I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate, and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.
Amidst the wider requirement for gender diversity in the workplace, the number of women in the security industry remains disconcertingly low. That won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone but with only nine per cent of Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence holders being women, it’s clear that it is still very much a male dominated domain.
I firmly believe that the industry has a longstanding image problem – one that is proving hard to change. Just ask a friend or family member from outside the industry to describe a security professional and the chances are that one of the first words mentioned will be ‘male’. The media has to take its share of the blame here, with manned guards on TV traditionally portrayed as men who are lazy, overweight and jobsworths. However, the blame for the current gender disparity cannot be blamed on the media alone.
It’s also important to note that other industries face the same problem. Women make up only 11 per cent of the construction workforce and just one per cent of workers on site, while the number of women working as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers are so low that it is unmeasurable. Similarly, women make up just 17 per cent of IT professionals.
This is despite plenty of research to suggest that diversity is crucial for innovation and growth, and leaders who give diverse voices equal air time are nearly twice as likely as others to benefit from value driving insights. What’s more, there is already a severe skills shortage across the sector and failing to attract 50 per cent of the UK workforce makes absolutely no sense from both ethical and commercial points of view.
I fully support the various initiatives that have been put in place to try and redress the balance, such as the Women in Security Awards and the Women’s Security Society (WSS). However, it is dangerous to fall into the trap of gender stereotyping and positive discrimination. To put it bluntly, statements about ‘what women bring to the workplace’ are potentially damaging both to the cause itself and to its desired effect. If we are to have a truly inclusive and equal industry, women need to demonstrate their strengths through their achievements – so the more female role models, the better.
Awareness is key to addressing the problem. Visits to schools, student visits to facilities, mentoring, work placements and campaigns to drive interest would all help to attract more women into the security workforce. Trade shows should invite more high profile female guest speakers to educate the industry on how they have achieved their success and the benefits businesses can receive through gender diversity.
The good news is that the security industry is constantly evolving and as well as established frontline roles, the influx of technology is creating new opportunities. Security is becoming so much more than just having a physical presence, with electronic surveillance and access control making traditionally manned guarding less dominant.
Technology cannot replace the need for human beings to interface with one another though, which is why good communication skills and high levels of emotional intelligence are required from security professionals of both genders. While many men have excellent levels of emotional intelligence, studies have shown that women are better than men at some forms of empathy and are adept at diffusing particularly volatile situations through tone of voice and body language.
I think it’s also important to consider that modern family life is changing just as rapidly as the world of work, and accommodating this work/life balance is something that all companies have to consider. Work patterns need to be more adaptable and there is a strong argument to suggest that if security companies were able to offer regular hours then they would be much closer to having a balanced workforce than they do at present. Unfortunately, anti-social hours are an inherent part of the job and this aspect of it is unlikely to change – that is unless companies are prepared to look at how they can provide more flexible working hours.
The shortfall in female recruitment takes place at a time when the sector itself is in strong growth, and this means that opportunities for employers and employees alike are being missed. Although the barriers to gender equality in the workplace are slowly changing, there’s much more to be done and true balance can only be created if the people in leadership positions understand the many benefits that a diverse workforce can bring to their operations.