If 2020 has proven anything, it’s that taking equality, inclusion and allyship seriously is more important than ever.
Each year, the British LGBT Awards recognises an employer that is leading the way for its LGBT+ employees to feel welcome and empowered. In 2018, MI5 won the British LGBT Awards Inclusive Employer award; a feat that becomes more impressive when you consider that until 1991, LGBT+ people were banned from becoming intelligence officers, or were fired if they were discovered to be gay. Since the ban was overturned, MI5 has apologised for its part in excluding LGBT+ people, calling it “a matter of regret and shame for all of us”.
Proving that organisations can learn from their mistakes, MI5 is now one of the most LGBT+ inclusive organisations in the UK. The Service consistently score high in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index year after year. Here, one of their graduate recruits* talks about their experience of joining the service as an LGBT+ person.
*No names have been given, for obvious top secret reasons!
An employer’s stance on diversity, in particular LGBT+ issues, will not be the top priority for everyone applying for a new job. However, as a 22 year old gay graduate searching for his first ‘proper job’ in a sea of hundreds of entry level positions, it was MI5’s proud display of its achievements (notably Employer of the Year at the 2018 British LGBT Awards and 1st place in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2016) on its website that caught my attention and was a contributing factor in my decision to apply. Going through any recruitment process is daunting, and knowing that my personal life and history were going to be taken into consideration was certainly scary to say the least.
I came out to my friends and family at age 15, having known for a couple of years prior, since age 13, that I was gay. Admittedly attending an all-boys school meant this was hard to ignore, so I was pretty sure of myself from a young age, which put me in good stead to deal with the inevitable backlash that comes with being different. Nevertheless, this did mean that for a solid two year period, I kept secret who I really was from those closest to me. This dishonesty can seem at odds with the trustworthy and honest characteristics that are expected of someone applying to work for an intelligence agency. Thankfully, from the initial recruitment stage through to security vetting and into my induction, my sexuality was acknowledged, respected and celebrated by all staff, who did their utmost to calm any nerves or fears that I had.
At the office
I can honestly and easily say that I feel 100% comfortable being openly, outwardly and unashamedly my authentic self, which includes being LGBT+. This is so important, as I could not make this claim about some of my former employment where I have faced everything from micro-aggressions to full on homophobia from staff and customers alike. The Service’s LGBT+ network do tremendous work to help encourage this accepting culture, often running training courses to raise awareness of Trans* issues and the ever changing language surrounding LGBT+. The diversity networks at MI5 provide fantastic development opportunities outside of your day job, whether that is delivering training, organising events, or liaising with other agencies and their respective networks, and this work is valued just as much as day job work, which is fantastic!
Dispelling the myth
All of this great work is supported and encouraged by the senior leadership, and we also have networks for allies. Coming to work and knowing that your colleagues are not only accepting of diversity, but active allies in the fight against discrimination and hate, is a wonderful feeling. I hope my experiences can help dispel any mystery regarding MI5’s stance on diversity, inclusivity and equality. In an age where LGBT+ people are still persecuted for being who they are and loving who they love, MI5 are a beacon of acceptance, leading by example. My advice for anyone feeling hesitant to apply on the grounds of being LGBT+, is don’t be!