GCHQ: Dedicated to diversity

Workforce diversity in all its forms is not just an obligation for large organisations; it also offers a range of vital benefits to the businesses and the employees themselves. For intelligence agencies like GCHQ, diversity is essential to achieving our goals, so we are encouraging diversity through our recruitment processes and supporting employees from a wide range of backgrounds in the workplace.

gchq diversity

GCHQ’s mission is to keep Britain safe using intelligence and technology together to counter increasingly sophisticated threats. That takes people with a wide variety of skills; languages, mathematics, cryptography and project management, among many others. Only a diverse workforce can deliver these, so we are dedicated to recruiting and supporting individuals with many different backgrounds, experiences and ideas. We want to attract applicants from a range of backgrounds including black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME), gender, social mobility, and neurodiversity.

GCHQ believes in diversity, fully embraces and recognises differences in society such as caring responsibilities, flexible working, personal styles and processing differences - there is opportunity for all and our processes are not a barrier to anyone achieving their potential. We can see the business benefits of a richer and more creative workforce and our commitment to inclusion is reflected in our behaviours; we value different ways of thinking and working. As Nikesh Mehta, a GCHQ Deputy Director, recently said: “We recognise that valuing diversity is not just a moral obligation. It is business critical.”

Having a workforce that better reflects the society we are working in helps us see issues and challenges from different perspectives and keep in step with national changes in attitude and perspectives. It’s about recognising the value of individual differences and embracing them so that everyone can be themselves at work and therefore able to give of their best in a supportive environment. New ideas and approaches will come more naturally from a workforce that is diverse and in an environment that values diversity. To ensure this diversity we aim to attract people from different backgrounds and support them in the workplace.

The Neurodiversity service

We recently launched the Neurodiversity service which recognises that without neurodiversity we wouldn't be GCHQ, and the skills this can bring to help us to achieve success at what we do. We are committed to enabling employees with neurodiverse profiles to have successful careers within the department and to fostering a culture where differences are embraced and barriers to progression are overcome. 

Some of society's most talented and creative people have a neurodiverse profile, of which dyslexia, autistic spectrum condition, dyscalculia and dyspraxia are probably the best known.  We put in place support systems that allow such staff to perform at their best and aim to do this without the need for formal diagnosis or the 'labelling' of employees.  The principle is to recognise the positives, maximise the potential, address the challenges that present in the workplace and meet staff needs through advice, discussion and appropriate adjustments.

As part of our “Positive About Disabled People” scheme, we offer a guaranteed interview to all candidates with a disability who meet our minimum criteria for the job vacancy for which they are applying. When attending interviews or assessment centres, the recruitment team will work with applicants to make reasonable adjustments where required. We have also made extensive disability workplace adaptations to support disable people who join us.

GCHQ’s support for LBGT people hit the headlines in 2015 when we lit up the “Doughnut” - our Cheltenham HQ – in rainbow colours to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). And we were ranked within Stonewall’s 2017 Workplace Equality Index (WEI) - the definitive list showcasing the top 100 employers for lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) staff - for the first time, at number 75.

But we do recognise that there are still challenges to ensuring a diverse workforce. GCHQ has traditionally found it difficult to attract candidates from the BAME community, for example, an issue explored in the recent BBC Radio 4 documentary GCHQ Minority Report. In it, Asian Network and 5 Live presenter Nihal Arthanayake was given unique access to talk to black and Asian staff in GCHQ about their experiences and heard from members of those communities in Leeds and Bradford about their attitudes to the security and intelligence agencies. 

Nihal discovered that if GCHQ's workforce was truly representative of Britain's ethnic makeup, then 12 per cent would be black, Asian or from other ethnic minorities, but it's currently significantly less. We’re introducing a number of measures to help redress the balance, starting with inclusive recruitment campaigns and processes. We also support people joining the organisation through our BAME Future Leaders Internship, and the internal BAME group.

Women in Technology

Another area we are focusing on is Women in Technology (WiT). Our WiTTy group is for women working in tech roles anywhere in GCHQ and for anyone of any gender who supports them. Our other networking groups include Pride@GCHQ, Disability Employer Network, Neuroscience group, and the Autism and Asperger’s group. We also provide courses for managers and staff working with people who have processing difficulties.

To ensure these comprehensive measures result in a diverse, inclusive and supportive culture, we have introduced a Diversity Officer and associated team, and we have objectives based on diversity built into our annual objectives. We also ensure a healthy work/life balance by offering flexible working patterns, and due to the nature of what we do, you simply can’t take work home with you.

"You get that creativity by throwing different backgrounds and experiences together."

GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan said the GCHQ Minority Report documentary: "We need the cutting edge of technology and we need the best people and the most creative people. You get that creativity by throwing different backgrounds and experiences together.

“We've always done that. We did it at Bletchley Park in the Second World War. We've done it for the last nearly one hundred years.  And we need to keep doing it, so we need to be representative of modern Britain. We need all that richness of diversity. Putting that all in one melting pot is what gets the magic, really."

We put diversity at the heart of what we do because alternative perspectives so often spark the innovative thinking needed to achieve our mission. For a secretive organisation, you’ll find we’re very open.

If you'd like to find out more, visit GCHQ's Knowledge Hub here.

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