Bond. Jane Bond: UK report suggests recruiting more women as spies

Story highlights

  • More women are needed to change the culture of Britain's intelligence agencies, report says
  • Mumsnet, an online parenting forum, could be used to reach a new pool of talent, it suggests

London (CNN)Britain needs more women as spies -- and it could do worse than look to recruit them on popular parenting website Mumsnet.

That's according to a report released Thursday by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee.
    The report recommends targeting women, including mothers and those who are middle-aged or mid-career, to help break through "the permafrost" of men in middle management "who have a very traditional male mentality and outlook."
    The idea that a new cohort of British spies could be signed up via Mumsnet, more usually associated with debates on pregnancy, childcare and homemaking, may surprise some.
    But lawmaker Hazel Blears, a committee member, said recruiting more women to the three intelligence and security agencies the committee oversees is a crucial way to change the intelligence agencies' sometimes hidebound culture.
    The current setup fosters "a management culture which rewards those who speak the loudest or are aggressive in pursuing their career and does not fully recognise the value of a more consultative, collaborative approach," she said.
    But women's life experience and other qualities should not be overlooked, she said.

    'No one would suspect me'

    In a sign of the changing times, the latest film iteration of British spy James Bond has had a female boss -- "M," played by Judi Dench.
    But while women currently make up about 37% of the employees across the UK intelligence agencies, according to the Intelligence and Security Committee report, they make up fewer than one-fifth of those in senior roles.
    The recruiting idea has met with some amusement in the Mumsnet community.
    "If they need someone whose special skill is getting melted chocolate down her dog-haired jumper and not noticing, I'm their woman," posts one Mumsnet user.
    "I would LOVE to be a spy. Like actually LOVE it. And no one would suspect me. I am too boring and frumpy," writes another.
    A third, more skeptical, comments: "Yes, people who can't help but type their every passing thought into an online forum would make great spies."

    'First class skills'

    Besides using women-focused outlets like Mumsnet to reach a new pool of talent, the committee recommends certain steps to make working for MI5, MI6 and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) more tempting for women.
    These include offering better career management, encouraging women to set up their own informal support networks and not limiting their options if they have children.
    "Women who have successfully been filling operational roles mustn't be sidelined after they have children. They still have the first class skills that the Agencies helped them to build, so these should be used," Blears said.
    Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- who similarly looked into the position of women in the CIA -- backed the UK report and what it said about the value of women in the intelligence agencies.
    "Diversity should be pursued -- not just on legal or ethical grounds, important as these are in their own right -- but because it will result in a better response to the range of threats that threaten national security," she said.