Report calls for intelligence services to recruit more working mums

Intelligence agencies need to do more to recruit working mums, according to a report from The Intelligence and Security Committee.

The report on the position of women in MI5, MI6 and GCHQ considers recruitment policy and practice; maternity-related issues, childcare and flexible working; career and promotion prospects; and cultural and behavioural issues.

Hazel Blears, who led the report, said: “I believe there is a strong business imperative for greater diversity in the agencies. They should reflect the population they serve but, more importantly, they cannot fulfil their mandate without drawing on the broad range of talent and skills that a diverse workforce can offer. If all intelligence professionals are cut from the same cloth – sharing similar backgrounds and similar characteristics – then they are likely to share “unacknowledged biases‟ which will circumscribe both the definition of problems and the search for solutions.

“Diversity will therefore result in better intelligence analysis and a better response to the range of threats that we face to our national security.”

Women currently comprise 37% of the workforce of the three intelligence agencies – considerably smaller than the figure of 53% for the Civil Service. They also comprise disproportionally more of the workforce at junior grades: on average across the agencies women make up only 19% of the Senior Civil Service.

Blears added: “I personally want women to be attracted to a career in intelligence and to feel there is the prospect of real advancement. I applaud the vital work the agencies do to safeguard our national security. They work in difficult, ever-changing and sometimes dangerous circumstances. They should be praised for the dedication, bravery and professionalism they demonstrate. The agencies have done some good work: there is a strong commitment to diversity from the top of the organisation, and they have set out clear strategies and policies for diversity initiatives. They make good use of women role models in recruitment and women’s groups have been established. But there is room for improvement.”

The Report makes a number of recommendations, but the Committee has highlighted six on which it wants intelligence agencies to focus over the next 12 months. The first is to address cultural and behavioural issues, including a move to a more consultative, collaborative approach. Blears said: “We recommend that there is a real focus on identifying and tackling the barriers that can exist at middle management level, so that women and men can fully achieve their potential in a supportive team ethos.”

The Committee also calls on the agencies to take steps to: target specific groups of women to recruit, including working mums. Blears recommends that they target a broad range of mediums and include those specifically aimed at women and mothers – such as Mumsnet.

It says the agencies should offer more centralised career management, sponsorship and talent management for women to help them think more strategically about their careers, raise their ambitions and fulfil their potential. They should also encourage women to set up their own informal support networks, not limit women to certain jobs and share ideas and initiatives with organisations that have similar diversity issues – for example, partner agencies overseas.

The former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who conducted a similar investigation examining women in the CIA, stated: “This important report by the Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament highlights the tremendous skills, talent, and experience of the women who are working to protect national security in the UK Intelligence Agencies. This report, spearheaded by the Rt Hon Hazel Blears MP makes a number of practical recommendations to encourage more women to join the Intelligence Community and to ensure that those already working in this area are able to make swifter progress in their chosen field. As Ms Blears rightly says diversity should be pursued – not just on legal or ethical grounds, important as these are in their own right- but because it will result in a better response to the range of threats that threaten national security. Much of what is said in this report echoes and reinforces my own work on the Director’s Advisory Group on Women in Intelligence at the CIA. I am sure we will all benefit from close cooperation on these vital issues between our two countries.”

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