Amid the wider requirement for gender diversity in the workplace, the number of females resident within the security industry remains disconcertingly low. Peter Webster examines why there’s such a gender imbalance and outlines what can be done to make security a more attractive career choice for women.
According to the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), an estimated 352,000 individuals are presently employed by the UK’s security industry, yet research conducted by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) in 2015, which looked at gender and other protected characteristics, revealed that only 9% of SIA licence holders are female. Although there are indeed a number of women occupying high-profile roles within the industry, it remains the case that security is still very much a male-dominated domain.
There’s little doubt that the industry has an image problem. Just ask a member of the public to describe a security professional and the chances are that one of the first words mentioned will be ‘male’. The national media has to take its share of the blame here, with security officers on TV traditionally portrayed as men who are often lazy, overweight and ‘jobsworth’ when it comes to their attitude.
However, the blame for the current gender disparity cannot be foisted upon the media alone. It’s also still a general assumption that the security sector is misogynistic in nature, which is something that’s enough to dissuade many women from joining the ranks.
Achieving greater gender diversity in the workplace is a massive problem in general, even at the highest levels of management. The Cranfield University School of Management Report found that, in 2016, the number of women with places on the top Boards of FTSE 100 companies stood at 26%. This report recommends that the proportion of females present on FTSE 350 companies’ Boards of Directors should reach 33% by 2020.
It’s not just the security industry that has work to do in this area, either. According to UCATT, women make up only 11% of the construction workforce and just 1% of workers on site, while the Office for National Statistics has stated that the number of females working as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is so low as to be unmeasurable.
Similarly, the latest figures issued from the 2016 Women in IT Scorecard research – published by the BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT) and The Tech Partnership – show that females account for just 17% of IT professionals. It’s a figure that has remained essentially unchanged over the three years the report has been made available.
There’s plenty of research available to suggest that gender diversity is crucial for innovation and growth in a given business sector. For example, the Harvard Business Review reported that leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights, while those employees working in a ‘speak up’ culture are over three times as likely to contribute their full innovative potential to the host business. In addition, customers can see the benefits of a more gender-balanced workforce.
Going forward, if the security industry is to reach its full potential then, put simply, it needs the skills and mindsets of both men and women in order to do so.
There’s already a severe skills shortage across the sector. Failing to attract enough candidates from the 50% of the UK workforce who are female can only add to this and will seriously hamper growth. The problem was highlighted earlier this year, in fact, when the Sunderland Echo reported that Peterlee-based Steadfast Security had been advertising for female officers for months, but applicants were proving impossible to find.
Various initiatives have been kick-started to redress the balance, among them the Women’s Security Society, which aims to create an inspirational networking forum for females operating in the industry. Frankly, anything that helps to attract women into the security industry and address the negative perceptions of it should be welcomed.
All that said, it’s dangerous to fall into the trap of gender stereotyping and positive discrimination. To put it bluntly, statements about ‘what women bring to the workplace’ are potentially damaging both to the cause itself and to its desired effect. If we are to have a truly inclusive and equal industry, women will demonstrate their strengths through their achievements. The more female role models there are then so much the better.
Awareness is key to addressing the problem. Visits to schools, student visits to facilities, mentoring, work placements and campaigns designed to drive interest in the sector would all help to attract more women into the security workforce. Trade shows should invite more high-profile female guest speakers to educate the industry on how they’ve achieved their success and the benefits businesses can receive by dint of more gender diversity.
Theory of evolution
Particularly so when it comes to security guarding, security companies have often had to consider the physical attributes of an employee and their ability to ‘stand their ground’ in some challenging situations. There’s little point in pretending otherwise: security guarding isn’t a glamour profession.
Combined with the inherent risks involved in this type of work, front line security officers who are not prepared to work hard, put up with long and often anti-social hours – including working at weekends – and travel to and from work at odd times of the night will soon realise that it’s not for them.
The security industry is constantly evolving, though, and besides the aforementioned front line roles, the influx of technology in all aspects of security is creating new opportunities.
Security is becoming so much more than just having a physical presence, with technology including electronic surveillance and access control making traditional guarding functions less dominant. However, technology cannot replace the need for human beings to interface with one another, which is precisely why, in modern security, good communication skills and high levels of emotional intelligence are required from professionals of both genders.
Since 1990, Peter Salovey and John Mayer have been the leading researchers on the subject of emotional intelligence. Salovey and Mayer define it as the sub-set of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information for guiding one’s thinking and actions.
While many males have excellent levels of emotional intelligence, women have been found to be especially good at identifying, assessing and controlling situations, often diffusing particularly volatile epidodes through tone of voice and body language. Since men and women tend to think and solve problems differently, the combined gender talent pool can be amazing.
Modern family life is changing just as rapidly as working life and accommodating this work/life balance is something that companies have to consider. Although the nature of security work itself might appeal to women, there’s no escaping the fact that much of it takes place outside of the 9.00 am to 5.00 pm parameter. That often makes retaining staff difficult. This is particularly evident in people of both genders who have young families and find arranging childcare a problem because their partners might also be at work.
Work patterns also need to be more flexible. The sector must adopt a unified approach to the issue before the available talent dwindles still further. There’s a strong argument to suggest that, if security companies were able to offer regular hours, then they would be much closer to having a balanced workforce than they do at present.
Unfortunately, and as stated, anti-social hours are an inherent part of the job. Indeed, it’s an aspect of the role that’s unlikely to ever change (unless, that is, security companies are prepared to look seriously at how they can provide more flexible working hours).
The shortfall in female recruitment takes place at a time when the sector itself is in strong growth. This means that opportunities for employers and employees alike are being missed. The figures speak for themselves, though, and the industry needs to take ownership by attracting female talent.
Although the barriers to gender equality in the workplace are slowly beginning to change, it’s fair to state that there’s much more work still to be done here. True balance can only be built if the people in leadership positions understand the many benefits that a diverse workforce can bring to their operations.
Peter Webster is CEO of Corps Security
*The author of Risk UK’s regular column Security’s VERTEX Voice is Peter Webster, CEO of Corps Security. This is the space where Peter examines current and often key-critical issues directly affecting the security industry. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are intended to generate debate among practitioners within the professional security and risk management sectors. Whether you agree or disagree with the views outlined, or would like to make comment, do let us know (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)