“I really wish that the industry would evolve so that there aren’t any more articles like this, highlighting women in security. We are security professionals. That’s it!” That sentiment was expressed recently by Pinkerton agent Lucy Shapiro and echoed by her colleagues Esenia Bici and Sinead Keane during an interview for this post. They all acknowledged that major inroads have been made by women in the traditionally male-dominated security industry. In fact, nearly 35 percent of Pinkerton employees are women and the company hired more than 150 women last year compared to 90 in 2014, an increase of 63 percent. However, Bici, Keane and Shapiro agree that awareness of a security career’s benefits in combination with educational and corporate institutional support has to evolve so that more women choose to enter the field. In other words, according to these Pinkertons, it is not that women can’t do the work…it’s that they don’t know about the work in the first place. As the world celebrates Women’s History Month (March), we take a look at how perceptions and awareness can change.
At most higher learning institutions, there is no easy, well-defined study path or degree for someone who wants to enter the security field. “It’s pretty wide open in terms of what could be applied to this career, ” said Stephen Ward, VP, East Coast Region for Pinkerton. “We’ve hired people with legal degrees, psychology degrees, international relations experience, analytics backgrounds…it runs the gamut. And there are just as many women coming out of college with these backgrounds as men.” Bici notes that schools/colleges could do more to train people for a security career. “Investigations, interrogations, information gathering, analysis…these are all skills that women, and men, could learn in college and apply here. They just need to know that this career awaits them if they excel in those areas.” “I got into this industry by accident, ” said Keane. “I went to school to learn criminal psychology. But I met a woman who worked for a brand protection business. She suggested I look at the security industry, so I interned with her company for a few years. I was hooked! I focused my college work on all that would help me land a good job.” As global, national and local threats increase, educational institutions should look to increase classes offering skills that will aid someone entering the security career. Many would do well to create majors that could give graduates an advantage over others seeking security positions. But perhaps the real convincing needs to take place at the individual level. Many women still have not embraced the career and that may be simply due to a lack of awareness.
A Security Career Is Not at the Mall
When people think about a security career, it could be that what first comes to mind is Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the 2009 comedy starring Kevin James. That image needs to change. Uniformed agents are just one small part of a huge industry that offers a vast array of career paths utilizing specialized skills. Very specialized skills that require higher education and experience are in demand throughout the security industry. Data analysis, forensics, international relations, political science, and criminal law comprehension are just a few that provide a strong foundation for a security career. The areas of the security industry are also just as varied, from Investigations to Intelligence to Intellectual Property Rights to Executive Protection and more. It also helps, especially for those just starting out, to have a strong sense of one’s career goals. “When I thought about what I wanted to do after college, ” remembered Keane, “I knew it would be something where I felt like I was doing some good…that I was changing things for the better. At the time, I had no idea that working with Pinkerton and in a security position would be exactly what I wanted.” And that seems to be a problem for the industry….awareness. “For a long time, this hasn’t been a field of choice for women, ” said Ward. “Besides being seen as a ‘man’s world, ’ what was known about the actual work being done was very diluted and not realistic. If more women knew what skills really help in this career, more of them would understand that there is no reason women can’t advance as much as men.” Ward noted that as more women enter the military, more of them discover a security career waiting for them when they get out. “A lot of women achieve great success in the military, especially with intelligence gathering and analysis. Those are very much sought after skills in our business.” As noted above, the awareness gap can be filled greatly by educational institutions, especially in their career services department. If female college students could be informed that a security career can be a rewarding career for women, more might choose to develop skills needed to succeed. “When I got into this industry and saw that I could help ‘get the bad guy, ’ it made me feel good, ” expressed Keane. “It still does.”
How Can Corporate Help?
While the number of women entering the security field is on the rise, there is work to be done. For example, women make up only 11% of the information security field. There is no physical reason for why this is so, the issue is one of awareness and opportunity. We’ve looked at the awareness issue so, what opportunities exist for women? The answer: plenty! “The security field is growing rapidly, ” said Ward. “Pinkerton, at any given time these days, has dozens of job openings…real jobs with a real career path. Our clients have many women as Chief Security Officers and other similar executive positions. That helps break down the stereotype.” Attitudes towards women in the field are also changing. Keane says it takes a little while but once a client accepts the situation, having a woman on their team becomes an advantage. “Sure, they are a little surprised to see a female agent on their team, ” says Keane. “But once we get into the work, they see that organizational skills, communication skills and attention to detail are key attributes they appreciate. We quickly move on from there.” Shapiro says that many times, having a woman in a security position is preferred, especially with intelligence gathering. “When doing an interrogation, it’s important to develop a level of trust with the person so they will open up and provide critical information. I find that this sometimes happens more quickly when a woman is in charge of the investigation. Frankly, I’ve been amazed at what some people tell me!” “Our clients have started requesting female agents, which is a very positive step, ” says Ward. “I believe more companies will follow suit. First, there are more women in top level corporate positions and, many prefer a female agent for Executive Protection. But beyond that, the interpersonal communication skills that many women possess exceed those of men, resulting in a faster gathering of information that can help resolve issues.” For certain, women are becoming a much more influential force in the security industry. Further awareness and education of the career field will help continue that trend. Educational institutions creating paths of learning specific to the field will open up many doors for young women. And corporate entities hiring and promoting women into high-level security positions will further balance the field, resulting in top quality personnel, regardless of gender, handling critical work. If those steps bring more awareness to what a great career the security industry can provide…maybe we won’t have to write another article like this next year!