UK Government Calls For More Gender Equality In British Intelligence Agencies

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James Bond’s boss “M” would be damn proud of this news…

The UK government has released a report which investigated gender diversity in the British Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6), MI5, and GCHQ.

GCHQ is the Government Command Headquarters and is a security organization responsible for providing intelligence to to the British Gov’t and armed forces.

MI5 and MI6 are Military Intelligence organizations under the War Office and have been around since World War I. MI5 is the Secret Service and MI6 is the Secret Intelligence. We know it can be a bit confusing so we thought we’d clear that up at the beginning!

So this is the first time ever that a report on the state of diversity in the SIS has been asked for and released. Women currently make up just 37% of the workforce of the three British Intelligence agencies, reports Forbes. Parliamentarians from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and from both political parties worked together on this report, spearheaded by Hazel Blears MP who believes there is a strong business imperative for greater diversity across all the secret agencies.

” They should reflect the population they serve but, more importantly, they cannot fulfill 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 definitions 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,” she said.

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The percentage of women on the boards of all three agencies hovers around 25%, but the parliamentary investigative committee doesn’t believe this is enough.

They have identified 6 key initiatives that they are urging the three divisions to focus on over the next 12 months in order to diversify: target specific groups of women for recruitment, career management, create support networks, not limiting women to certain jobs, sharing information on diversity with their international partners, and addressing the “permafrost”, i.e, addressing certain social and cultural behaviors that could prevent diversity from becoming a reality.

In fact “changing the culture” was one of the main conclusions they came to in terms of recognizing the way forward to addressing the current inequality. This is a concept not just limited to British SIS, by the way. Changing the culture is vital for diversity in all sectors and all areas of our lives.

It is not about ticking the boxes, according to the report, it is a fundamental understanding that when you cast the talent net wide, you are opening up the possibilities of a diverse array of information and therefore solutions offered, based on a variety of backgrounds and skill sets.

They are also beginning to realize, as many corporations and public sector businesses are, that having a diverse workforce gives them a competitive edge.

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The recent Oscar-nominated movie ‘The Imitation Game’ which focused on the story of Alan Turing, the mastermind who helped he British government crack the Nazi’s enigma code and kinda saved the world from impending doom has been a bit of a turning point for these agencies who recognize that they cannot afford to discriminate based on factors such as gender, sexual orientation (Alan Turing was gay and famously hid this fact in fear of being ostracized and put in jail) ethnicity, and socio-economic background.

The former director of GCHQ, Sir Iain Lobban, gave a speech in 2012 paying homage to Alan Turing and emphasized the need for a wider skill set in order for an organization to be more successful.

“To deny itself talent just because the person with the talent doesn’t conform to a social stereotype is to starve itself of what it needs to thrive,” he said.

Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State issued her thoughts on this report saying it is much needed.

“Diversity should be pursued – not just on legal and 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 with the Director’s Advisory Group on Women In Intelligence at the CIA.”

As it stands right now, the heads of all three agencies are men, but with a report like this and the drive for more gender equality, perhaps there will one day be a real life “M”, not just limited to a Hollywood franchise.

The report is quite an interesting and easy read, which you can see in full by clicking here. While the British Secret Service tackle their latest big mission, gender diversity, it is worth understanding there are key components that don’t just apply to them, but to every business across the world.

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