LONDON Just over 25 years since Britain's powerful domestic spy agency dropped a ban on hiring homosexuals, MI5 was hailed on Tuesday as the country's most gay-friendly employer.
MI5 was ranked first out of more than 400 organizations by rights group Stonewall in a 2016 Workplace Equality Index for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. Just six years ago, MI5 was ranked at 134th in the index.
"People can only give the best they can give when they feel supported, valued and treated with respect by their colleagues," Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, told the charity.
"Diversity is vital for MI5, not just because it’s right that we represent the communities we serve, but because we rely on the skills of the most talented people whoever they are, and wherever they may be," Parker said.
MI5, established in 1909 to counter German espionage ahead of World War One, fought the Soviet-era KGB during the Cold War and now spends about two thirds of its money on international counter terrorism, predominantly linked to Syria.
British spies in MI5 and other services such as MI6 and GCHQ have for years been trying to ditch the perception that they are male-dominated bastions of reaction.
The accolade from Stonewall, complete with a rare public comment from one of Britain's most powerful spy chiefs, will help MI5 pitch itself as a modern spy service.
Of the 4,000 people employed by MI5, 41 percent are women and just over half are less than 40 years old, according to the spy service.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)