After hearing Dame Eliza Manningham Buller speak at the Women in Property dinner and impressed by the fact that 44% of staff at MI5 is female, I investigated further and found some food for thought.
Employment in MI5 offers particularly good social security benefits. Women who have been in MI5 for at least a year are entitled to six months maternity leave on full pay. As well as a further six months - half on statutory maternity pay, half on additional unpaid maternity leave - women in MI5 can have another year on unpaid special leave, making two years in total. Fathers get two weeks paternity leave on full pay.
Yet whilst the number of applicants in general to MI5 has risen in the past two years, as well as the numbers employed, the number of women applicants has fallen from a half to one third and the number of women employed has fallen from more than 50% to 44%.
In an effort to stop this downward trend, a female oriented advertising campaign in gyms and sports clubs was run, as well as national media advertising and links from the BBC Spooks website to the recruitment department at MI5… which may explain the turnoff.
Despite a particularly grisly episode of the popular espionage series resulting in some 11,500 applications to join the service, some MI5 officials believe that Spooks may have contributed to the significant fall in the number of women applying to join the agency. Certainly Dame Eliza has publicly expressed concern about the violent and macho culture depicted in the the programme. "We want to attract more females but the Spooks programme may be having a bad effect because of the way some of the female characters have been killed off," an intelligence source has said.
After hearing all the reasons why we need more women role models in tv drama and the media at the annual conference of the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET, one can’t help thinking of the old proverb "Be careful what you wish."
Mind you, working in the construction and property sectors where women represent just 10% of the workforce, concern about a fall from 50% to 44% is a problem some of us wouldn’t mind having.