8 March 2019 - SIS is celebrating International Women’s Day!

We have some truly inspirational women in the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), and while we are not able to invite you in to hear their stories, we didn’t want you to miss out on the celebrations! 

Read on to gain a fascinating flavour of what it was like to join SIS in the early days of our organisation, contrasted by stories from women in SIS today, and their personal journeys into the Service.

 

It’s 1909, and you’re a woman joining SIS…

When SIS was formed in 1909, it was a male-dominated age and all the major figures in the organisation’s creation – politicians, civil servants and military – were men. The Service’s first ‘Chief’, Captain Sir Mansfield Cumming, decided to recruit some women agents, while female personnel constituted an important part of our headquarters team during the First World War. Although most of his female staff were single, he did not exclude married women and even sent some of them abroad (with good salaries). This was in contrast with practice elsewhere in the civil service, where women were often obliged to resign from their posts on marrying. Sadly this enlightened attitude did not long outlive Cumming, and SIS subsequently applied Whitehall’s more restrictive employment practices until their amendment in the 1970s.

During the Service’s early decades and beyond, how you were recruited into SIS varied, ranging from via personal connections (the ‘tap on the shoulder’) to discreet advertisements in newspapers. With very few exceptions, women were largely consigned to clerical and secretarial roles and, however secret and ‘different’ SIS may have been, social values and conventions affected the Service in the same way they did the rest of British society. Nevertheless, secretaries often assumed real operational roles while employed overseas (often those with the least staff) and, occasionally, the wives of intelligence officers made telling contributions to their husbands’ work.

Happily, over the last thirty to forty years careers in SIS have radically changed. Women are present in every facet of the Service’s activities, as you will see...

 

Fast-forward 110 years…

Michelle, Science and Technology specialist on breaking her ‘glass ceiling’

Inspired by: Malala Yousafzai, for her efforts in campaigning for educational equality for women and children across the world and her advocacy for human rights.  Read more...

Emma, budget manager and gender equality advocate

Inspired by: Coco Chanel, for her creativity, confidence and perseverance: building a successful business in predominantly a man’s world.   Read more...

Catherine, from business support to regional specialist

Inspired by: Angela Carter, an amazing writer, whose work was so ahead of its time on gender, sexuality and female power that it could have been written yesterday!   Read more...

Alison, operational leader and Mum

Inspired by: Margarita Pracatan (just do it, with style or not).   Read more...