I never imagined that I would work in the security industry. I have a communications degree. I dreamed of working as a journalist. But practicality set in. I was getting married and starting a family. At that stage in my life, I wanted a full-time job close to home. I got my first job in the security industry thanks to a good friend. He knew that I was looking for something with stability and hired me to process payroll. I was attracted to the hours and benefits that I would receive. I intended for that job to be temporary. My journalism career could wait a few more months. Fourteen years – and several jobs in various departments – later, I am now a vice president for a multinational security company. In retrospect, I doubt that I would have risen through the ranks as quickly as I did if I had worked in another field. The security industry is growing more quickly than many other industries, and that means that there are great opportunities to succeed if you work hard and stay the course.
Even with the many opportunities for women in security, we remain underrepresented compared to our male counterparts. In 2014 the U.S. Department of Labor reported that only 7.5 percent of security and fire alarm installers, 18 percent of information security analysts and 23 percent of people working in the security guard sector were women. Despite these statistics, there have been substantial increases in the number of women entering the industry in recent years, and there are tremendous stories of women being promoted to senior-level positions. The balance of power is shifting.
Security executives are actively promoting and recruiting women because they recognize the correlation between diversity and business success. In 2017 McKinsey & Company did a comprehensive study on the state of women in corporate America. More than 70,000 employees from 222 companies were surveyed. The 222 participating companies were ranked based on their representation of women in manager and senior leadership roles and the average rate at which they promote women across their talent pipeline. The top-performing companies in the group had the highest ratings in a weighted composite of these measures. Forward-thinking executives know that a diverse workplace promotes creativity and that the security industry, perhaps more than most, is in need of creative people. Women and men think a little differently, and that’s a good thing. When we challenge prevailing opinions on operational requirements or the company’s branding strategy, we are defying the status quo. Constantly defying the status quo is how companies evolve. Being a woman in the security industry today is an advantage because there is organizational support to hire, promote and retain women in the name of diversity.
If you are innovative, there is ample opportunity for you. Technological advances are changing the conversations we have with our customers every day. It is important that we remain innovative and be early adopters of new technology. If you work as a security guard , there are increasing demands for you to be skilled at using technology. If you work as an integrator, there are always new trends on the horizon, such as virtual reality, block chain and the internet of things. In cybersecurity there are changes every day, such as the most recent General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. Over time we will see more and more women leading the charge for technological innovation in the security industry. That’s because in society as a whole we are seeing more and more women getting their education in science, technology, engineering and math. Women work well in team environments, and the success of any new project is the ability of teammates to understand and respond to the needs of the team. Diversity on a team brings about greater creativity and fresh approaches to look at the same problem in a new way. There is an advantage to being a woman in the security industry today if you have an innovative spirit and enjoy working in a team environment.
There is ample opportunity in security to be mentored or sponsored by other women. A mentor is someone who will advise you on how best to succeed. A sponsor is someone who will advocate on your behalf. Both are important to your success. Most women in senior positions recognize the challenges that exist in reaching those levels. They have fought hard for their promotions. More often than not, they are willing to mentor or sponsor other women in the industry to help them achieve similar goals. If your company has a formal mentor or sponsorship program, it is in your best interest to get involved; if not, take a moment to ask someone you trust and admire if they would be willing to invest some time in your career success. Most likely they will be happy to do so. It is an advantage to be a woman in the security industry because the few women who have made it to senior positions recognize the challenges that exist in reaching those levels and want to give back to the next generation.
There are several networking groups within the security industry designed specifically for women. The Security Industry Association (SIA) developed the Women in Security Forum to support the participation of women in the industry. ASIS has its Women in Security Council, and around the country several chapters regularly host events for women in security. Women in Cybersecurity is a not-for-profit organization that has a mandate to the continuing effort to recruit, retain and advance women in that sector. Networking is critical for advancing your career, and organizations such as these are important. It is equally important to network outside of the industry. Find out what interests your colleagues and customers, and spend time getting to know them outside of the business. Herminia Ibarra at the Wall Street Journal recently studied the experience that women in business have networking. She found that “when an organization’s senior ranks and an industry’s power players are mostly male, the ‘likes attract’ principle means that women often have to work harder to build relationships with decision makers and influence stakeholders.” Networking is a valuable use of time. An advantage that women working in the security industry today have is that there are a number of like-minded people who also want to succeed in their careers. They have taken the time to develop informal and formal networks designed to support their peers.
Training is a cornerstone of the security industry, and as a result there are ample opportunities for continuing your education. Whether you work for a company that hires technicians, security guards or consultants, training is critical to operations. Having a robust training culture improves a company’s credentials and credibility in the market. Most security companies offer several types of training, including job-specific technical training, soft skill training such as customer service skills and management training to prepare the future generation for promotion. Sometimes that training is offered in-house, and other times it is external. Either way, it is an advantage being a woman in the security industry today because the number of opportunities to further your education likely exceeds those in other industries.
Despite the hard work that comes from working in the security industry, there is an opportunity for work-life balance. Working from home, or being a virtual employee, is a growing trend. Our industry is 24/7, and many of us work unusual hours to satisfy our customers. In addition, the need for security is everywhere. Security companies often cover vast territories. Telecommuting is not only common when service is required around the clock, but it is also a way to meet the needs of people who are expected to travel for their jobs. For women, who are still often the primary caregivers at home, telecommuting provides the necessary flexibility to balance work and home life. As long as you are willing to put in extra hours outside of normal business hours, and your work product proves that you are self motivated, most companies nowadays will offer virtual employment. The growing number of security companies offering options for telecommuting is yet another advantage for women working in this industry.
Most importantly, if you want to promote real positive change for other career-driven women, working in the security industry is a great option. Yes, there are significantly more men than women working in the security industry today. Yes, there remains an imbalance of power at the executive level in some companies. Yes, there are some conservative attitudes inherent in the work environment that will challenge you every day. But the rate of change in this industry is exponential, and that rate of change can be exploited to your advantage if you wish to get ahead. As new technology is introduced, stay on top of the research. See if you can spot trends in technology. Learn all you can about robots, drones, biometrics and artificial intelligence. Research your customers. Understand what drives them in their markets. What trends are they seeing? How are risks and threats to their environments changing? If you are constantly thinking proactively of ways you can solve your customers’ problems, you will succeed. The more knowledge you have in any job, the more power you will have in your organization. John F. Kennedy Jr. once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
A note to leaders: I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to promote gender diversity in the security industry. As an industry we should be actively seeking to hire, retain and promote women in all levels of the organization. Successful organizations are diverse organizations. Encourage the women in your company to be innovative. Support their creative pursuits, and give them the latitude to spend time researching trends and to try new things. Encourage them to join networking groups. Remember that the path to success through networking is a little bit harder for women than it is for men. You may have to proactively invite them into your inner circle occasionally, but you will be rewarded with what you learn in the process. Women are very observant. Communicate all of the wonderful training opportunities that exist in your company. Encourage women to take advantage of that training, and you will reap the benefits. Remember that work-life balance is important for all employees. Do your best to provide flexibility where it makes sense. Good employees will pay you back with hard work and loyalty. Educate your line managers on the importance of gender diversity, and give them the tools they need to drive change.
Final advice to women: Don’t adjust the ways you do things to impress your male colleagues It is our differences that help us succeed. Embrace those differences, and challenge prevailing attitudes. Support your female colleagues along the way. We will all be better off as a result.
I am lucky to work for a company that promotes the advancement of women in security. There are many companies like mine that do today. Good luck in whatever path you take in your career, and remember to work hard and stay the course.
Do you agree with these opinions?