Women in Intelligence

Women have been involved in the intelligence domain for centuries. Yet, the position and prevalence of women in intelligence services today has been impacted by countries’ legacies of conflict.


For instance, women have an established leadership role in many Western intelligence agencies as a result of the world wars. Women were recruited into the US military as cryptologists and telephone operators during WWI, this development being repeated across the pond in the UK during WWII. Israel provides a more recent example of male-female teams being the norm, during the Israel-Palestine conflict.


Given the varied work undertaken by intelligence services, a diverse workforce is crucial. Increased gender balance in intelligence agencies may result in originality of thinking, thus improving intelligence analysis and response to national security threats. Women have been shown to bring specific characteristics that have a direct impact on intelligence work. Women perceive risk differently to men, being more risk-averse. They are also especially prone to staying calm and assessing odds and probabilities in times of turbulence, necessary skills for high-pressure situations.


Avril Haines | via NTI



Emotional intelligence and intuition give women an edge when it comes to recognising behavioural patterns to successfully combat adversaries and detect anomalies and threats. These attributes make the continued (and increased) recruitment of women a priority for all governments. In light of this, many countries have undertaken reviews of gender balance and the position of women within the intelligence sector. Some countries have gone further by putting strategies in place to increase the female presence in intelligence.


Reform of the gender balance in the intelligence sector is a relatively new concern, but governments are increasingly aware that intelligence products must reflect the security needs of an entire population. It is important to ensure a holistic gender perspective to improve intelligence tradecraft.