MI5 is committed to ensuring that diversity is at the forefront of everything we do. Black History Month has given us the opportunity to reflect on how MI5 is perceived and experienced by black communities. Understanding and appreciating the full spectrum of British communities ensures that the opportunities we provide are accessible to all. What follows is a blog written by a colleague in their own words. We read it with interest, we hope you will too.
Driving past the MI5 building a few years ago, a pair of jeans caught my eye. A guy in jeans, a t-shirt and trainers walking through the doors. It was such a brief moment but I could not get this image out of my head. Not because he stood out, but because he didn’t. He looked like a regular guy - in the sense that he didn’t seem the type to have just raced through the streets of London in an Aston Martin with the licence plate “00…something”.
Up until that moment, I was sure of the type of person that would work in MI5 and up until that moment I was sure that I wasn’t that type of person.
As a graduate I got sent emails about various job opportunities, and one that had stood out was about a career in MI5. From a young age, I had had aspirations to work for the organisation but I had never dared to apply. Even though I met most of the criteria for the role, I still didn’t believe I ticked all the boxes.
For me, the concept of fitting in stems back to primary school. I felt like a normal young girl but quickly became aware that I was different. Normal for me is dark brown skin, a London accent with a West African twang and hair that grows in very tight curls and defies gravity! As I got older, these differences made it more difficult to feel like I fit in anywhere because I always stood out. At my first job during university, I tried to fit in more by changing myself. Straightening my hair so that I wouldn’t attract unwanted attention and using my “telephone voice” all day. It was exhausting. It wasn’t me. When applying for jobs I had to be sure that I could be my authentic self every day. With MI5, I couldn’t just knock on the door and have a look around. The only way I would find out was if I applied.
The application process was thorough, with more stages than your average job and no room for me to pretend to be something that I’m not! Parts of the process were daunting and at times I wanted to withdraw. I only told my parents about my application but on the days when I was feeling unsure about the whole thing I was grateful for their encouragement. Making it all the way through the application process is a great achievement and any parent would be proud, and my parents were because I had the courage to apply! Although I had to stress to them the importance of not telling anyone else I had applied.
Fast forward past a telephone interview and a face to face interview in the office. I was incredibly nervous. On my first official wander through the building, I can’t say that everyone looked like me (I wasn’t expecting that) but at the same time I encountered more versions of ‘normal’ than I could ever anticipate. Something I would have never experienced if I had withdrawn from the process.
I have just started my 3rd year here and I can honestly say that choosing MI5 as an employer has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I feel like the difference I bring to the organisation is valued. Both in my day to day role and in the work I do as part of the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic diversity network. No organisation is perfect, but the people here are making a real and genuine effort to make things better, reflected in MI5’s success in many national diversity awards.
For most of my life, I never thought I would be the right fit for MI5. As trivial as it sounds, one pair of jeans began to change my mind. I hope that in sharing my experience as an applicant and now employee of MI5, I have given you a small window into what life is really like here. Being different almost stopped me from applying, but now I am so grateful that I can come into my place of work every day being nothing else but me.
We will be publishing further staff blogs relating to Disability and International Women’s Day.
Click the image to read more about Inclusion at MI5