Do an image search using the terms “security manager,” “security director,” “CSO” or “security professional,” and the results will be fairly predictable. With its roots in law enforcement, the security industry has long been dominated by men, whether in management, sales, or technical positions. In recent years, however, this has begun to change. First making inroads in traditionally-female roles like marketing and human resources, now more women are making their mark in leadership and other types of roles across the security industry. In fact, the last 20 years have demonstrated to professionals across all industries that business growth is best achieved by eliminating limitations based on gender. While the proportion of women to men continues to lag behind that reality, the balance is shifting and becoming more visible in the security industry as well.
A few pioneers have paved the way over the years and present a more balanced model of what a security professional might look like. Here are a few examples. As one of the earliest women in a top management position in the industry, Cyndi Freschi founded the integration company North American Video in 1995 and built it over the next few years into a powerhouse in the gaming vertical. Wynn Resorts brought Patricia Fischer, already a seasoned security expert, on board as their Executive Director of Surveillance when the Las Vegas hotel was built in 2005. Since 2000, cybersecurity analyst, author and researcher Keren Elazari has provided guidance to strengthen network security for dozens of organizations. Elazari, whose 2014 TED talk helped shape the global conversation about the role of hackers and the evolution of cybersecurity in the information age, will be a keynote speaker at the 2020 Global Security Exchange Plus (GSX+).
There is good reason to applaud the growing presence of women in every type of security role. In a leadership effectiveness study conducted in 2011 by the HR consultancy Zenger Folkman, women were rated higher than men in twelve of the fifteen functions listed. The roles included sales, operations, finance, management, engineering and other positions traditionally held by men. Women were rated as excelling in – among other things – taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results and displaying high integrity and honesty. In fact, they were thought to be more effective in 84 percent of the capabilities that we most frequently measure to differentiate excellent leaders, according to a Harvard Business Review article. It is also worth noting that women have traditionally been, and are often still, described as being stronger in the areas of compassion and empathy and as being able to work out compromises. For their part, says the Pew Research Center, men are often seen as being more willing to take risks.
Today, a fast-growing number of organizations within the security industry are hiring and promoting women in a wider range of roles. For example, in 2019, Boon Edam USA tapped longtime executive Valerie Anderson as President and Managing Director, leveraging her expertise for the top position. At the surge protection provider DITEK, Wendy Gattis serves as Chief Operating Officer, having also contributed for years as Chief Financial Officer. With more than 20 years of experience in the security industry, Eddie Reynolds is President and CEO of Illuminar, a provider of security lighting and LPR solutions. These are only a few of the many women taking their place as thought leaders, technology experts and accomplished specialists in the field.
A number of industry groups have been created to offer community, education and networking opportunities for women. ASIS International created the Global ASIS Women in Security Council to provide resources and assistance to women in the security industry, as well as to inspire those interested in entering the security industry. The council offers mentoring, volunteering and other support opportunities for its members. The growing presence of women in the security industry is without question a positive trend. As more young women enter the field, they will continue to bring with them the benefits of a more balanced workplace and a wider point of view, which is definitely something to celebrate.