Why are women apparently under-represented in the security industry?

140423 - Male Dominated Industry Stock Image (Custom)There is a general consensus that the security industry is a male-dominated sector, with careers perceived as unsuitable, or even unappealing, to women. But why is this the case, and is it an accurate assumption?

Post 9/11 the perception of security changed. Increased counter terror measures drove innovation, while analogue systems were being replaced by IP and HD technology, and there are new issues like the global debate surrounding privacy and cyber security. This has led to a change in the approach to security.

Attempts have been made to record how these changes affect women in security, and a 2013 study, Agents of Change: Women in the Information Security Profession, authored by Frost & Sullivan and released by (ISC)2 Foundation in partnership with Symantec, present interesting findings.

Women represent just 11% of the information security sector. This is just one sector, but the report highlights that “…in the context of women in the general workforce …this 11% is alarming”. This low figure has remained “stagnant” for two years “despite double-digit increase in this profession”, concluding that the “profession as a whole has been slow in tapping into the pool of talent represented by women”.

The report has implications across the industry. It pinpoints “agents of change”, such as evolving threats, new technologies and increasing competition, as reasons for evolution, determining that by not encouraging women into the profession or the board room companies deprive themselves of untapped resources.

85% of men surveyed held bachelor, masters or doctorate degrees, in comparison to 91% of women. However, the biggest reason sited to encourage diversity is that men and women specialise in different areas. Balance in any company ensures every venture is assessed from every angle.

These statistics are compelling, yet some would argue it’s impossible to gather meaningful data as the basics are missing; namely a lack of research into exactly how many women, or men for that matter, are in the industry.

Rowena Fell, Women's Security Society

Rowena Fell, Associate Director of MSD Global Security Group and Board Member of the Women’s Security Society.

Rowena Fell, Associate Director of MSD Global Security Group and Board Member of the Women’s Security Society, says that we can’t truly prove that women are under-represented.

“There are no quantifiable metrics on the number of women in security,” Fell said, “It is an assumption based on experience. Historically, it’s a profession that seems to be predominantly associated with men, but there’s no proof that this is because women are actively discouraged. It may be that the roles simply do not appeal to women based on this perception.”

The perceptions of the industry greatly interest Fell, who has recently completed a dissertation on the topic for her MA in Security and Intelligence Studies. She highlighted that the security industry needs to be clearly defined before accurate data can be recorded. Based on her personal experience, Fell says that there appears to be increasing numbers of women in security; and this raises another issue.

“As a senior professional it’s clear where the most uneven balance between men and women is –  the board room. There are more male senior executives than female, and I find this strange. Through the Women’s Security Society, I network with top female security professionals, and they are all highly intelligent, well-educated and have vast experience. Clearly women have plenty to offer, and yet they are not represented at the highest levels.”

The Women’s Security Society did not set out to create an organisation solely to champion the cause of women, but to champion sharing knowledge for growth. The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) has a similar aim and is a well-respected voice in the industry, setting an example by supporting vital new initiatives. Promoting women, particularly in high level positions, is a prime case of leading by example.

Julie Kenny, Chairman and CEO of Pyronix (read more about Kenny below), was the first female chairman of the organisation, during a time when there were very few women in the industry at all, and this year Pauline Norstrom, Chief Operating Officer at AD Group, takes the helm.

Pauline Norstrom, BSIA Chairman

Pauline Norstrom, Chief Operating Officer at AD Group and incoming BSIA Chairman.

“It’s a great honour to be approached for the role, and I am looking forward to building not only on the work of the two previous chairmen, but also the strong example of Julie Kenny. Julie broke great ground in the industry and there has been no resistance to having a woman in the role, so I feel confident that I have full support,” Norstrom said.

Norstrom, who has been in the industry for 14 years, has seen an increase in women employed in the types of high-risk roles which were traditionally associated with men. However, on regarding a lack of women in the board room, she feels that this is not a security-led issue.

“There are a growing number of women working in physical security roles doing exceptionally well and winning awards,” she said. “This type of success for women is being seen across every sector, so I don’t think there is a barrier to women in the industry. There is a lack of women in executive positions in every industry.”

Everyone seems to agree on the need to erase perceptions surrounding the industry and educate women about the fulfilling and successful career opportunities.

“We need to show young women, as part of the education process, that there are no barriers to them and increase their confidence,” said Norstrom. “So many women are unaware of this lack of barrier, and they have no idea of the array of options in the industry.”

Many leading women currently in the industry say that security was not their first choice. In fact, a BSIA survey aiming to gain better understanding of women in the sector, found that 70 per cent started off in another industry. However, this does not seem to stem from a lack of willingness.

The survey also spoke to female students of all ages and found that 88.33 per cent  would consider security as a career – including 50 per cent  of 18-21 year olds. However, despite an increase in security related education courses, 100 per cent  said there was not enough information about the industry.

It is clear that to create gender diversity that benefits both sexes – and the industry – there needs to be greater awareness of the options a career in security offers at an educational level. This will ensure that the next generation of security professionals is not only diverse, but better educated, and perhaps they will be the generation to bring diversity to the board room, setting an example to other industries.

It’s vital that groups like ASIS reach out to women and bridge the gap


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