Women in Security

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Women are under-represented in security functions.

Women are under-represented in security functions.

Ninety percent or more of the attendees at our security executive seminars are men.  And those women who attend our training are usually security executives working at the highest levels in their respective company or agency, or they play an active role in government or academia and are leaders in their field.  They come to security from law enforcement, a security or intelligence agency or in some cases from corporate operations, contracting or IT.

The topic of women in security came to mind during a market analysis of our client base demographics.  Why are women this industry, from security officer to CSO, so under-represented? There are even fewer women in security jobs in Asia and South America.  In Israel, security jobs are tactical positions and require combat experience, which automatically eliminates many women from applying.  A quick search on LinkedIn for ‘Director of Security’ displays less than 5% women in this role.

I recently spoke with a female Director of Security of a preeminent real estate firm here in Southern California.  She came from public service at the FBI into the private security sector in a horizontal move.  In meetings and conferences at her responsibility level, there are only a handful of women and their numbers are generally low in operational leadership.  She believes that her personal success both at her job and in attaining it has to do with being highly competitive and an avid problem solver.  In her view, women – in general – do look at problems differently than do men.

Many women are in circumstances (think having to juggle domestic chores with a ‘real’ job, managing kids and households) where they are obliged to multitask. They have to think strategically, plan carefully, consider all options.  And as for the reputation some moms have for ferociously protecting their kids (think Mama Bear, Lioness), it seems women would be a natural in some security positions.  These groups of skills and inclinations would also prove useful in the operational arena, yet none of this has translated to women entering security in large numbers.

Another potential reason for low numbers of women in security is the perception that the job requirements are physical more than cognitive.  Physical fitness is an important criteria of a good security officer but that doesn’t mean one needs to be a hulk.  While it makes sense that most bodyguards or bouncers are big guys, the ability to think on one’s feet trumps brawn.  This is true in security from the post officer up to the board room.

The FBI currently has 20% women in its ranks; law enforcement across the U.S. has about 15% women.  Yet law enforcement studies have shown that policewomen do a better job of defusing tense situations, are less likely to use excessive force and are more likely to promote community trust building.  One wonders if women are more likely to see themselves as potential targets of violence versus as the person who wants a job fighting violence and crime.  Do lower testosterone levels mean women have less to prove?  Whatever the reasons, having more women involved in safety and security could be a positive shift.

6 Comments

  1. Jennifer on January 21, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    Thank you. I work as a security guard

  2. Debbie Christofferson on January 22, 2017 at 4:48 am

    This needs to offer some ideas for solving this or growing the number of women. It stops at stating the situation. Why not encourage women to put themselves out there, to speak at conferences, to write about their competence, to reach more for what they want, to network and hire more women, to consciously reach out more. Every single one of us who are women in the field.

  3. Ngozi Okoruwa on January 23, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    If the few who are in the profession are encouraged more will join. Aviation security for instance is more cognitive than physical and presents a great opportunity for filling the gap.

  4. Erin Parks on January 26, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    I see a lack of knowledge/exposure of the professional women making extremely successful careers in security roles. This lack of understanding prevents women from even having awareness of the opportunities within the field. As more girls and women realize how many professional opportunities are available for women in security roles, these leaders could come from anywhere. Women who have a strong business sense, are critical thinkers and work well under pressure can develop very successful careers in the security industry.

  5. Dawn McMahon on February 9, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    I’m not entirely in agreement with some of the things stated in this article. I stated as a security officer in 1989 and over the years have grown my career. I currently run the security program for a water utility but have also been the director of security for a large hospital.

    During my career I have passed through several tiers of leadership and for much of my career was the only woman and might I add, often the most fit person on the security team. Lets face it ladies, those of us who have worked in the industry a while know our male counterparts are generally not the most physically fit group.

    So why have I so often been alone? The reason is simple, it is tough to be the only woman. The men I have worked with were great and most of the time were welcoming but I was still alone and alone is very unattractive to some. Over the years that has improved. More women are will to make the move into our small group each year making it just a bit bigger. Over time I do feel that growth will continue. As the numbers grow, the job becomes more attractive particularly as the industry grows and becomes more diverse. [Cyber security and other tech jobs provide for great opportunity]

    Something else to consider; If you are parenting, a job with 24 hour status is very difficult to manage. If you are the primary parent, it is near impossible. That fact alone keeps many women who might be interested way from the industry. I am a mother of two and grandmother of two and the child care challenges have been the most difficult part of my career. [Yes, the most difficult bar none]

    So to the solution; sell the idea to your peers, colleagues and women in your circle. When your daughter, niece, cousin, sister asks for career advice or is headed for college, recommend a security career. Work to help female colleagues navigate the challenges and reap the benefits. Progress will continue to happen, even if slowly. I’ve seen it. Over 28 years I have gone to being the only woman in the room to one of several. It is nice to no longer be alone.

  6. Women in Security | on April 17, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    […] The topic of women in security came to mind during a market analysis of our client base demographics.  Why are women this industry, from security officer to CSO, so under-represented? Read article here […]

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