Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: Women in Security

Shandon Harbour, who recently took the helm as president of SDA Security in San Diego, a third-generation business that has been in her family since 1930, says she looks to the women who came before her for “inspiration.” The duties of running a successful company, along with her role as a mother of three young sons, do not leave much time to mentoring. Among her inspirations, Harbour cites Nancy Chisholm, regional vice president, West, ADT Security Services; Yvonne Hao, vice president of North America, ADI; and Petrow.

“They have all blazed a trail. That tells me that you are not an island unto yourself. There are other women out there. We just don’t see them on a    day-to-day basis,” Harbour says.

Lorrie Sage-Byrne, former president of video camera manufacturer Baxall USA, cautions young women and men entering the market to be wary of an industry that is “deficient in the exchange of ideas.” The issue makes it all the more imperative to seek mentors who can see beyond their own sheltered corporate culture. Sure, there is plenty of networking and other schmoozing at industry gatherings, but does the conversation ever expand?

“There’s not a lot of thought exchange in general and opportunities for getting diverse groups of people together to network and think about new ideas. That is sorely missing in the security industry,” says Sage-Byrne, who was a founding member of WISE and is now working outside the industry.

Women, as well as men, come into the industry without a clear sense of a career path progression or how the industry functions, she says. The industry can do a better job of attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce by educating potential candidates about the many employment opportunities in the market.

“I don’t think there is an education process for young people coming in. It’s kind of catch-as-catch-can,” she says.

Do You Have the Right Stuff?
As women continue to make inroads into key positions within security companies, the industry’s established hierarchy is becoming evermore aware of their distinctive business acumen.

“A lot of folks are recognizing that women can be tremendously successful,” says Dougan. “We are excellent relationship builders and multitaskers. We have a lot of intuitive skills to bring.”

That notion is supported by a recent study conducted by the University of California, Davis’ Graduate School of Management. The school surveyed the 200 largest publicly traded companies in California and concluded that having more women in top leadership roles results in “stronger relationships with customers and shareholders and a more diverse and profitable business.”

PSA Security Network® President and CEO Bill Bozeman is no stranger to highly productive professionals who just happen to be female. Besides himself, the systems integrator network is operated by an all-female executive team, including Pamela McCann (CFO and CIO), Jennifer Martin Anderson (vice president of vendor technology & education) and Diana Hanna (vice president of sales).

Bozeman says his team’s astute counsel and highly productive performance is indispensable to the success of PSA, but otherwise gender plays no role in
his hiring decisions. “I didn’t go out of my way to hire ladies,” he says. “I just felt they were the most qualified.”

Is there a common thread among women who attain upper management success in a male-dominated industry?

Dougan, a 23-year industry veteran responsible for the strategic direction of several of Pelco’s national reseller partners, says there is: body armor.
“You have to be thick-skinned to break into at a higher level and be willing to learn and be humble and not be easily offended,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many times I felt a glass ceiling, whether imagined or real, but you can’t give up.”

Harbour, who admits she’s been working on becoming “tougher” since taking the reins of SDA one year ago, is accustomed to catching occasional chauvinistic grief, but not from her security industry peers.
“I tend to deal with a lot of hot-headed general contractors who think they must be talking to the boss’ secretary,” she says. “Certain situations call for more gumption than others. You definitely have to hold the line and put on what I call ‘brass pants.’ You have to fight the fight to earn respect.”

A key disadvantage for women who are trying to maintain an upward career path in the security industry, says Petrow, is the fact they are expected to earn deference from male colleagues.
“There are many people in management positions that aren’t doing that great of a job, but to be a woman and succeed you have to definitely impress people in this industry,” she says. “You don’t move up just because you’re a woman. There are no quotas in this industry.”

Rodney Bosch is Managing Editor of Security Sales & Integration. He can be reached at (310) 533-2426 or [email protected].

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About the Author


Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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