UK intelligence agencies say they are recruiting more female staff – and are targeting middle-age and “mid-career” women for jobs.
MI6 and and GCHQ advertised on the Mumsnet website for the first time this year, and MI5 has raised its target for women employees to 45% by 2021. Flexible working and the importance of “high emotional intelligence” are also being stressed in recruitment. The agencies were responding to calls from MPs to recruit more women.
Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee reported in March 2015 that 37% of intelligence agency staff were women and women only make up 19% of senior civil servants in the agencies.
One year on, the government says that it and the agencies – internal security service MI5, external spy agency MI6 and the government listening post GCHQ – “agree wholeheartedly” with the need for “diversity” in agency staff.
It says action has been taken since the report was published to “increase their focus” on “all aspects of diversity”, including recruiting more women. Recruitment targets, “diversity champions”, events such as a recent “Women in Cyber” event and more career support for female officers are part of efforts to employ more women and encourage talented existing women to apply for promotion.
They also say they are doing more to “promote a flexible working culture” for men and women with childcare commitments and to allow women returning from maternity leave to take up their old jobs – including in intelligence roles.
The three agencies also said they were always looking for “new and innovative ways to recruit those with the right skills, mind-set and diversity of approach”.
MI5 had already used Mumsnet as well as local newspapers to target women “not currently in work” while the other two agencies did so for the first time this year. GCHQ has also removed a requirement of a 2:1 university degree from its “fast-stream” recruitment to encourage women who had followed a “non-traditional graduate route”.
The government said the initiatives were having an effect as MI5 had recently been placed in the Times Top 50 employers for women and had increased its number of new female employees by 5% to 46% of new recruits. GCHQ had seen applications from women rise to 40%. MI6 had increased its female recruitment targets for 2016/17 after seeing a 4% drop in women – to 41% of new recruits. The government also said career support for female staff was having a “real impact” with increased numbers of women applying for senior roles in MI5.