Convergint’s Kelle Shanks on How to Advance Women in Security

In this month’s SECURE Perspectives, Shanks explains why it’s important to be a mentor, trends she’s observed in the industry and more.

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, professional development and networking events.

For this edition of SECURE Perspectives, SIA spoke with Kelle Shanks, senior account executive at Convergint Technologies.

SIA: How did you get into the security industry?

Kelle Shanks: I found my way to the security industry completely by accident. I made a staffing sales call on a security integration company in 1994, and I thought it was such a cool industry. The sales manager hired me!

How does your organization serve the industry?

Convergint Technologies is a global, service-based systems integrator whose top priority is service in every way — service to customers, colleagues and community. Our promise, and our number-one objective, is to be our customers’ best service provider.

What is your current role?

I am a senior account executive. In addition to my formal responsibilities, I mentor young women in sales within our company, which I love.

What types of job functions do women fill in your company?

We have many women in service dispatch, project coordination and program manager roles. We also have women in leadership positions, including our chief information officer, general counsel and vice president of human resources — to name just a few.

With more and more data that shows diversity makes a better workforce, what opportunities do you see for women in the security industry?

I feel that all positions in our industry are suited for women. The security integration business is a team sport! It takes a team of high-functioning individuals to deliver large integrated systems to a client — it is about being part of something that is bigger than you.

What impediments do you see for achieving this? What could remedy some of these impediments?

Research has shown that girls and young women are systemically discouraged from pursuing interests within math and science, which limits their ability to go into these fields as adults. The security industry is a very technical one, so the systemic inequality regarding girls and women in STEM affects our industry. Other areas security integration companies need to address are childcare reimbursements and flexible work hours, for both men and women. This need is critical to ensuring the responsibilities of child care do not fall exclusively to women, so that women can raise children without sacrificing career advancement.

What do you see as important trends in the industry?

The security industry is becoming more and more IT-centric every year. Because of this change, we will need to be able to compete with the IT sector, not just other security integrators, for valuable colleagues.

More specifically, what trends are you seeing in your company’s space of service-based systems integration?

Customers want immediate access to real-time data about service calls and installations. They want to be able to create reports on metrics: dollars spent, where they were spent, service costs and for what devices, etc. This is less about “grading” the integrator than it is valuable information for them to share with their management for more resources or funding. Convergint has very sophisticated systems that allow us to provide this data, creating value for a client in a way perhaps not previously considered.

What are the top challenges your company has faced in the last year?

For me personally, I have truly missed the colleagues with whom I work. We are a very close office, and they are more than just colleagues — they are my friends as well. I know that our executive staff has worked very hard to keep Convergint’s culture intact. Our CEO, Ken Lochiatto, has made weekly YouTube videos for us to watch; it has really helped to keep us all connected and demonstrated our leadership’s commitment to staying in touch and “being there.” It was also important for the office colleagues to let the field colleagues know how appreciative we were of their commitment in the field, day after day in a pandemic. How frightening it must have been for them and their families! We are so grateful.

What are the biggest opportunities your company — and the industry — are seeing?

The security industry is growing in diversity. I have been in the industry for 27 years, and I can tell you that I am seeing more women being hired and thriving than ever before. I see it in many areas, including SIA, the ASIS Women in Security Council and my own office, where we now have five women in sales. Here at Convergint we have created a group called Convergint Women Connect (CWC), of which I am a founding member. CWC was created with the mission of connecting the women of Convergint Nation to inspire them, support them and develop their leadership mentality.

We host networking opportunities, offer learning and development opportunities and advocate on behalf of the women of Convergint. One example of our work is our quarterly webinar event, “A Day in the Life.” We use this series to highlight Convergint women who perform roles historically held by men in order to demonstrate how many career paths are truly available to women, if they choose to pursue them. Our group also spearheads campaigns for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and International Women’s Day.

What do you hope the SIA Women in Security Forum can achieve for the security industry?

Keep the focus on diversity and highlight successful women so that the next generation can see that they can be successful in this industry — ultimately leading to more women joining us!

What is your best advice for women in the industry?

My advice to women in the industry is to make the decision that this is your long-term career and make deliberate choices — and deliberately forge relationships — in order to move you along in your journey. Build internal teams to support you and your customer, because it takes a large internal team to be successful. Always be mindful to do the right thing. These things will take you far.

Who or what was the strongest influence in your career?

I originally started my security sales career at Advanced Entry Systems in 1994. Patricia McWethy was the owner, Anne Dessureau was the operations manager and Mary Farrell Crosslin was another sales professional. I remember thinking, “I hope one day my rolodex will be as big as Mary’s.” She knew everyone and everything. Those women motivated me to positively represent a group with very little representation at the time. I was so fortunate to have been alongside them early in my career because they were always raising the bar.

How do you define success?

At this point in my career, it’s not about how many card readers or cameras I sell — it’s about having the respect of my peers, my competitors and my clients. I am overjoyed at being asked to speak to or mentor women.

What would you say to new upcoming women in the industry?

We need you in this industry! You can be successful, respected and heard here. As a corollary, I would also like to address the women who are already successful in the industry: if you haven’t done so already, find someone to mentor. We owe it to the next generation to leave a legacy, so if you are at the top of the mountain, put out a hand and pull someone up with you.

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