How Women Can Advance in the Security Industry

“Have you ever given it any consideration that perhaps you have hit the glass ceiling, and you won’t go any further in your career?”

This comment came from Arecont Vision Vice President of Strategic Sales Carole Dougan, who was relating an incident she experienced with a male boss early on in her career in the security industry.

The jaw-dropping comment silenced the entire room when Dougan said it during the question and answer portion of the Women’s Security Council’s (WSC) panel, “Sell Yourself — But Don’t Sell Yourself Short,” at the 2012 ISC West trade show.

While I was caught off-guard by hearing the words escape from Dougan’s mouth, I wasn’t entirely surprised. After all, we are in a male-dominated industry, with women only representing 11% of the entire trade, according to SSI’s 2012 Security Industry Demographic Census. Despite this, it’s clear that women are starting to build a stronger presence in the industry, and fortunately, a strong group of panelists demonstrated this fact by offering insights on what women can do to advance. Panelists included Alarm Capital Alliance (ACA) Senior Vice President of Marketing Kelly Bond; ADT Global Accounts Senior Director Renae Leary; and Milestone Systems Head of Corporate Marketing Juliette Gustavsson.

Bond, who entered the security industry 14 years ago, stated that there were only five women when she first entered the trade. Her company, ACA, helps with acquisitions for the industry. She noted that three women comprise of ACA’s five-member executive staff.

While those stats were impressive, I was more intrigued by her advice of how women can advance in the industry. She encouraged attendees to become involved in industry associations.

“I was amazed at by starting to network and getting involved in different organizations, and really starting to learn my craft, how much easier it was to build my brand awareness,” she said. “Volunteer, network and let people know who you are. By doing that, it was so much easier for me to earn the respect of company owners that I was working with.”

Leary has served in the industry for 12 years, and has played a major role in her company creating diversity programs to help get more women hired at the company. One tip of advice she gave was for attendees to seek out a mentor in a senior level position — male or female — at their organizations.

“It’s about having someone in the senior level that is looking out for you,” she said. “You need someone who is helping to train and coach you throughout your career. The mentors I’ve had really pushed me to be a lot more assertive than what I would naturally be.”

She also offered tips on how women can request additional compensation, noting that it’s an awkward situation for both men and women.

“It’s a matter of knowing yourself, knowing your value and creating that respect,” Leary said. “Once you have that, asking for things like more compensation should be more than reasonable. But I think [women] tend to wait too long though. We should be more proactive in approaching our management so that they’re clear on your objectives. Then, they’ll help pave the way instead of being reactive around pay review time.”

Gustavsson, who said that 70% of the engineers at Milestone are female, encouraged attendees not to try to become “one of the boys,” but to stay true to themselves.

“We have different characteristics, perspectives and ways of approaching problems,” she stressed. “I think that’s the real benefit that we bring. I recently came across some statistics that said 80% of men prefer working for women. That’s interesting because I think they appreciate more insight that women provide.”

Gustavsson also related an experience similar to Dougan’s that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. When approaching her boss for a pay increase, he told her, “It doesn’t really make that much sense because your husband’s the breadwinner, and you’re just earning pocket change.”

Rather than sit there and take it, Gustavsson took action and reported the incident to Human Resources. She encourages all to do the same if faced in a similar situation.

“If you stay silent, that’s a real tragedy,” she said. “You need to let HR know, and it’s OK to switch management teams. If you don’t feel like your superior has your goals in mind, then I think you should look elsewhere.”

As the session ended, I realized that the tips these panelists offered are not exclusively for women in the industry. In fact, everyone, male or female, can use the advice to further their careers. However, one thing is certain: You have to be willing to make an effort or else nothing is going to happen.

Ashley Willis

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