Women in Security: The Approach to Inclusion

Louise McCree

Louise McCree

According to a recent survey by market analyst Frost & Sullivan, security remains a notoriously male-dominated industry with women comprising only 11% of the global security workforce and 7% across Europe. In particular, there seems to be a lack of women in senior roles. However, with diversity remaining at the top of the agenda, argues Louise McCree, inclusion isn’t something businesses can continue to ignore.

Perhaps it’s time that companies gave their approach to inclusion an overhaul. One place to start is by reviewing the gender pay gap reporting and how your organisation has fared in relation to this. More importantly, you need to decide what you’re going to do about the results.

A number of businesses have managed to emerge in a positive light, despite the large skew in figures, by immediately demonstrating the steps that they’re going to take to address the differential. Understanding the results is crucial. For example, if there are no women in lower level roles and several on the Board then your results may even be positively skewed. This sounds great in theory, but if it means that a number of roles are not well represented by both men and women then the issue needs to be addressed.

While change clearly is afoot in some progressive and forward-thinking businesses – witness, for example, the recent anonymous tech company that has appointed a Chief Feminism Officer – it seems that not everyone’s on the same page. Following International Women’s Day in March, there was anger within the cyber security industry three months later after women wearing red evening dresses were used as a promotional stunt at the Infosecurity Europe 2018 Conference.

‘Vicious cycle’

Historically, the security industry has always been male-dominated, perhaps in part due to the fact that, previously, many security professionals entered the industry following a career in policing or the military. If you scratch the surface, though, it’s clear that matters run much deeper than this. The lack of females representing the industry is due, at least in part, to a ‘vicious cycle’ unconsciously created.

First, the recruitment process can usually reflect hidden issues in the hiring and thought procedure. These include unconscious bias preventing recruiters and hiring managers from making objective decisions and inflexible recruitment processes that are more attractive to males. This may include where a business advertises, the language used in adverts or job specifications or even the structure, timing and location of the interviews.

In addition, some businesses never review whether their benefits packages reflect the needs and wants of the talent which they wish to target. Even the brand or service being marketed may be particularly male-orientated so potentially doesn’t have as much appeal to certain demographics. Similarly, learning initiatives might not be tailored towards developing a female employee through the business

At more junior levels, challenges can include inflexible shift patterns which make it difficult to juggle other responsibilities, long shift lengths which make it troublesome for women who have childcare responsibilities and even those client requirements where a male presence is requested. The perception that security is a man’s job is, unfortunately, still common today.

Solving the pipeline problem

Female employees are definitely not being given the opportunity to promote their experiences, but in addition there are a lack of experiences to share. In order to attract more women, security firms can start by solving the pipeline problem. This includes looking at where they advertise, assessing different talent pools and using social media to create a ‘buzz’ around boosting female talent and inclusion within the business. Creating focus groups in your teams is a great way to induce ideas straight from your people. Indeed, these are often the most valuable insights.

Thinking creatively about shift types, length of shifts and hours worked can be a great way of starting a new initiative and potentially supporting working mums. In order to build momentum for any initiatives that you come up with, you must identify some company ‘ambassadors’ who can continue to champion the role of women in security.

Training is imperative, not only if you’re developing new initiatives and you need to cascade them within your organisation, but also to help tackle the unconscious bias that we know is present. Re-write job descriptions and look at roles from a different perspective. Note down all those elements which would appeal to a different demographic. These details can then be shared in adverts and at Open Days. When planning Open Days, think about targeting school leavers. Many talented young women have never thought about a career in security or the opportunities available to them.

Motivating factors

We know that women seeing other females in leadership positions attracts them to a business because it’s motivating watching other leaders balance work and life, raise families and achieve great things at work. If you start attracting diverse talent, word will spread and you will continue to attract more female leaders.

The great thing about recruiting and developing talented women is that they become your best recruiting tool. It’s definitely true that talent attracts talent. Building a strong female team also requires men who are not only committed to hiring women, but also actively champion them. Everyone needs to be on board.

It naturally follows that, in order to succeed, you need to support female roles at all levels, not just within HR or at the Board level. If a company is serious about recruiting more women then it needs to make sure it has hiring managers in place who objectively consider female candidates. This may well be another training need. Businesses must make sure this is right because first impressions count. Candidates are selecting the best place for them to work, as much as a business is picking them, and a poorly conducted interview with an unskilled and egotistical manager will most certainly not be attractive to educated female candidates.

Companies are becoming more accepting that gender diversity can improve their overall capabilities, helping them to attract new clients and impress existing ones. It demonstrates commitment to a progressive approach and an understanding of how being an employer who values equality will lead to a more multi-skilled, flexible and attractive workplace proposition.

Developing recruitment strategies

Developing your recruitment strategy to target more women will ensure that you benefit from a different kind of skills set. Women have different ‘primary’ traits than men and these qualities may well be beneficial to clients. For example, women are proven to be more adept at diffusing conflicts, empathy and nurturing.

Not all security roles require an aggressive, off-putting demeanour and, in fact, much of a security job can be about helping people and looking after anyone who’s vulnerable. Security roles can be extremely varied and, as such, they require a diverse skills set. In particular, outstanding customer service, presentation skills and an ability to communicate sensitively and with a wide variety of people at all levels are exceptionally valuable traits to possess for any employee. For undercover work, a smaller woman may be more discrete than a male, while for body searches having a female present is crucial.

Being able to demonstrate that, as a business, you are working towards improving your gender pay gap, prioritising equality and cascading Best Practice with recruiting managers isn’t only good for PR, but will also ensure that you have a competitive edge. Reviewing the way in which you recruit will mean that you have a wider pool from which to attract new talent.

Begin with a plan

As is the case with all new ways of working, businesses need to start with a plan. Ensure that any diversity initiative isn’t being run as an isolated programme. Rather, it needs to embedded into the business’ wider strategy. Of course, it goes without saying that the Board needs to be on board. Any related polices (for example the recruitment policy and the equality policy) will need to be updated. Then you need to plan a communications strategy so that initiatives can be shared company wide as well as with clients.

Evaluation is also key so remember to measure the percentage of diverse hires from specific recruitment channels and invest more time and energy in using the most effective methods of acquiring talent. Keep a track of how successful each different initiative has been and seek feedback from your customers.

Be very aware of not making the diverse talent feel like it’s being ‘used’ to hit target numbers. The focus should always be on hiring the right person for the job, while making the process as inclusive as possible for all involved.

Louise McCree is Founder of effectivehr

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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