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Everything is in place to support you

Book open Reading time: 4 mins

I joined the agencies 20 years ago in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 attacks having studied science at University. I’d originally planned to have a career in the Financial sector, as it seemed like a natural progression for me from my uni course and I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. However, having started down that path, I quickly realised that I’d be more motivated by doing something more grounded in the public sector and with the opportunity to have a really varied career within one organisation. My research brought me to the organisations and after a 9-month recruitment process, I was offered a place on the generalist stream (sometimes referred to as the “Investigative stream”).

I’m of mixed heritage and I describe myself as Black British. I remember in my interview remarking that there probably weren’t “many Black northerners in the orgs”… and at that time, I was right. This didn’t personally daunt me because having been through education in predominantly white schools, I was used to being in a community where very few people looked like me. But I’m conscious that this may feel different for others and may initially feel daunting.

Over my 20 years, I’ve had exactly what I wanted – a varied career where I’ve felt part of an important and supportive team pulling together towards a common goal – protecting the public. I started off working on investigations, analysing and sifting volumes of information trying to work out the most important strands, and bringing it together in a coherent way which enabled me to describe a threat and the options for disrupting it. I’ve done this in different thematic areas including Serious Crime (when we had that remit), Northern Ireland related Terrorism, Islamic Counter Terrorism and more recently Extreme Right-Wing Terrorism.

It’s been interesting seeing how technology has changed in that time. When I joined, having a mobile phone and a pager were the cutting-edge and the internet was still a relatively new thing for the vast majority of the public. The extremists who we investigated were no different. I couldn’t have predicted how quickly things would change and how central to everything we do technology and data has become.

A significant part of my career has been in agent running (or CHIS if you watch Line of Duty), I was always interested in working with people right at the heart of terrorist groups and the complexities involved in keeping them safe and legal. Really difficult to do! I’d meet CHIS who were, or had been, extremists themselves and although we were different in lots of ways, there was usually always some common ground or similarities (music, sport, family etc). I had a stark realisation that in many ways, some CHIS are not very much different from me even though some had done terrible things in their past, and through years of investigating them on paper, I’d missed that fact. Tech has been crucial to me in my intelligence roles because of the need to evolve our capabilities and deliver safe deployments in critical work like this.

I’ve been promoted through junior grades, middle management and into senior management over 20 years. I think I’ve always been ambitious but main career “strategy” has been to apply for roles which a) I was interested in and b) were developmental and stretched me, whether it was a lateral move or promotion. So, I’ve never applied for promotion for promotion’s sake. This seems to have worked and I feel like I’m roughly where I should be at this stage in my career. I’ve never felt discriminated against or that I’ve had to work harder than others to get where I am, but I’m conscious that that’s my experience on an individual level. I feel like I’ve had great support here in the same ways as other colleagues from different backgrounds to me. I’ve definitely had role models and I’d like to think I’ve taken some personal learning from a few key people more senior than me, but junior to me as well.

I want to be honest, and during my 20-year career here I have unfortunately experienced a small number of incidents where colleagues have used language that is unacceptable towards me, whether this be through microaggressions or racial slurs. As I do outside of work, I’ve judged each situation and made a personal choice on how and when I challenge and report this behaviour. The agencies have a strict code of practice that everyone must follow to address any behaviour like this. However, I am pleased to say that things have certainly progressed and changed, and I have always been supported by my manager and team when I have needed it.

The final thing I’d say is that I’ve loved working for the agencies, and it’s exceeded my expectations. I’d recommend it to anyone who thinks it might be for them as its genuinely a great place to be with unique and interesting work as well as supportive colleagues and an inclusive environment.

For those that might not think it’s for them, I’d encourage them to give it a try. The opportunity to develop and obtain transferable skills means that in the unlikely event it’s not for you, then you can leave and continue your career without gaps in your CV.

Whilst we’re more diverse than when I joined, there is more to do and it’s clear that there’s more resource and momentum being put into delivering the organisational priorities on equality, diversion and inclusion. I know from direct conversations with Directors and the Director General how much of a priority it is for the top team, and I wouldn’t still be trying to support where I can if I thought it was just a tick box exercise. That doesn’t mean it’s not a difficult and complex challenge ahead, but the senior support is there. I also hope I can help support, mentor and coach new Black talent joining the office.