I joined the intelligence community in 1993 thinking it might be an interesting thing to do for a few years. 22 years, and three children later, I’ve had a range of jobs, working across the SIA, in Whitehall and with police colleagues mainly on counter terrorism. I became a senior manager in 2004 (whilst on maternity leave) and have since had challenging roles in HR, working on IT project implementations and a very rewarding job-share supporting a management board. I’ve also enjoyed secondments to central government departments, in London and overseas. I returned from one external posting to lead a technical operations unit, a high profile front-line operational role within the SIA – I understand I was the first woman to do this, but that was not an issue for me or those I worked with. IT did, however, give me and the organisation a great opportunity to underline for others that no jobs are off-limits on the grounds of gender. My role in GCHQ as Director Counter Terrorism and Serious Crime does this again.
Throughout my career I have never experienced any issues around my gender. My managers (men and women) have always encouraged me to stretch myself, take on new challenges and to seek promotion. I have benefitted from formal and informal mentoring at various points in my career and particularly since becoming a senior manager. I have never felt disadvantaged compared to male colleagues. Across the SIA, we keep a watchful eye on whether our promotion processes are favouring people on gender grounds. I haven’t found that to be the case for me or my peers but there is always potential for unconscious bias to come in and we can’t be complacent. I use moderation processes to check for gender bias in my own teams on performance grades and promotion, and am confident that my managers are doing the same when considering my own talent review. My particular concern is that our system may favour loud confident people rather than those who are quieter, more reflective and that will not lead to a diverse workforce in the future. Gender could be a factor in that too. And this is something that we regularly discuss at a leadership level, committing ourselves to making sure it is not the reality for staff working for us.
When I had children I felt fully supported by the colleagues and the organisation in returning to work after maternity leave. It, however, did take me some time to settle into being a part time employee, particularly in the early years. Much of that was about my own personal adjustment to new responsibilities and different priorities. Part of it also reflects many organisations at the turn of the millennium, where flexible working, though long established was not yet widespread, technology was less advanced and there was a greater expectation (from me and the organisation) that part-time working patterns would necessitate different, less front-line, roles. My workplace always made it very clear to me that there would be a role for me, at my senior grade, and took time to identify roles to make the most of my skills and experience and to help develop me further. And in sounding out colleagues at GCHQ before submitting my job application I had the same strong messages about supporting a work life balance and having the space to do the role in the way that suited me. Thus far everyone is absolutely living up to that commitment – pretty impressive given the demanding nature of the work.
My career has progressed at a good rate – as quickly as many of my peers who work full-time, faster than some and slower than a couple. And I have been able to do a range of really interesting roles. On the occasions where I’ve had concerns about some processes (for example staying in touch whilst on maternity leave) I’ve been able to challenge this head on, and been fully supported by senior staff in doing so. I have been really pleased to see others do the same here, with real impact. I know I have played and continue to play a part in changing the way the SIA thinks about people with parenting responsibilities and those who choose to work part time (men and women). Of course there is still more we can do. I am excited to be part of a GCHQ community that wants to keep effecting that sort of change here. I also know that I am in my current role because it is the right thing for me to be doing now as part of my own career path. It is also GCHQ showing that it means what it says about a diverse workforce.
"The views expressed in this blog are those of the author"