Security services have been told to recruit agents from sources such as Mumsnet in order redress the gender balance in these government departments, a group of MPs has said.
The Intelligence and Security Commission’s report into diversity in the security services concluded there was a “permafrost” of male, mid ranking managers who are an obstacle to improved gender balance and that present female operators who became mothers risked being sidelined, The Times reports.
It found that while there is a roughly equal number of men and women across the civil service in general, when it comes to departments such as MI5, MI6 and GCHQ this drops to only 37 percent women and falling another 18 percent amongst senior ranks.
Labour MP and committee member Hazel Blears said this needed to be addressed and that an improvement in the number and type of women would improve intelligence and security operations.
“There is a strong business imperative for greater diversity in the agencies,” Ms Blear said.
“They should reflect the population they serve but, more importantly, they cannot fulfil their mandate without drawing on the broad range of talent and skills that a diverse workforce can offer.”
“If spies are all cut from the same cloth” she said, “then they are likely to share ‘unacknowledged biases’ which will circumscribe both the definition of problems and the search for solutions.”
“Women or mothers in middle-age or mid-career have valuable life experience and may offer an untapped recruitment pool,” Ms Blears said.
“The agencies should therefore use a broad range of mediums and include those specifically aimed at women and mothers – such as Mumsnet.”
She also said that women were more likely to view networking as an opportunity to make friends “rather than as an opportunity to career progression.”
The members of the online community mumsnet reacted to the news in large numbers, with many highlighting the unique skills that motherhood has brought them.
One user, CaTsMaMmA said she had: “always said that a crack team of Mothers could knock most governments into a cocked hat’ adding that ‘a set of stern but nimble Grandmothers for policing major events to keep any wannabe rowdy demonstrators under control with a hard stare and a mega phone.”
Others expressed their approval of the suggestion, with user ‘sliceofsoup’ saying, “I would LOVE to be a spy. Like actually LOVE it. And no one would suspect me. I am too boring and frumpy’ and Shattnersbassoon adding, ‘Nobody suspects a woman in mum boots of anything underhand.”
But some were disappointed that even though it was a report into diversity, they still didn’t meet the criteria.
“Dammit I’m not middle aged! Its probably best that I don’t apply, I cant keep my own p*ss in, never mind international secrets” concluded gaggiagirl.
Others, meanwhile, were more cautious of the approach, with one user pointing out: “…people who can’t help but type their every passing thought into an online forum would make great spies.”
But for some, simply working for a government agency wasn’t enough with user Plumstone saying:
“I have always thought that women in general would just be better at that stuff, infact (sic) quite frankly running the free world would be less stressful if women did it – imagine the peace keeping talks re Ukraine, SamCam Michelle, Angela and Mrs Putin (the current one not the ex) sit down, what’s the problem? find out, two coffees and a packet of custard creams/chocolate digestives fix problem, go home deal with RL, next morning implement plans and move on.”
Ms Blears’s comments weren’t only met with amusement as some female politicians felt the MP and the committee report was patronising.
UKIP MEP Janice Atkinson slammed her comments, saying she was: “subjecting the security services to the usual Hampstead dinner party diversity wish list. In tough times, MI5 and MI6 exist to keep British streets free from terrorist atrocities, not to tick boxes to please Labour’s metropolitan ideologues. Besides, there are just some things that come more naturally to men and to women. Even James Bond has yet to be recorded changing a nappy at 3am on a work night.”
“If you want to attract women into the security services then please afford us the dignity and brains to find our own way there, not via Mumsnet, while having a glass of Pinot Grigio,’ she added.