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UK report: Spy agencies should seek female recruits online

Jill Lawless (The Philippine Star) - March 6, 2015 - 2:00am

LONDON — British lawmakers say the country's intelligence agencies, which inspired James Bond, aren't doing enough to promote real-life Jane Bonds.

A report on women in the intelligence services says female staff members are being held back by a layer of middle managers, dubbed "the permafrost," who have "a very traditional male mentality and outlook."

The report published Thursday by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee said that women make up 37 percent of the workforce at domestic spy service MI5, overseas intelligence agency MI6 and electronic eavesdropping center GCHQ. But women account for only 19 percent of senior staff.

The lawmakers said the agencies should cast a wider net to recruit middle-aged women and mothers, who had "valuable life experience." It said agencies in which all staff "are cut from the same cloth" could lead to unacknowledged biases that hampered the work of espionage.

They suggested the agencies target women with children through the popular online forum Mumsnet.

Mumsnet chief executive Justine Roberts offered a tongue-in-cheek response to the suggestion.

"I'm afraid I'm unable to comment as I have an urgent appointment with a rock in St. James's Park," she said.

The report also expressed concern that women with children were shunted into roles in human resources or finance, rather than running overseas stations or meeting agents in the field.

British intelligence agencies were long male-dominated, and their popular image was forged through depictions of rumpled men in smoke-filled rooms in the novels of John Le Carre, and the macho derring-do of Ian Fleming's James Bond.

But the secretive organizations have been quietly reforming for years, as they have also presented a more public profile. Stella Rimington was appointed the first woman to head MI5 in 1992, three years before Judi Dench took over as James Bond's boss, M. In recent years, ad campaigns have promoted the spy services as welcoming environments for women and gay people.

"We should encourage the use of more positive role models to break down the stereotypes that have been established and reinforced by the entertainment industry," the report said.

Responding to the report, the government said: "We are committed to supporting the security and intelligence agencies to increase the numbers of women in their workforces, particularly at a senior level."

 

IAN FLEMING INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY COMMITTEE JAMES BOND JANE BONDS JOHN LE CARRE JUDI DENCH JUSTINE ROBERTS MUMSNET ST. JAMES WOMEN
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