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In The Spotlight: ASIS International UK Chapter

by Brian Sims

The security business sector isn’t known for being the most diverse when it comes to its constituent individuals. Most industry members fit a demographic as the industry remains for the most part male, with many resident professionals emanating from backgrounds in the military or the police service. This is particularly true when we consider senior leaders within the industry, but it’s fair to state that the times are slowly changing. James Morris focuses on the subjects of diversity and inclusion in the security world.

Driven by the ever-evolving business and threat environment, and fuelled by the growth in risk management degree courses, professionals from diverse backgrounds are now open to a range of career opportunities that the security sector can offer, while companies are increasingly appreciating the value that diverse teams offer. This is a good thing both for the security industry and the businesses whom we serve. However, there remains much work to be done.

There’s extensive research providing a wealth of evidence on the range of tangible benefits of diverse and inclusive organisational cultures. These encompass higher returns on equity and investment, better financial performance, improved corporate governance and increased innovation, creativity and competitiveness.

A welcoming and diverse workplace is one in which the best employees are welcomed and where all employees feel supported in their career development and empowered when it comes to achieving their goals. These environments offer the best way forward for attracting quality employees and, importantly, the best way to keep them. Hiring is one thing, but retention of security staff is every bit as important.

With high-performing employees come higher productivity, quality and improved morale. When employees feel and see that diversity is appreciated and promoted in the workplace, they’re generally more satisfied with their jobs. Often, a diverse workforce will provide the opportunity to have many different angles or points of view in the decision-making process, which then enables leaders to make better decisions that are often more innovative.

Diverse workforces are valuable to the security industry, but also to the clients and companies that employ security professionals. For all the technological advancements that the security industry enjoys, we are at our core a people industry. We employ people. We protect people. People are our most important asset and can be our best deterrent against adversaries. People can also be our biggest threat and our biggest weakness, so it’s important that we employ the best possible individuals we can.

Focusing on diversity

On Tuesday 16 April, the ASIS UK Chapter’s Women in Security, Young Professionals and Education (WiSYPED) Group organised an event entitled ‘Diversity and Inclusion in the Security Arena’. The event was hosted by asset management specialist Schroder plc at its London Wall offices in the City of London and was well attended.

The event saw many attendees from across the security business sector hear a fantastic Keynote from Emma Cusdin, people director at Aviva. Cusdin is also the director of Global Butterflies which helps companies create trans-inclusive working environments for both their employees and customers.

On the day, Cusdin shared her own experiences – both positive and negative – while challenging attendees and companies to review their diversity and inclusion programmes and to identify what they’re doing, but also what they could be doing better. She discussed the difference between diversity and inclusion, noting that companies can be the diverse organisation, but if they don’t allow all employees equal career and development opportunities and the opportunity to contribute then they’re not inclusive.

This presentation was followed by an informative panel discussion. Cusdin joined Ruben van Schalkwyk from Aon, Carolyn Pearson (of Maiden Voyage) and Houdah Al-Hakim from QuickClick Security. Each of the panel members are experts in diversity and inclusion in their own rights. The ensuing discussion was enlightening.

Cusdin, van Schalkwyk, Pearson and Al-Hakim shared their experiences from both within the industry and working alongside it, imparting useful tips on how to open company doors for a range of diverse employees from diverse backgrounds, and also how to ensure that companies are inclusive and absolutely making the most of the incredible range of talent to which the industry has access.

Some of the key points from the discussion were for companies to:

*Spend time reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of their teams in order to understand the gaps that new employees can bring. Diverse employees bring a range of backgrounds, experiences and skills that can enhance those of a team

*Review the process for developing job descriptions (rather than copy an existing member of the group, use the gaps identified to broaden the hiring process)

*Share job descriptions for open postings widely to encourage a greater range of applicants and experience

*Be clear with HR, hiring teams or recruiters that they’re looking for a range of candidates so should consider non-traditional backgrounds and be prepared to review a greater number of applications

*Create an interview process that targets talent rather than rewards past performance (this may require adding others to the interview panel who can identify different skills)

*Create an open environment for all new employees to join and to thrive and to feel part of the team and for experienced professionals to feel that their experience is valuable

*Focus on developing a culture wherein opportunities and development are possible for all based on talent and ability and performance rather than any personal factors

*Support experienced professionals by providing them with the tools and knowledge to work with people of diverse backgrounds

Creating a culture of diversity and inclusion

An important aspect of managing diversity is demonstrating and encouraging respect for all employees’ abilities and perspectives. There are several steps an employer can take, including creating a culture of diversity and inclusion that’s driven from the top down. A culture wherein the most senior leaders in the organisation demonstrate that they truly believe in the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce is important.

It’s also important that companies create a policy on diversity and inclusion and make sure that all employees have read and understood the policy. This should be stored in a central portal for all to access.

Training should be provided for all employees on the topics of diversity and inclusion. Employers must commit to recognise every employee’s abilities and perspectives, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs. Similarly, training should be provided for supervisors and managers on the diversity policy and how to handle situations, should they arise, where differences between employees are causing conflicts or interfering with productivity.

Only diverse professionals?

There are many benefits to hiring diverse professionals, but does that mean that older professionals should be put out to pasture? The answer must be ‘No’.

A study by the website Undercover Reporter into the make-up of a great team and a 2015 Forbes Report showed that there are important factors in successful teams. These include strong leadership and clear vision, open and constructive communication, clear goals and objectives, but also diversity and a balance among team members. The study showed that a variety of personalities, age groups, cultures and other factors bring creativity and a broad range of ideas to the table.

A diverse team is more likely to be successful if the balance is correct so, rather than simply saying hire young only, the correct mix of youth and experience, male and female, culture and religious backgrounds is likely to create a team with much to offer to support the business. There will be a compelling mix of experience and new approaches to problems, a mix of world views to solve challenges and of viewpoints to approach business opportunities.

If the security business sector is to continue to adapt to support business, then a shift towards younger and more diverse teams can only be a good thing, but this must be balanced with strong leadership, guidance and relevant experience brought by experienced professionals who understand the value of working in a diverse environment.

If today’s security professionals truly want to be business enablers and demonstrate their value to business leaders then our teams need to be able to offer solutions that are suitable for the environment in which we’re now increasingly doing business. Ultimately, our goal should be to reflect the clients for whom we work. Only then can we truly say that we are a diverse cohort.

James Morris CPP MSyI is Director of ASIS UK’s Young Professionals Group and Regional Security Manager (EMEA) at Aon Business Services

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