GCHQ Flies the Suffrage Flag
The suffrage flag is flying at GCHQ in Cheltenham today - one of its stops on a nationwide relay of civil service departments - and as Chair of GCHQ Women's Network, I wanted to explain why we're so proud to be part of the relay and to fly the flag outside one of our buildings.
When I joined GCHQ almost ten years ago, I didn't really think about my gender - the linguist community at GCHQ is broadly reflective of the linguist community at university (more women than men). I enjoyed flexible working inasmuch as it enabled me to miss the traffic on my commute, but didn't put much more thought into it. It wasn't until a few years later, when I got pregnant, that I started to pay a bit more attention to the policies and processes at GCHQ that might affect me as a woman.
I enjoyed the generous maternity leave package and on my return to work, I worked even more flexibly - first compressed hours, then swapping some week days in favour of working weekends - to manage my work and home life. It was all very straightforward. But talking to other women in the same position, I found that the experience was not universal. For some, returning to work from maternity leave can be a difficult adjustment so I was determined to do something to make it easier for everyone. I joined the then newly formed Maternity Working Group, which now counts amongst its successes a buddy scheme and improvements to the GCHQ parental leave processes, including Keeping in Touch days.
Fast forward six years and I now find myself Chair of the Women's Network. As one of GCHQ's affinity groups, we work to support all women in the workplace and lead on a number of initiatives aimed at addressing the issues which might affect women during their career at GCHQ. As well as looking at the processes and practices, we highlight some of the amazing role models in GCHQ and help them share their stories.
In the centenary year of women's suffrage, GCHQ Women's Network gets a lot of inspiration from the women who fought so hard for women's rights all those years ago. They insisted that what was important was deeds, not words, and it is something I have seen GCHQ take to its heart, making equality, diversity and inclusion critical to its mission. GCHQ continues to create a work environment that helps everyone thrive by encouraging reduced hours working and shared parental leave packages and this year the GCHQ Women's Network and the Wellbeing Team in HR joined forces to launch a menopause support group. As the suffrage flag flies above the 'Doughnut', it shows that GCHQ cares about gender equality and as Chair of the Women's Network, I know we are making real progress and seeing the flag fly inspires us to do even more.