Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: Women in Security
Vector Security had enrolled a member of its top brass in Harvard University’s advanced management program. Among the stringent criteria for acceptance: The global mix of chosen applicants had to hold leadership roles a notch or two below the CEO and be identified as a key player in their company’s succession plan.
Vector Security Executive Vice President Pam Petrow fit the bill and in 2006 she graduated from the intensive eight-week coursework designed to transform the way executives lead, manage and solve problems. Petrow’s Harvard experience interacting with 160 fellow business leaders from various industries is analogous to the demographics she is accustomed to in the electronic security market: Only a tiny percentage of her peers were female.
One needs only to look around the industry’s largest trade show floor at ISC West in April to grasp the disparity. “There is a stigma. This is a boys club,” says Steve Wagner, senior vice president and COO of HID Global. “When you walk the trade show floor, you don’t see many ladies selling the technology. You see a lot of ladies that are window dressing handing out brochures.”
The disproportionate gender ratio illustrates the struggle for women to reach the upper echelons of management in many industries. And while the gender gap remains a pressing concern in the security industry, forces reshaping the market are beginning to break open cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling.
Companies large and small are realizing the benefits of promoting a more diverse leadership. The pace may seem glacial, but the gender divide during the past 25 years has improved incrementally, allowing a greater number of women to make significant strides as trusted top executives of installation and manufacturing companies.
Security Sales & Integration spoke in-depth with numerous security professionals from across the market landscape — manufacturing, distribution, installing security dealers and systems integrators — to measure the general state of the industry as it relates to opportunities for women. Many security professionals, women and men, spoke about an industry on the cusp of becoming evermore open to diversity as it sheds its reputation for being a cloistered good ol’ boys network.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
When SSI conducted the industry’s first demographic census in 2005, just 5 percent of the respondents were female. With this month’s issue, SSI returns with the 2008 census and the numbers show some signs of improvement in females filling more key decision-making roles.
The demographic study is based on queries of all levels of management within installing security dealer and systems integration organizations. According to the census, women now make up 8 percent of those businesses’ management positions — a 40-percent increase in just three years.
The census results are supported by the outcome of a data-mining project administered by the networking organization Women in Security Electronics (WISE), which was founded in 2005. With a goal to build a comprehensive list of potential names to contact, organizers pored through the membership directories of the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), Security Industry Association (SIA) and American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) Int’l.
The NBFAA, CSAA and SIA directories consist predominantly of company owners or middle management. ASIS members hold executive, managerial and supervisory positions or are otherwise “primarily responsible for the security function of their organization.” The four directories totaled roughly 42,000 members from which organizers culled the names of about 4,000 women, according to WISE Executive Director Dale Eller.
“The best we could tell it broke equally across the associations that women represented just a little above or below 10 percent of [each directory’s] total numbers,” Eller says.
The security industry is certainly not alone in its disproportionate gender percentage among its leadership ranks. New York-based Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that works to advance women in business, issues a regular report on women at Fortune 500 companies.
The group’s reports show that during the past decade, women have made sluggish progress in ascending the corporate hierarchy. When represented graphically, the data is shaped like a pyramid with the overall U.S. labor force near the bottom and the percentages of women at various levels typically becoming smaller and smaller. In the latest Catalyst pyramid, women represent only 2.6 percent of chief executives at Fortune 500 companies.
Forces At Play Bring Opportunities
One force that is likely to help narrow the gender gap in the electronic security industry is the Convergence Wave. Like other tech-intensive fields, it will be imperative the security industry actively competes to lure talented young prospects. This is especially true for companies in need of workers with IT skill sets as the industry moves unalterably onto the IP-based network.
Those individuals who possess sought-after IT skills and who understand the technology are primed to be hired into the market, explains Carole Dougan, director of strategic accounts for Pelco, a provider of video surveillance and other security systems.
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