! We’re definitely asking Courtney back! Enjoy, listen up, and thank you again Cortney Weinbaum!!
00:40 – Thank you so much for listening and for subscribing!
Thank you Skylight Frame – Get your coupon now! https://www.skylightframe.com Discount Code: PeterShankman for 10% off, up to $30 off
01:45 – Introducing and welcome Cortney Weinbaum!! Ref: What is RAND anyway and why does it matter?
03:30 – I want to talk to you about the recommendations you and your team have made on this incredible research report. But first of all, what prompted this?
04:40 – I love that R.A.N.D. was so open and wanted you to do this! And you got no pushback, feedback, or anything like that?
05:00 – Explaining to companies & governments how interviewing neurodivergent job candidates IS a benefit to all; even your talent pool!
06:00 – Combatting prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypical bias in public, and in government agencies
Ed: [this part right here]
07:48 – Peter: “You’re the first person I’ve ever met like me who’s successful”
08:40 – Cortney: “Two female civilian intelligence officers both came up to me.. from different agencies.. said they both identify as Autistic in their own workplace…we both face bias and discrimination for this. Ironically, they had never met each other, until that day”
09:54 – Within the US government, neurodivergent diagnosis are treated as a Disability.
11:54 – The Catch 22 paradox.
15:30 – “The US National Security community isn’t taking a position yet; they’re not saying we’re neurodiverse friendly or we’re not. They’re more, maybe neurodiverse ignorant at this point. And that ignorance is changing for sure.. one organization, one office at a time..”
17:51 – I want to touch on a few more recommendations
18:42 – This is why we say don’t treat it, (or ADHD), as disability..
20:16 – How do our spectacular subscribers find out more about you? So, yeah, if people want to post or write to me, I say that anyone who doesn’t sound like a troll, I will respond to.
20:30 – Thank you so much for making time for all of us today Cortney!
21:00 – Hey, you there! Yes YOU! We are thrilled that you are here & listening! ADHD and all forms of Neurodiversity are gifts, not curses. And by the way, if you haven’t picked up The Boy with the Faster Brain yet, it is on Amazon and it is a number one bestseller in all categories. Click HERE or via https://amzn.to/3FcAKkI My link tree is here if you’re looking for something specific. https://linktr.ee/petershankman
21:00 – Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits. Guys, as always thanks so much for subscribing! Faster Than Normal is for YOU! We want to know what you’d like to hear! Do you have a cool friend with a great story? We’d love to learn about, and from them. I’m www.petershankman.com and you can reach out anytime via email at [email protected] or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterNormal on all of the socials. It really helps when you drop us a review on iTunes and of course, subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already! As you know, the more reviews we get, the more people we can reach. Help us to show the world that ADHD is a gift, not a curse! —
TRANSCRIPT via Castmagic.io and then corrected.. somewhat, (first trial run is today May 17, 2023):
As always, thank you Skylight for sponsoring this episode as well as many others of the Faster Than Normal Podcast. https://www.skylightframe.com Discount Code: PeterShankman for 10% off, up to $30 off.
Peter Shankman [00:00:40]: Hey, everyone. Peter Shankman. Welcome to the Faster Than Normal Podcast episode number “Happy You’re Here!” We’re happy you’re here as always! It’s a gorgeous Monday. We are recording on Monday. I try to do all my podcasts in one day a week, and I do all my zooms the same day. And basically, I just know that there’s going to be one day where I’m be super productive and not that productive, and you get everything done, and then that way you can spend the rest of the week doing everything. That’s been my ADHD sort of lifestyle going on, like, ten years now. It really does work. Anyway, big shout out to Skylight Frame. You guys have heard me talk about them before. Skylight Frame is this awesome little frame that hangs in my kitchen right over there. And it shows my calendar, and it shows my daughter her chores and her calendar and what she has to do for school and what she has to bring everything in one place. It’s touchscreen. It’s Skylightframe.com. Peter Shankman. The code Peter Shankman will get you $30 off. I love it. I can upload pictures of anything. My parents can send pictures to the frame. So if they instead of that’s their new way of guilting me for not bringing the kid over. They only live three blocks from me. So their new way of guilting me for not bringing the kid over is to send me photos of themselves that show up my Sky Frame, where they’re holding little signs and say, forget about us. Remember us. We miss our granddaughter, things like that. It’s lovely. Lovely Jewish guilt via digital. Anyway, skylightframe.com use code peter Shankman and we thank them for sponsoring this episode of Faster than Normal. And guys, I am so stoked today because we have a wonderful woman who I just met named Cortney Weinbaum on the podcast today. Get this. She is the lead author of a new Rand Corporation report on neurodiversity and national security. Okay, that is huge. And you know what the key finding is? Neurodiversity, like other forms of diversity, can strengthen a national security organization. I feel like Vindicated, like, for the first time, this stuff that I’ve been shouting from the rooftops about companies and neurodiversity in the workplace and neurodiverse. Cortney, sitting here right now from Bethesda, Maryland, and has verified everything that I’ve been screaming for ten years. I’m, like, the happiest person. A Cortney, Welcome to festival. Ed: [that’s so funny- Castmagic.io thinks this is a festival.. well.. kind of it IS a festival, really.. but anyway, back to your transcript here- that has been corrected at least to this point by a human]. I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Cortney [00:02:43]: Oh, thank you for having me, and I love your enthusiasm!
Peter Shankman [00:02:46]: Oh, my God. This came across my I don’t remember who said this to me, but someone said to me that, you’re going to love this. They’re like, oh, my God, I am, like, so stoked about this. And we’re going to talk about how you decided to do this study, but listen to this, guys. Neurodiversity, like other forms of diversity, can strengthen a national security organization within the US. Government. Neurodivergent diagnosis are treated as a disability and requiring employees to identify as disabled benefits those with severe needs, while stigmatizing employees who have spent decades overcoming the challenges of workplaces designed for neurotypical workers. Several aspects of the recruiting and hiring process can pose barriers to a neurodiverse workforce. And then, once on board, neurodiversion employees can face challenges, navigating careers and workplaces that were not designed for them in mind. So I want to talk to you about the recommendations you and your team have made on this incredible research report. But first of all, what prompted this?
Cortney [00:03:38]:Wow. I want to unpack all of that in this episode with you. So what prompted this? A dear friend of mine who’s the president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance got together with one of her summer interns to write an op ed two years ago now on neurodiversity and intelligence. And my background is from the intelligence community. I joined the intelligence community very soon after 911, and that’s how I entered National Security. And so when she and her intern called to interview me, it was like I got hit with a ton of bricks. Why hasn’t anyone written about this before? And so I said, Send me that op ed as soon as it’s done. And they did, and I took it inside Rand. For those listeners who aren’t familiar with Rand, we’re a nonprofit, nonpartisan, federally funded research center. I’m in our Washington, DC. Office, and I took that op ed inside Rand, and I said, we need to research this. There needs to be data about this topic. And I got an immediate gap. There was no hesitation at all. And so we got some project funding, and we did this study that you’re looking at now.
Peter Shankman [00:04:40]: That is amazing. I love that Rand was so open and wanted you to do this, and you got no pushback or feedback or anything like that?
Cortney [00:04:47]: None.
Peter Shankman [00:04:48]: And we’re starting to see that now. I mean, the companies that I’m dealing with and I’m working with, adobe and Morgan Stanley and Google, they’re understanding not only that neurodiversity is real, not only that neurodiversity is something that needs to be addressed, but that it can benefit companies tremendously. And that’s the story screaming from the rooftop. So let’s talk about the key findings. First, in terms of neurodiversity, like other forms of diversity, can strengthen a national security organization. So that the hardest part there is explaining to companies that that can be a thing, right? As opposed to companies look at it. Okay, something else we have to deal with. No, this can benefit.
Cortney [00:05:22]: Absolutely. One of the questions that we were asked at the beginning of the study and then again at the end of the study were, but which jobs? Just tell me which jobs I should be opening to the neurodivergent candidates. And I’ll flag those jobs as the one. And I’m laughing for those who can’t see my face. And what we found out, what all of your listeners probably already know, is the answer is all of the jobs. And the way we make that point is I tell people this story, which is that when we started doing this research project, our goal was to talk to program managers, hiring managers. We were not trying to ask people to self identify as having a diagnosis and tell us about their experience. We didn’t want to put at risk a population that’s already at risk for prejudice, discrimination, and bias. So we weren’t asking anyone about a diagnosis. But people started calling me. My phone started ringing by people who would say, I heard you’re doing this study. I’m an intelligence officer, or I’m a military officer, and you need to interview me. I’m autistic. And I’ve never told the military that before. I got diagnosed outside the military health system so that there was no military record of my diagnosis. We heard all these personal stories so very early on. It was very clear that people with all of the Diagnoses we talk about in this report already are serving in the military, are serving as civilians in the entire national security enterprise, and that they’re usually doing in a way that is masking, that is hiding whatever is their neurodivergent trait in order to fit in in their office so that they’re not known. They describe themselves as living in the closet, like the LBGT community used to in the military. And that masking is exhausting, and it leads to burnout, and it prevents them from really leveraging the talents and the benefits of their conditions, but it also leads to burnout, exhaustion. It’s psychologically draining all of the things. And so it creates this environment where the neurotypical employees and managers think, well, there’s no one neurodivergent here. And it prevents us having role models that we can see with these diagnoses so that we can realize that, yeah, we actually should be making on ramps and making entry easier because our colleagues, who we really value, already have these diagnoses. So by having that community hide, it’s a disservice to everyone. And so that’s one of the first findings we had in this report, that.
Peter Shankman [00:07:48]: Last point about the fact that we’re not being more public about it. I gave a talk last week to a bunch of hundred fifth graders in school in New Jersey, because my latest book is for kids called The Boy with the Faster Brain. And it’s hard. I tear up every time I think about this. Fifth grader came to me at the end of the class, and his head was at the end of the talk. And as everyone else was leaving, his head was down. He didn’t really mumbling. I’m like what? And he’s like, it you’re the first person I’ve ever met like me who’s successful, and my heart, oh, my God, my heart.
Cortney [00:08:27]: Oh, my gosh.
Peter Shankman [00:08:28]: Right? And it’s like, we need why we.
Cortney [00:08:30]: Do what we do.
Peter Shankman [00:08:31]: Oh, my God. We need to be telling these stories. We need to be telling these stories. And I’m so glad that you are.
Cortney [00:08:40]: I have to give you one more example. We were at a conference. I mean, it was a small event, not massive, but it was a small event for neurodivergent service providers in the national security sector. So there are some please don’t think there are none. And two female intelligence officers came up to me after I explained, I stood up, I said, I’m doing this project. If anyone wants to talk to me afterwards, come find me. And two female civilian intelligence officers both came up to me. They’re from different agencies, and they said they both identify as autistic in their own workplaces. They’re out of the closet, quote, unquote, in their workplaces as autistic. And they said, we need more of this. We need other people to be able to be out just like us. There’s no one else that either of us could ever look up to. We both face bias and discrimination for this. Ironically, they never met each other until that day. They knew each other existed. I think they talked to emails, but this event was the first time they’d been in the same room, and it was really powerful. There are people who are trying to be role models, and they’re doing it at cost. And we wanted to put this study out there to provide data and analysis and objective, unbiased data analysis on what is the benefits and what are those costs.
Peter Shankman [00:09:54]: That’s amazing. I’m so glad you did this. So let’s look at this. Within the US government, neurodivergent diagnosis are treated as a disability. And so my first reaction is, no, it’s not. But I understand why that would be, right. You’re looking at a lot of these things are based on 50, 67 year old rules or the Ada from 82. So talk to me about what you learned from that standpoint.
Cortney [00:10:18]: Yeah, this was just eye opening, so I’m not a disability researcher. So a lot of this was new ground to me. If you want to get a job in the US government and you want to self identify as being disabled, any type of disability, you get what’s called a schedule, a letter, from the Department of labor. Basically, you fill out a form, the department of labor gives you a letter called a Schedule A Letter. The schedule. A letter does not state your disability. It just says Mr. Smith has a severe disability and therefore qualifies for accommodation. That’s all it says. It doesn’t say what your disability is. You can be blind, you can be an amputee. Well, because of that process, no matter what your disability is, you’re just identified as disabled and severely disabled. When government agencies are calculating data, we ask them, how many people do you have for neurodivergent your agency? And they said, I don’t know, I can only give you my disability number. So the blind employees, the deaf employees, the amputees, and the autistic employees are all lumped in one category. So that was one finding. The second finding is that Schedule A Letter says severely disabled. And all the people we talk to don’t identify as severely disabled. And they take deep personal offense at the idea that they should have to describe themselves as severely disabled just to wear noise canceling headphones in a classified room.
Peter Shankman [00:11:34]: Exactly.
Cortney [00:11:35]: Or just to ask that the light bulb be taken out from over their desk, or that their desk be moved from the bullpen further away from the door so they don’t hear the door every time it opens. These are like basic requests of a manager, but the government treats them as accommodations and if you want an accommodation, you must have a declaration of disability.
Peter Shankman [00:11:53]:Right?
Cortney [00:11:54]: So we provide a few metaphors in the report and we call this the accommodations dilemma because it was like this whole catch 22 paradox. Cause you either declare yourself as disabled and all of a sudden you get all these benefits along with the risk of bias and discrimination, right? You don’t declare yourself as disabled, don’t worry about the bias and discrimination, but now you’ve got to cut it. And we said if you compare this to other diagnoses, and I use vision in the report as the example, I’m sitting here wearing eyeglasses, I’m near sighted. I am not disabled by any standard. I drive a car I can see perfectly with my eyeglasses on if I want to apply for military service or for a civilian job. I’m not considered disabled simply because I’m near sighted. Now, there’s a point at which a vision diagnosis does become a disability, but it’s a spectrum, and we know it’s a spectrum and we know that simply having a vision diagnosis is not a binary yes you’re disabled, or no you’re not. For the government, having a neurodiverse divergent diagnosis is a binary yes or no. Whereas we all know, those who are in this community or researchers in this community, that it is a spectrum. There are some people with ADHD, autism and other diagnoses who do self identify as severely disabled and there’s plenty who don’t. And the government right now doesn’t give people the option.
Peter Shankman [00:13:07]: What’s interesting, I think another aspect of that is because it’s government work, it’s the premise that you can’t just move your desk away from the door if you just want to. There has to be an accommodation for.
Cortney [00:13:20]: It because someone else in the office is going to say, well, that’s unfair. Why did they get to their desk? I want to be near the window.
Peter Shankman [00:13:26]: And I think that what companies are starting to realize is that those rules don’t. I interviewed someone who was a boss once and I said, what are the neurodiversion aspects of how you’re dealing? He goes, there are none. He goes, you get your work done. He goes, I do not care how you do it. You’re not in junior high. You don’t have to ask for a bad bathroom pass. Do whatever works for you as long as you’re getting stuff done. And I think back to my first and only job I ever really had working for someone else was for America Online and under Steve Case back in the 90s in Virginia, right near you, Northern Virginia, they said the same thing. We don’t care when you come in, right, work from a forest, just get your stuff done. And that was so amazing. And of course it screwed me because I thought, oh wow, this must be what the workforce is like. And my second job at a national magazine was, no, the hell it ain’t. That was sort of a wake up call, but now there’s no question about that. It is difficult if you have to constantly label yourself as only one thing or the other. I’ve never looked at this as a disability from my perspective. I understand I’ve had to write it down at some points for surveys or qualifications or things like that. But again, I don’t qualify my ADHD as a disability. And the funny thing was, I remember growing up in school, in the New York City public schools, you could qualify for something called resource room, which would give you extra time on tests and allow you lots of different accommodations. To get there, though, you had to fall below a certain level in reading and in math. And because I loved reading, I was on a 12th grade level from first grade. Because I hated math, I qualified. But because I didn’t qualify for both, I didn’t get anything. So yes, there’s a lot that needs to be addressed in that. Talk about for a second the concept of and I want to be constantly time, but we’re definitely having you back, but the aspects of recruitment and hiring process, right? So there are companies now that I’m advising that are trying to create conversation, that they are more neurodiverse aware and that they are neurodiverse friendly. And is that not the case in government yet or how is that happening?
Cortney [00:15:29]: Well, for the most part, the US national security community isn’t taking a position yet they’re not saying we’re neurodiverse friendly or we’re not. They’re more maybe neurodiverse ignorant at this point. And that ignorance is changing for sure. But one organization, one office at a time, we’re hoping this report can blow that door open. So what we did is we actually went through real government job vacancy postings and said, how is this worded today? And how might one word it differently? And there’s actually a point in the report. We take a table. We take three or four job descriptions. And we wanted to make sure that these aren’t very stereotypical job descriptions. We had people come to us say, oh yeah, I could hire people who are neurodivergent and they could be the cyber analyst in the corner who never have to speak to anyone. And so we made sure that the job descriptions we chose were not just like that person you put in the back corner who doesn’t actually interact with people. We chose an accountant. Yes, a cyber operations officer. We chose a contracts officer. Contracting is a huge part of the national security workforce, and we chose some of these job descriptions. And then based on what we had learned from the commercial sector, we said, here’s how you might do it differently. Sometimes it’s just changing the wording. Like, instead of saying, demonstrate that you’re an effective communicator. I don’t know how to do that in a cover letter very well. Instead, we write it in a way that for someone who has trouble with nuance, who has trouble with interpretive language, who doesn’t know how to do that, we’d be able to figure out what exactly is that they need to see from me. We took one of the job descriptions that was asking for financial analysis skills as the accounting position. And we said instead of all these things that they’re asking the applicant to prove in a resume, instead let’s interview this person by giving them a practical exercise, which is what some companies do, we email them a spreadsheet three days before the interview. The spreadsheet is fake financial data. We say to them, in three days, you’re going to present your analysis to the hiring manager or a board of three people. Well, by doing that now, this person isn’t worried about making eye contact and making sure they know how to answer the question of what do you want to get out of your career? Instead, you’re really assessing this person on their financial analytic skills and their ability to convey analytic findings to a customer. That’s probably all you really cared about in the first place. You didn’t really care if they could make eye contact and shape your hand with a firm handshake. So we provide those kinds of really specific, tangible recommendations.
Peter Shankman [00:17:51]: I want to touch on a few of the more recommendations. We have a few minutes left. One of the ones that I saw immediately, and I love this, help all employees understand neurodiversity right and this goes back to what I’ve taught at some of the companies that I work with in the concept of curb cuts. I’m sure you know that is at the end of World War II, 600,000 US servicemen came home disabled. And every city and every town across the country put ramps at the at the corner of every block, make up the sidewalks, making curb cuts. And they wound up helping those 600,000 servicemen and also wound up helping pregnant women and people with boxes and children and people with strollers list goes on and on. So you help one group and it benefits all. So the concept of teaching, understanding university, go ahead. Yeah. Cortney [00:18:42]: This is why we say don’t treat it as disability. By putting ramps in buildings, you didn’t just help the people who are disabled. Like you said, you help the Janet or push the card more effectively. So if you change your interview practices or your management practices in ways that provide clear communication to everyone, everyone will benefit from that. It’s not just the few employees that have a diagnosis. And by the way, there’s plenty of employees who are not diagnosed because they didn’t have the availability to have a diagnosis. So it helps them, too. So, yeah, we wanted to make sure that the recommendations in here were really widely applicable. We heard from plenty of people we interviewed. It’s one thing to give the neurodivergent employee the feedback that they need to be a better communicator, but did you also give the rest of the team the feedback that they need to be better communicators, too? And that’s what we’re talking about. Why is the whole burden on one person to be able to improve team wide communication? The burden shouldn’t fall on one person’s shoulders 100%.
Peter Shankman [00:19:41]: Courtney, I want to have you back again. I really appreciate you taking the time. I’m going to tell Meagan immediately that I want to have you back. I could talk about this for 6 hours. Maybe we’ll break our rules and do like a 45 minutes version if you’re up for it. But thank you so much for taking the time. And this research is available. Anyone can download it. It’s at RAND.org under publication for free.
Cortney [00:20:03]: It’s for FREE!!!!
Peter Shankman [00:20:04]: That’s the coolest thing. It’s like, Here, have it. I’ll put a link to where it is in the show notes. But again, if people want to find you, I mean, you’re pretty easy to find. Do you mind if people contact you? Do you have a social account or.
Cortney [00:20:16]: How can people yeah, I’m on Mastodon, I’m on Twitter. I’m on Instagram, LinkedIn. I’m on everything except Facebook. So, yeah, people want to post to me. I say that anyone who doesn’t sound like a troll, I will respond to.
Peter Shankman [00:20:30]: Awesome. Cortney Weinbaum, thank you so much for taking the time. Really.
Cortney [00:20:34]: Thanks for having me.
Peter Shankman [00:20:35]: Phenomenal. Most definitely. We’ll be live in a few weeks. Guys, thank you for listening. Really appreciate your time. I love that you are still listening to Faster Than Normal. We are closing in on 300 episodes. How amazing is that? I’ve never been able to do anything 300 times in a row, so I am super excited about that. And we will be back next week with another interview with someone probably not as cool as Cortney, but we’re going to try. Thank you again, everyone for listening. Cortney, thank you one more time. We will talk to you guys soon. Have a great day. Stay safe.
Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at www.FasterThanNormal.com I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at shankman.com and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were composed and produced by Steven Byrom who also produces this podcast, and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week!