MI5 is committed to ensuring that diversity is at the forefront of everything we do. International Day for Persons with a Disability, on 3rd December 2019, gives us the opportunity to confirm our commitment to working together for a better world that is inclusive for everyone, and promote the value of persons with a disability in the workplace. Understanding and appreciating the full spectrum of those with disabilities ensures that the opportunities we provide are accessible to all. What follows is a fascinating and inspiring blog written by a colleague in their own words.
"In my career so far in MI5, I’ve been an investigator in teams working to understand and disrupt the threat posed by terrorist networks in the UK and overseas; I’ve worked with MI5’s agent running teams; I’ve worked with police across the UK, with GCHQ, with SIS and with foreign liaison partners; my current role is bringing in technology to shape the MI5 of the future; I also happen to have a Disability.
I’m visually impaired which, in my case, means I need to hold things up close, I struggle with reading large volumes of information quickly, I can’t recognise faces at more than a few metres away and am below the level of vision required to drive. From my teens to my 20s, I’d worked hard to overcome a few setbacks in life to develop skills that set me up to apply for a range of careers but had pretty much ruled myself out of becoming a “spy”. I presumed my Disability would prevent me from joining a profession which sounded like it would require someone to drive fast cars, read large volumes of intelligence quickly and spot faces across crowded spaces.
However, when I was considering job options and saw an advert which prompted me to browse the MI5 website, I noticed the Disability Confident employer status and read more about the actual roles. This piqued my interest enough to give an application a go. The recruiters were really friendly and went out of their way to ensure I got the workplace adjustments I needed to give me the best chance to demonstrate my skills. For me, this included enlarging documents, giving me some extra time to read and helping familiarise me with surroundings before and during the Assessment Centre. To my surprise, I made it through and was recruited as an Intelligence Officer, deployed into MI5’s Counter Terrorism Investigations teams.
In work, I was offered a range of adjustments to help me fulfil my role, including larger monitors, text enlargement and screen-reading software as well as great support from my team and Line Manager. I also found a network of colleagues with Disabilities working to make MI5 a more inclusive environment. I was able to develop hugely in my first role, grow in confidence and started to see the positives of my Disability in contrast to the negatives which I mainly focussed on when growing up. As a team we disrupted a number of extremist networks conducting facilitation and attack planning activity in the UK, working flexibly but also at a high tempo when we needed to.
Sometimes self-doubts have crept back in, particularly when I’ve moved to new roles, but I’ve felt supported by the Line Managers I’ve had in my career in getting any extra help I’ve needed to do my job to the best of my ability. MI5 has been a team environment and through the support I’ve received I now believe my Disability has contributed to some of the success in my career, in particular helping my resilience and problem-solving abilities which has come in useful when things haven’t quite gone to plan. I’ve also found my own experience with my eyesight has shaped my high level of interest in understanding challenges faced by others. These skills of listening and curiosity have really helped when developing professional relationships with the wide range of partners you come across in intelligence work.
As someone with a Disability I feel proud we’ve now come even further than since I joined, being crowned the winners of the Business Disability Forum Smart Award for Workplace Experience 2019. I also happen to be part of the LGBT+ community and am given time by my boss to make a positive contribution to networks relevant to both Protected Characteristics as part of my day job. After more than a decade, I still get such a buzz working for a friendly, caring employer which tries to support the full range of staff we have to focus on helping to make the UK a safer place to live for everyone."