The rampantly heterosexual James Bond is its most famous fictional spy.
But now a gay MI6 officer has proclaimed that the intelligence agency is the best place he has worked at for its supportive attitude towards staff in same-sex relationships.
Daniel, who joined MI6 three years ago, said that when he applied he wondered how he would fare as a gay man in an organisation that once banned homosexual recruits as a blackmail risk.
But he said that within days of starting he realised how welcoming his fellow spies were and now views his job as the best he has ever done.
“I wanted to do something for the country but I admit that when I went to apply I was hovering over the submit button thinking, ‘I’m gay, how far am I going to get with this?’,” he said.
“But when I went through the selection they were much more interested in my skills.
“On my first day I was very nervous — I’d had some bad experiences in previous jobs with homophobic bullying. But as I started to come out I realised people were supportive here.
“So I came out more in the first three weeks here than the rest of my life. I can’t think of any job I have had where I have felt so welcomed.”
Daniel’s comments came as he and another gay MI6 officer, Claire, spoke to the Evening Standard about their careers in the Secret Intelligence Service. They said their aim in speaking out was to highlight the opportunities available for gay recruits at MI6, which this year came 20th in Stonewall’s list of the 100 most gay-friendly employers.
The spy agency also lit up its Vauxhall headquarters in the colours of the rainbow flag during the recent Pride celebrations. Several of its staff also took part in the Pride march.
Claire, who has spied for MI6 for about 25 years, including on overseas postings, said that the agency wanted to recruit gay staff to avoid missing out on talent. It also wanted to benefit from the different perspectives that gay spies could sometimes provide.
“I have enjoyed every single job I’ve done,” she said. “Things have changed in the past 25 years and particularly in the last 10 years we have really embraced diversity. I came out within the organisation. People were very supportive.
“We can also bring different perspectives and opinions. Encouraging diversity can help to avoid group think.”
MI6 is also working to make it easier for gay spies to work abroad in countries where homosexuality is either illegal or met with hostility.