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UK appoints first female GCHQ director as Anne Keast-Butler succeeds Sir Jeremy Fleming

Apr 12, 20233 mins
CareersCritical InfrastructureIT Leadership

Keast-Butler takes on the role in May and aims to make the UK more secure through diversity.

anne keast butler
Credit: UK GOV

The UK government has appointed Anne Keast-Butler as the new director of intelligence, security, and cyber agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Keast-Butler was appointed following a cross-government recruitment process and will succeed Sir Jeremy Fleming, who is stepping down after six years in the role. Keast-Butler, currently serving as deputy director general at domestic counterintelligence and security agency MI5, will become the first female director of GCHQ. She will take up her post in May.

Prior to MI5, Keast-Butler spent two years on secondment to GCHQ as head of counter terrorism and serious organised crime. She has also spent part of the last decade on secondment in Whitehall, helping to launch the National Cyber Security Programme – an £860 million, five-year initiative to tackle cyberthreats and make the UK safer.

Keast-Butler’s security exercise will help combat cybercriminals, malign foreign powers

Keast-Butler’s proven track record at the heart of the UK’s national security will help to counter threats posed by terrorists, cybercriminals, and malign foreign powers, said foreign secretary James Cleverly. “She is the ideal candidate to lead GCHQ, and Anne will use her vast experience to help keep the British public safe,” he added.

Anne’s appointment is fantastic news for the organisation, added outgoing GCHQ director Fleming. “I have worked with Anne for decades and think she is a brilliant choice with deep experience of intelligence and security in today’s technology-driven world.”

Keast-Butler aims to make the UK more secure through diversity

Keast-Butler said she is delighted to become the seventeenth director of GCHQ and looks forward to working alongside a team of people from diverse backgrounds with a broad range of skills who share a singular focus on making the UK safer, more secure, and more prosperous.

“In just the last year GCHQ has contributed vital intelligence to shape the West’s response to the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, helped disrupt terrorist plots, and worked tirelessly to tackle the ongoing threat of ransomware, the impact of which costs the UK dearly,” she added.

Cybersecurity still has poor female leadership representation

The appointment of a female to such a notable security leadership role for the first time is significant, particularly given the cybersecurity industry’s poor track record in attracting and retaining female talent.

Research led by cybersecurity PR firm Eskenzi revealed that women only hold 21% of leadership roles and 17% of board member positions within the world’s leading cybersecurity companies. Most management roles women hold within cybersecurity organisations are in either marketing, people, or HR positions, the survey found. Meanwhile, one in ten companies listed no female leadership on their websites.

ISC2’s 2022 Cybersecurity Workforce Study found that women account for 30% of global cybersecurity workers who are under the age of 30, with that figure dropping to just 14% of those 60 or older. It also found that women across the board remain underrepresented in advanced, non-managerial positions, where they make up only 17% of the respondent base.

“This is a momentous moment for women’s representation. Diversity in cybersecurity is key because we need a real mix of minds to provide solutions to oncoming threats and ensure our own systems are unpredictable,” said Anna Brailsford, CEO of Code First Girls. Women who may never have considered a career in codebreaking, intelligence, and tech will now see a director that looks like them and think again, Brailsford added.

UK Editor

Michael Hill is the UK editor of CSO Online. He has spent the past five-plus years covering various aspects of the cybersecurity industry, with particular interest in the ever-evolving role of the human-related elements of information security. A keen storyteller with a passion for the publishing process, he enjoys working creatively to produce media that has the biggest possible impact on the audience.

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