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Guest blog from Robert Hannigan on promoting diversity in GCHQ

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Leaders, Diversity and inclusion

"Diversity in GCHQ has come a long way in the last 20 years", tweeted Sir Jeremy Heywood - and he is right! I was incredibly proud to see the media focus on GCHQ last week - for all the right reasons - and Alan Turing's nephew, Sir John Dermot Turing, encapsulated our vision when he spoke out about the importance of staff being free to be themselves, bringing their talents unencumbered to bear on the vital work we do.

GCHQ lit up

The Stonewall audit shows there is still plenty of work for us to do here, but my staff and I share a common passion for inclusivity and I see that reflected everywhere, from the interactions in and around our building to the comments passed on our internal blog. Never more so, in fact, than following the announcement that for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) 2015, the "doughnut" would be lit in rainbow colours and the Pride colours would be flown beneath the Union Flag.

We are a unique organisation, and much is made of the GCHQ culture, but our people really need to reflect our rich and varied society. Any initiative that seeks to inform and strengthen that society will gain my support and my Board members and Top Management Group know this, actively encouraging participation from every level of the business. My senior civil servants all have personal action plans for Diversity and Inclusion, whether that means acting as an internal ambassador for the UN heforshe campaign or drawing attention to Deaf Awareness Week by spending the day in industrial earplugs.

Our employee networks for women, BME, LGBT and disabled staff, as well as the members of our Women in Tech, Straight Allies and Accessibility initiatives, all work tirelessly to increase inclusivity. Our week-long Diversity Festival in 2013 saw external speakers from all walks of life reach into our otherwise walled-off work lives and make connections with staff.

We have also had great press interest in our neuro-diversity work. We have long valued the unique contribution that those with different minds can bring and have a larger representation of colleagues on the autistic spectrum or with dyslexia or dyspraxia; they are core to our mission.

Diversity for us, like the rest of the Civil Service, is not just a moral imperative - it is business critical. We are recruiting highly skilled staff who are in demand across the private sector, so we must send a positive message not just to staff, but to future recruits, for whom Diversity and Inclusion has been shown to be a key factor when considering employment, about GCHQ as an organisation. In order to recruit from the widest possible pool of talent, we need to create the open, inclusive environment in which technical innovation thrives. That was true for GC&CS when Alan Turing and his team produced their pivotal work, and it is just as true for GCHQ today. I am very proud of that.

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  1. Comment by Paul Thomas posted on

    So Britain’s spy agency has added ‘neuro-diversity’ to the growing list of ‘protected characteristics’. I assume this is under the belief that there can never be enough divisions created between people or boxes to put them in, or too much victim status engendered. With all this awareness raising and pretending to be deaf going on, GCHQ must surely be the most moral and right-on state surveillance organisation in the world.

  2. Comment by Mark J posted on

    If the person sitting alongside you in the office is competent at their job, helpful towards you in your role and reasonably friendly, that's what you should expect. If you start thinking where that individual fits in a spectrum of "diversity", then I suggest you re-adjust your focus to look at them as "work colleague".

  3. Comment by Julia Rabbitts posted on

    I was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 46 while in HMRC. My managers in more than a quarter of a century in HMRC could be categorised as those who let me do the job my way and accepted that my brain didn't work like anyone else's, but recognised I did the job well even so, and those who found it impossible to accept that any other way than their's was possible and I must therefore be wrong. This attitude put me under immense stress and has led in the past to my having very poor reports; these were followed by a change in manager and my reports being excellent again. Managers need to be trained not to just give lip service to those who don't think or work like everyone else but to actually accept that doing the job differently does not mean you are doing the job badly.

  4. Comment by Simon Moore posted on

    The fact that we have to publise this kind of behaviour, ' International Day Against Homophobia '
    Should we need this, the fact that people still think like that and worst thinking have a hiring, promotion policy based on personal attributes like sexula orientation, sex, race or creed is awful. What makes it worse is people then having to make equal oppertunities targets. What happened to just the right and best person for the job. I think the top needs to seriously think how postive dicrimination is just as bad as the negative, the implication that with out such policeis the non white straight males will never get a job or promotion, utter rubbish. If there are still these kind of people in management postions, get rid of them.

  5. Comment by HDD posted on

    I’m very interested to see that GCHQ has recognised the value of ‘neuro-diversity’ as it shows that this is at least recognised by some part of the Civil Service. I can’t wait for it to be accepted by HMRC. As someone with a quite recent diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, too old to have been properly diagnosed as a child, the last two years have been hell at times, the worst in my 30 years in HMRC. Why? Because of the excessively high behavioural element embedded within the PMR system. Although my work is known to be very accurate and thorough and there are no problems at all with this, I have received a ‘must improve’ marking for both years since PMR was introduced, solely because my Asperger’s led to me having a few meltdowns owing to the unacceptably noisy conditions my office was expected to try to work in, and the fact that I was then unable to forgive the way I was treated under this invidious system. It is obvious that the effect on staff with this condition was never considered when PMR was drafted and no doubt there will be others in the same position as myself, saddled with an unfair marking just because they don’t always display what the majority consider ‘normal’ behaviour, regardless of their ability and the quality of their actual work, which is surely the most important factor.

  6. Comment by Alison Smith posted on

    Progress on acceptance of autism and the contribution which those individuals with Asperger's Syndrome can bring will be slow in general work areas, so long as those in charge of recruitment insist on emphasising they are looking for people who work well as part of a team, in particular 'their' team.

    Most with autistic minds by definition do not fit well into teams but function very well as outsiders or as socially semi-detached individuals. The clue is in the word 'individuals' and the current language of job adverts is inherently biased against them.

  7. Comment by Susie posted on

    I'm heartened to see the inclusion of neuro -diversity. I have been fully supported in my role in HMRC as part of the Civil Service Positive Action Pathway Programme for underrepresented groups. I have a brain injury and my mind works slightly different than it used, yet I was encouraged through this Talent programme to overcome my personal barriers and have achieved promotion. The Civil Service will truly benefit in supporting underrepresented groups and will build an increased level of understanding at Senior Levels.
    It is right that the Civil Service leads and role-models in equality and diversity.

  8. Comment by Sarah posted on

    My 12 year old nephew, who has Asperger's Syndrome, is likely to be the next Alan Turing! I hope that he considers, and I hope that the GCHQ is able to offer him, a career in the GCHQ when he finishes school/university. At just 12 years old he is already writing quite complex computer programmes and excels in all things physics, maths and IT related at school. Although he may lack the general day to day conversational skills that we all take for granted, he is a talented and truly inspirational young boy!