MI6 Wants to Bolster Internal Diversity — But How Will They Do It?

MI6’s newest mission is to shed its reputation as an inaccessible employer.

MI6 has a problem: the intelligence agency, officially known as the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), is looking to bolster internal diversity by retiring its traditional “tapping up” recruitment methods in favour of a more modern and inclusive approach.

Speaking to the Guardian, SIS chief Alex Younger explained that the goal is to reach communities that may be “selecting themselves out” due to the agency’s reputation as an employer of only the “posh, Oxbridge elite.”

According to Younger, the risks posed by hostile states and terrorist groups are on the rise, so demand for the agency’s services and capabilities is increasing exponentially. “Simply, we have to attract the best of modern Britain,” he continued. “Every community from every part of Britain should feel they have what it takes, no matter what their background or status. We have to stop people selecting themselves out.”

Moreover, Younger emphasised the value of intellectual and cultural diversity in approaching the litany of complex challenges the agency faces. “We have suffered from groupthink in the past. We have to get the maximum [number of] differentiated points of view in the room and for people to have the confidence to say what they think. Even if it’s not the popular thing to say, even with people like me.”

What Does it Take to Work at MI6?

Part of the problem revolves around employer branding. Many people don’t understand what SIS actually does, let alone what they’re looking for in prospective recruits.

Today, the agency is primarily interested in your IQ, your emotional intelligence and your familiarity with advanced technology and computer software.

According to Sarah, a senior field officer (and the current head of recruitment), they’re working to dispel the myths about class and education. People still think if you haven’t got a degree from Oxford, you’re not qualified, when in reality that’s simply not the case. “Most of the people here don’t have that background,” she explains. “I don’t have that background. The number of graduates [at MI6] is a lower proportion than the people with job experience.”

In other words, the people today who are most likely going to get that proverbial tap on the shoulder are on the street — not in the classrooms of selective universities.

The Driving Force

MI6’s call for increased racial and gender diversity comes at a time when major organisations in both the public and private sectors are putting forth similar initiatives. Global brands like Google, Intel and Microsoft are posting internal diversity numbers and setting aggressive recruitment and internal mobility benchmarks.

But that’s not exactly surprising, especially in the private sector — in fact, recent research suggests that intellectual diversity can have a measureable impact on the bottom line. Organisations with diverse leadership are 70% more likely to have captured a new market within the past year, and a full 45% more likely to have grown their current market share. And for every 10% increase in gender diversity, companies typically see a 3.5% boost in revenue. Clearly, when you surround yourself with a broader array of backgrounds, ideas and skillsets, the outcome is typically better for business, whether that business is selling microprocessors or preventing terrorist attacks.

Of course, there are a number of significant challenges that SIS must overcome in order to get things on the right track. According to Younger, “We get thousands of people applying. But we need people from a wider range of backgrounds in order to be able to select the best talent this country has to offer.”

The agency needs to extend the reach of its recruitment efforts and improve access within typically overlooked communities; however, they also need to be able to effectively gauge emotional and situational intelligence without having to necessarily meet each candidate in-person — at least not during the initial screening stages.

MI6’s challenges are very similar to those many of our private sector clients are facing. Robust recruitment marketing is the key to attracting and ultimately hiring the right candidates — especially when those candidates may not have been part of your previous target audience. Therefore, it’s critical that you audit your existing talent attraction strategy to ensure you’re advertising is reaching the right people via the proper channels.

Once you’ve identified your ideal audience, a combination of automated psychometric testing and video assessment allows you to assess a candidate’s emotional and situational intelligence more accurately and efficiently than a traditional phone interview. In other words, you can assess more candidates without sacrificing quality of hire in the process.

The fact that SIS has recognised the problem is a big step in the right direction. However, as international and domestic threats intensify, so too does the need for an effective and immediate solution to its longstanding recruitment struggles.

Luckily for them (and the rest of us for that matter), the right tools for the job already exist — no “Double-O status” or “Q Division” required.

Harver Team

Harver Team

Updated on:
May 9, 2023

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