Ditch the preconceptions about Bond girls – the British intelligence agencies should be recruiting middle-age mothers to expand their talent pool.
A parliamentary report has urged MI5, MI6 and communications monitoring agency GCHQ to use online forum Mumsnet among other mediums to boost the number of women, who currently make up just 37 per cent of the workforce, many of them in junior roles.
‘Women or mothers in middle-age or mid-career have valuable life experience and may offer an untapped recruitment pool,’ said parliament’s intelligence and security committee on Thursday.
The report comes after French foreign intelligence agency DGSE opened its doors to a glossy magazine for a story last week about the lives of its female spies, in a clear effort to recruit more women.
The parliamentary committee warned that despite progress in improving diversity, there were ‘cultural and behavioural issues’ in Britain’s security services that made it harder for women to advance.
‘It is clear to us there are those at middle management level – referred to by some people as ‘the permafrost’ – who have a very traditional male mentality and outlook,’ said MP Hazel Blears, who led the review.
‘This can reinforce a management culture which rewards those who speak the loudest or are aggressive in pursuing their career and does not fully recognise the value of a more consultative, collaborative approach.’
The report recommended more career advice for women to help them fulfil their potential, and encouragement for them to set up their own informal support networks in the services.
It also said that women who have had children and can no longer fill operational roles should not be ‘sidelined’, insisting their skills can be put to use elsewhere.
Blears said the issue of diversity was not about box-ticking but improving the skillset of the spy agencies.
‘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,’ she said.
‘Diversity will therefore result in better intelligence analysis and a better response to the range of threats that we face to our national security.’
At 37 per cent, women make up a larger proportion of the intelligence services in Britain than in France, where 26 per cent of the DGSE is reportedly female, but far smaller than in the United States, where women account for 48 per cent of the CIA workforce.