MPs criticise ‘glaring lack’ of senior BAME staff in intelligence services

Written by Tamsin Rutter on 20 July 2018 in News
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Intelligence and Security Committee notes recruitment challenges of “bureaucratic” security vetting and outdated perceptions

GCHQ. Credit: PA

GCHQ is the only organisation in the government’s intelligence community with any black, Asian or ethnic minority (BAME) staff in its senior ranks, a new report reveals.

MPs on the Intelligence and Security Committee criticised the “glaring lack” of BAME staff, but noted that the intelligence services face particular challenges including bureaucratic vetting processes, nationality rules and outdated public perceptions.

They commended progress made in diversity elsewhere in the intelligence services, and noted that measures were being put in place to address the dearth of BAME senior staff. They called for action to be taken on introducing role models at senior levels.


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Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee scrutinises the work of MI5, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), and GCHQ, as well as the Cabinet Office’s Joint Intelligence Committee and National Security Secretariat, Defence Intelligence at the Ministry of Defence and the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism at the Home Office.

In a new report on diversity and inclusion in the UK intelligence community it found that in 2016-17 none of these organisations had any BAME staff among their senior civil servants except GCHQ – where the Senior Civil Service is 4.8% BAME. At MI5, 8.6% of all staff were from BAME backgrounds, but none in senior ranks.

Dominic Grieve, chair of the committee and Conservative MP, said there was “a glaring lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff at Senior Civil Service levels across the community”.

He argued that diversity encourages challenge, drives innovation and ensures better decision-making, which is important for any sector but an “operational imperative for the intelligence community”.

He said the committee recognised that “there are particular challenges in terms of security vetting (which is bureaucratic, takes too long and is widely considered by many of those we met to be an inhibitor to diversity) and nationality rules”. He also said “the wider public often has inaccurate and outdated perceptions about the agencies in particular, and the type of staff they are now looking to recruit”.

It is important that recruitment campaigns continue to challenge stereotypes and that talent management systems are put in place, with greater engagement required from middle management, Grieve added.

The security and defence diversity network, which involves representatives from the Home Office, Foreign Office, MoD, Cabinet Office, Department for International Development, National Crime Agency, and various UK intelligence agencies, told Civil Service World earlier this year that the national security departments had looked at the data and realised they “didn’t have as good a story to tell” on diversity at senior levels as some of their Whitehall counterparts.

The network has since produced Mission Critical, a guide to help workplaces in national security become more inclusive, and introduced a shadow National Security Council (Officials) board, which is predominantly female and around 50% BAME.

Grieve commended the progress made on gender diversity by the intelligence services in recent years. “SIS and MI5 have both appeared in The Times ‘2018 Top 50 Employers for Women’ list, for example, and MI5, SIS, GCHQ and the Home Office are all included in the Stonewall Top 100 employers,” he said.

But he said that progress on diversity particularly tailed off towards the top of the organisations. Some 31% of senior civil servants in MI5 are women, while the other intelligence agencies have only about 25% women in their senior ranks.

The report also said that current workforce data across the intelligence community was not robust enough.

About the author

Tamsin Rutter is senior reporter for Civil Service World and tweets as @TamsinRutter

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