The Changing Role of Women in the Security Industry

Women have gone through a series of struggles to prove their capability and become equal in the workplace to their male counterparts. Prior to World War II, women were expected to stay home and provide care for the household, and children and men were expected to “bring home the bacon.” Ideologies began to shift as women who entered the labor pool during the war wanted to remain in the workforce; women’s pursuit of equal pay and equitable working conditions continues today.

Over time, there have been many changes in the role of women in the security profession and their contribution to this specific industry which, over the years, has been predominently dominated by men. There is a new movement on the horizon, and it includes capable women implementing a vision of change.

Women are gradually making their way into this highly male-oriented profession. Ten years ago, the percentage of women in the security industry was virtually nonexistent. More recently, women have actively positioned themselves for growth within the security profession in both government and private industry. At this time, the number of women in security is rapidly increasing in the workforce.

Women have faced barriers to penetrating the security industry because many posts in law enforcement were traditionally held by men, and these positions transitioned well into the security field. The transformation in the security industry from a commodity-based sale to an IT-centric business was the opening for an influx of new visionaries, which, of course, included women.

In the past, security was reluctantly implemented on a shoestring budget. Today, electronic security has become integral to all operations. This change has opened the industry to a new market of employees capable of changing along with the times and presented a window of opportunity for the entry of something new, a diversified workforce bringing fresh approaches and creative ideas paving the road for the future of the security industry.

The security industry has begun to recognize the value of women and their unique creativity contributing to team cohesiveness and better profits. Leadership is diligently working to align the objective of the profession with the global objectives of promoting diversity and equality. As Kacy Zurkus said in a CSO piece on women in the industry, “In order to redesign corporate culture and offer more diversified incentive programs, enterprises need to first understand the obstacles women in security encounter in the workplace.”

Gaps need to be bridged to provide women with an egalitarian environment. Frost & Sullivan agree in a 2017 white paper, saying “As the workforce gap in cybersecurity continues to rise, the number of women professionals in the field remains stagnant at 11%. Despite higher levels of education, women still earn less than men and more than half experience various forms of discrimination.”

Many women in senior roles in the physical security profession agree that participation in leadership development programs and mentoring programs is an important key to success. Prioritizing female leadership development ensures a well-integrated company. Organizations must fund these programs to enhance the capabilities and potential of all women within the industry, whether public or private sector. Accommodating more women in the security profession is not a question of gender parity; rather, it is a responsibility on the part of the leadership to accommodate more women and bring increased diversified talent in the overall security domain.

As notes, “For many years now, women have made their impact known throughout the industry, and the numbers of successful women in security seems to increase every year” emphasising the growing importance of women managers in this field. Renae Leary of Tyco International states that “the convergence of physical and cyber security is advancing quickly, which is helping to expand the role of women in physical security. More IT professionals have crossed over to the physical security systems world, and as a result, more women are engaging and operating in this space.”

Within the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women in leadership roles within in the security profession. More and more women are holding executive-level jobs in organizations across the globe. Women entering security in junior-level positions are quickly and remarkably climbing the organizational ladder of success. Women have been adding credibility to security organizations and have also been observed to be infusing respect in the processes and approaches of such organizations. These are some primary reasons why innovative and forward-thinking security organizations are hiring more women and placing more women in managerial roles. The keen eye for details and the depth of creativity and technical knowledge are key points that have drawn the attention of leadership in security organizations towards women employees who show promising potential.

Diversity on a team brings a fresh approach in order to look at the same problem in a new way. Numerous women in the security industry lead the way, including Harriet Pearson, the first chief privacy officer in the Fortune 500 and an internationally recognized corporate privacy and data security pioneer. Another in the public sector is federal government executive Marcia Levin, responsible for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Federal Identity, Credential and Access Management (FICAM) policy. Ms. Levin states, “Women are good in security because we have compassionate perspectives that help address all components of being ‘protected,’ and we are inherently curious multi-taskers, where men have a more singular focus.”

Holding leadership positions in any industry that has been male dominated creates numerous challenges for female executives. Women security professionals show more talent and potential to develop industry relationships and manage employee relations; however, there are still objectives to accomplish to provide for the integration of more women in the security field. Specific strategies must be effectively implemented to ensure biases are eliminated, such as hostile work environments and conceptual stereotypes in order to entice the recruitment of more women. Employers must, therefore, create equitable workplace cultures with flexibility and fair expectations for both men and women and also enforce fair hiring policies through tools like diversity training and blind resume screening.

There are still disparities in the context of gender treatment. Mentors must encourage women employees to aspire and acquire leadership roles and navigate their careers by providing guidance. Senior leaders should act as sponsors, using their influence to advocate high visibility for women in physical security professions. Such approaches are essential to drawing the attention to promote and incorporate female talent.

More can be done to support the expansion of female leadership. There is a need to develop competencies among women employees who have the capability to emerge as effective leaders and managers. It has been observed that the most successful managers in the security profession have been those who have strong leadership qualities, technical competence, courage and thorough commitment.

There is a shortage of women managers and leaders in the security profession, and studies have shown that a more diversified leadership team in companies means more success for the company. We hope to encourage and empower women to strive for leadership roles within the security industry. A 2016 survey of 21,980 publicly traded companies in 91 countries concluded that “the presence of more female leaders in top positions of corporate management correlates with increased profitability of companies. This confirms what study after study for more than a decade have found – that having increased female leadership on your team or board leads to increased financial results.”

Women help create a better work environment; they relate through empathy, communication and appreciation for other points of views. Women are more sensitive and intuitive than men and possess the emotional intelligence needed to create a well-rounded workforce. Women have a greater willingness to communicate and receive feedback contributing to problem solving and risk management. Women improve productivity, adapt better and possess greater purchasing power based on the uniqueness they add to this industry. Women currently account for 85 percent of all purchasing decisions worldwide.

As theBoardlist says in a Medium piece on women in leadership, “Women are full of optimism and positivity. For them the glass is always half full rather than half empty. Women can sense opportunity everywhere. They are focused and strategic and keep their eye on the prize. There is increasing evidence in work environments that women are the creative force for strengthening team dynamics. Having the skill to multi-task, unite people and draw together opinions, optimize the decision-making processes and motivate others to excel and flourish more efficiently. Diversity is the organization of the future.” These benefits cannot be ignored any longer; promote women, make their pay equal and create a better, more profitable company in the process.

In the security profession, women still face typical problems of unequal pay and promotion and other issues that need be addressed and mitigated. Fostering a diverse workforce will allow for women to show their talents and make a conscious contribution to the process of securing a safer future.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts and/or profiles are those of the authors or sources and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Security Industry Association (SIA).