From Cop to VP: Lisa Terry’s Journey to Allied Universal
Lisa Terry, vice president, vertical markets – healthcare at Allied Universal, discusses her professional experience with tips on how women can succeed and excel in the industry.
SECURE Perspectives is a monthly column by the Security Industry Association (SIA) profiling women in the security industry. This column is part of SIA’s Women in Security Forum, an initiative to support the participation of women in the security field through programs, networking and professional growth events and thought leadership opportunities.
For this edition of SECURE Perspectives, SIA spoke with Lisa Terry, vice president, vertical markets – healthcare at Allied Universal.
SIA: How did you get into the security industry?
Lisa Terry: I am proud to say that I am a product of affirmative action. I was able to apply and be accepted into the police academy in a large metropolitan city as soon as I graduated from college in 1982. In addition to the altruistic privilege of “serving and protecting,” I wanted to be a police officer because I could make the same pay as my male counterparts (which was a big deal when women typically earned 52 cents compared to men who earned $1.00 for the same jobs).
In 1982, a female police officer had to perform the job in the same manner as the male police officers. A large part of that performance was to provide a physical presence. The only assistance my college degree provided me was in report writing; thus, I worked out at the gym and ran twice a day most days in an effort to maintain the minimum physical ability required for the position. It was a tough gig, but failure was not an option.
In the 70s and 80s, many of us who received the career opportunities not previously made available to our gender initially believed once given the opportunity for the job we would automatically be accepted by our employers and coworkers and society as a whole. We were sorely mistaken. It has taken years and multiple generations of individuals who were brought up to accept diversity as the normal way of life. Changing perceptions and circumstances have not occurred overnight, and we still have a ways to go before equality is truly realized across all occupation sectors. But I am so very hopeful when I look at my own sons and their partners. They are not satisfied unless they are able to participate in a diverse environment.
How does your organization serve the industry?
Allied Universal is a leading security and facility services company with more than 200,000 employees and revenues exceeding $7 billion that provides security services and solutions. We have been in business since 1957. The company combines top talent, risk analyses and technology to deliver tailored security services, technology solutions and professional services such as special event, janitorial and consulting and risk advisory services.
Our highly trained security professionals are responsible for protecting client sites covering multiple specialty sectors, such as education, healthcare, retail, commercial real estate, government institutions, residential, defense and aerospace, chemical/petrochemical/utilities, public transportation, financial institutions and manufacturing/industrial. Our reach and local presence cover North America and key international markets.
What types of job functions do women fill in your company? Is there diversity of roles in your company, or do women gravitate toward certain job functions?
We have women serving in various roles across the organization, including:
• Senior vice president
• Regional president
• Vice president
• Senior manager
• Business development manager
• Operations manager
• Police officer
• Security officer
Allied Universal’s female security professionals lend their expertise across all divisions and sectors of our organization, serving in key leadership roles in human resources, technology, marketing and sales and throughout our field operations.
With more and more data that shows diversity makes a better workforce, what opportunities do you see for women in the security industry?
Because women are continuing to represent a higher percentage of the purchase and usage decisions in the marketplace, it is important that the security industry intentionally reflect that diversity and bring more women into their workforce. Experience, knowledge and technology are far better tools to reducing the drivers of risk than a mere physical presence. With the advent of technology solutions complimenting physical security, the preference in the industry is leaning more towards specialization, knowledge and skills over a physical “presence” or perceived strength. That is a great equalizer when it comes to the question of gender.
What impediments do you see for achieving this? What could remedy some of these impediments?
I’m not sure it is possible to pinpoint every hurdle, but I do believe acknowledging that conscious and unconscious gender bias exists in the workplace is an important first step — not just in the security industry, but in every industry.
What do you see as important trends in the industry?
One important trend that I am seeing is that more young girls and women are being targeted earlier into programs such as STEM, CyBHER (Empower Girls in Cyber Security – Themes for K-12), Girl Scouts badge for cybersecurity, etc.
More specifically, what trends are you seeing in your company’s space of intelligent sensing solutions for defense, industrial and commercial applications?
Allied Universal leads the industry in the diversity of services and scope capabilities we bring to our clients and communities we protect. Whether it is one of our proprietary technology solutions that enhance the skills of our security professionals or one of our integrated technology solutions that provide cost savings, we endeavor to seamlessly blend people, expertise and technology to yield the best results for our clients. In our organization, there are both men and women leading the charge, bringing these solutions to our clients.
What are the biggest opportunities your company and the industry are seeing?
Our organization is dedicated to the training and development of all our security professionals. Training is continuous and accessible through our online learning platform. This training, combined with on-the-job coaching and our organization’s history of promoting from within, offers tremendous career path opportunities. We have numerous examples of security professionals, which include women, who have carved out an illustrious career in security which began as a security officer. Over the years, these individuals have successfully leveraged their on-the-job experiences and training to move into leadership and executive roles within our company.
What do you hope the Women in Security Forum can achieve for the security industry?
It is my hope that the Women in Security Forum can achieve a network of leadership mentoring. It is difficult to bring more women into an industry that does not have more women leaders.
What is your best advice for women in the industry?
Many times, women will not apply for promotions within our industry because they do not believe that they are fully competent for the position; however, men do apply for those same promotions even when they do not believe that they are fully capable of performing the position. My advice to women in the industry is: Take the leap of faith! You are capable of more than you realize!
Who or what was the strongest influence in your career?
My mother was my greatest influence. I was the youngest of six children (two brothers and three sisters). My mother was the strongest person that I have ever known; she worked outside the home, and yet she was an outstanding mom, civic leader, political advocate and partner to my father for more than 60 years. She did not flinch when I told her that I wanted a football, a baseball and a ball glove one Christmas (and she made sure that my father supported her in purchasing those gifts for me). My mother pushed me to be the best I could be in academics, and at the same time she taught me servant leadership by requiring that I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.
She wholeheartedly supported me when I decided to take the leap and apply to a large metropolitan police department after college. Although she was not a runner, she would continuously motivate me in my marathon training efforts. Long before LGBTQ became a household acronym, my mother taught me that all humans are different and may look and love differently. She taught me that as an educated woman, it was my responsibility to “pay it forward” and speak up for all persons who were under-represented. It is my belief that the confidence and empathy my mother instilled in me throughout my life help to guide me to my career in law enforcement and security management.
How do you define success?
My definition of success is being able to make a contribution to the world in the hope of leaving it a better place for those who may come after me.
What would you say to new upcoming women in the industry?
The security industry is not only a necessary but honorable profession. Focus your efforts on learning from one another, sharing with one another and celebrating this wonderful tapestry that is our very diverse and ever-changing society.
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