“There are a lot of successful women playing in the IT space,” Dougan says. “We’re going to probably see a lot of those women come into security and do really well.”
Considering the organizational breadth of many large suppliers, manufacturing is thought to currently offer a greater potential for women to advance their careers in IT, marketing, sales and other departments.
“The manufacturing side for sure has a better pipeline,” says Wendy Diddell, president of SIA. “It tends to be larger corporations that do a lot of session planning and recruiting. They are recruiting from various levels of positions within a company.”
Women are also better positioned today to enter the market than in years past given the profusion of training programs. For example, along with robust training courses offered by many vendors of all sizes, one of SIA’s “four pillars” of industry focus is education. The association recently introduced its Curriculum Map, an online tool that allows users to build their own personalized curriculum based on the core competencies within key positions in the industry.
“It’s going to be a widely used tool which will help bring people into the industry, and if they are in the industry it will help them progress in their own company,” Diddell says.
Overcoming A Century+ Head Start
The traditional security dealer industry spawned from technically and electrically inclined men as well as shrewd businessmen. The insular nature of the industry only intensified during its formative years as almost exclusively it was men performing the oftentimes physically demanding installation or technical work.
“The technical side doesn’t have hardly any representation from women,” says Eller, who also serves as NBFAA director of Education and Standards. “As you try to migrate up the chain of command, a lot of guys will weight your experience on, ‘Were you an installer? What are your technical capabilities?’ Fair or unfair that is a roadblock a lot of women run into from a dealer company perspective.”
To hear Sandra Jones tell it, women have been the backbone of successful security dealer companies since the inception of the marketplace. One of the industry’s best-known individuals (an SSI Hall of Fame inductee), Jones and her husband launched a wholesale distribution company in 1975.
“Women have always been a part of that back office,” says Jones, who operates the respected consulting firm, Sandra Jones & Co. “Their husbands were typically the technicians. The wives were the ones who became the de facto managers. In a lot of cases the men were naturally the presidents, but I honestly believe without the husband and wife team, we wouldn’t see some of the successful companies that we see today.”
Today, moving from the back office to front office may be less of gender issue but that doesn’t mean women are making the transition in leaps and bounds. Not even close, says Petrow, who began in an entry-level sales position with Vector more than 20 years ago.
“When you look at most alarm companies it is still rare to find women in senior-level management positions,” she says. “I don’t think the alarm industry is ‘women unfriendly.’ I just think women don’t see the opportunity there and, therefore, don’t try to move into those positions.”
The fact that there are so many family-owned businesses, which often are passed to male siblings, tends to hinder women from entering and being promoted throughout the trade, Petrow says. “The other side of that is you have to be willing to take a risk,” she says.
Among her positions with Vector, Petrow was running a central station when she asked for, and was awarded, a branch operations management position. “You need to reach out. You need to be able to try and do things beyond the scope of what you have,” she says.
Petrow carries that message in her work as co-chair of CSAA’s Education Committee, where she convenes with central station managers, many of whom are women. And many of them express frustration about limited opportunities to advance in a family-owned business or having been pegged as not having the skills to do much of anything else.
“There is somewhat of a class system in many organizations that take the central station and put it at the bottom of the value chain, which I think is very wrong,” Petrow says.
One of her self-described “crusades” is to help develop career paths for central station managers and teach them benefits of having a vision for their departments. “Part of that is a crusade to raise the level of awareness that there are a lot of talented people down here that need some coaching and mentoring, and they need to be looked at as value to the organization and not just doing the job everyday,” Petrow says.
Mentors Are Vital for Growth
One of the most valuable assets to any young up-and-comer’s career in the business world is to receive sage mentoring from industry peers. While there is no shortage of shared experience for male counterparts, the gender gap in security can make it difficult for young females to receive extensive tutelage from another female.
Debra Spitler, HID Global’s vice president of HID Connect, says today’s security industry is significantly more female friendly than when she entered it in the early 1980s. “Early in my career there were a limited number of women in leadership roles. This, coupled with my role as a territory sales representative, made it almost impossible to identify a female mentor,” she says.
Similar to other women’s experience in the industry, Spitler says she was fortunate to identify a few men that believed in a woman’s ability to achieve in the workplace. Although “often doling out tough and painful advice,” Spitler says, her mentors applauded her successes and provided opportunity for growth. “Their willingness to mentor, coupled with my drive to succeed, has had a positive impact on my career,” she says.
Spitler, who has held top management positions for most of her high-profile, 20-year career, advises young women to network in order to identify mentors, whether they are men or women.
“It will take time to feel comfortable and successful in the security industry. There will always be some number of men who want to ‘test a woman,’ ” she says. “These tests will come in a variety of forms. Be prepared to professionally handle whatever comes your way; your mentors will be invaluable in giving you advice.”
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Women in Security Electronics