It is a long way from the James Bond stereotype of the ruthlessly charming, testosterone-driven spy.
But Britain’s security and intelligence agencies are targeting middle-aged women, mothers and “mid-career women” to work on the frontline against foreign espionage and terrorism.
Last year, in a report spearheaded by Hazel Blears, senior MPs recommended that such women were an “untapped recruitment pool” for MI5, the Security Intelligence Service (MI6) and GCHQ.
The report said women could bring new skills to the fight against threats at home and abroad and that many middle-aged women “will have life experience” but not necessarily the standard qualifications.
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.
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 women already working within the agencies 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.
To find out more click on the links below:
GCHQ Careers: https://www.gchq-careers.co.uk
MI5 Careers: https://www.mi5.gov.uk/careers
SiS (MI6) Careers: https://www.sis.gov.uk/explore-careers.html