Unfortunately, diversity is still underrepresented in security. Our profession continues to struggle to attract and/or advance diverse candidates into leadership ranks in numbers that accurately represent a cross section of the working population.
I have actively examined issues around diversity within the security profession throughout my career. As a security leader in private industry multinationals, I was responsible for hiring balanced teams that reflected a global view. Now, as an executive recruiter, I intentionally seek out clients whose recruitment practices are driven by a spirit of diversity. As a result, SMR has been successful at partnering with leading organizations around the world to broaden the inclusiveness of their security organizations.
We have a global client base to which I relate having lived and worked around the world. That experience leads me to observe that diversity and inclusion can be very subjective. Views shift depending on location, an organization’s goals, and requirements surrounding regulatory agencies. Other prejudicial tendencies crop up in areas such as tribalism, regional geographies, accents and national origin.
Advantages of having a diverse and inclusive culture are well documented. However, I think it is important to understand the landscape and some of the underlying factors that require adjustment if we hope to change this dynamic.
Professional and executive roles in corporate security are often filled by people who previously worked in governmental roles prior to moving to the private sector before or after retirement. Our internal research suggests that approximately 75 to 80% of this group globally has government backgrounds.
There are various agencies heavily represented in corporate security. The number of women working within them is reported on average as under 20%. Because so many private sector security professionals transitioned from government agency roles, corporate security reflects that same percentage, if not slightly less.
Change will not happen quickly. Increasing awareness offers an opportunity, as does actively discouraging a philosophy of repeating things because they have always been done a certain way.
Areas that can be reevaluated include:
- Many security industry job descriptions are flawed. They contain buzz words, phrases and convey a tone that may create implicit bias. Descriptions that ask for irrelevant requirements, certifications, and objectives can unintentionally discriminate.
- Position descriptions for corporate security roles often ask for Criminal Justice or Police Science degrees. The number of diverse candidates who pursue these degrees as majors in college is less than the represented populations of diverse groups.
- Security department leaders fall into their comfort zone by recreating the agency or background from which they came. Considering the diversity statistics of those sources, this perpetuates the problem.
- Studies show that women may not apply for a job unless they believe their qualifications and experience are a 90 to 100% match to the job description. Conversely, male applicants will do so at 60%. With the increased reliance by HR departments on open-source job board listing and tools, this ultimately results in an even lower percentage of women coming to their attention for roles within our profession.
- An organization’s marketing messages may not be appealing to diverse candidates both in words and imaging. This sets the tone and company culture, the impression of which carries into recruiting challenges.
- If a role has significant travel expectations, single parents or caregivers may be discouraged from applying, although business travel habits may change post-pandemic.
- Benefits and recruitment approaches may fail to attract diverse candidates.
- Associations and company mentorship programs should also consider matching individuals of different diversities and backgrounds.
Today, more than ever, we need leadership at all levels to change this paradigm. This challenge has increased with the constant bombardment of hate and divisiveness that we are inundated with from all corners of the world and ideological spectrums.
The benefits and return on investment in changing our historical approach of just checking a box are well studied. We must get out of our comfort zones, show leadership, and lean into the challenges ahead.