dormakaba’s Sabrina Wilson Shares an HR Perspective of the Security Industry

Wilson, senior vice president of human resources at dormakaba Americas, discusses hiring trends and best practices for diversity, and more in this month’s SECURE Perspectives.

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 (WISF), 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 Sabrina Wilson, senior vice president of human resources at dormakaba Americas. Earlier this year, Wilson was named to the inaugural SIA WISF Power 100, recognizing 100 women in the security industry who are role models for actively advancing diversity, inclusion, innovation and leadership in the community, and she also spoke earlier this month at SIA’s 2022 AcceleRISE conference for young security industry professionals.

SIA: How did you get into the security industry?

Sabrina Wilson: Being part of the security industry wasn’t intentional for me. I was looking for the next opportunity after a sabbatical and trying to be strategic about what to do next. My criteria included: getting back into a manufacturing environment, returning to the Midwest to be closer to family, being part of a global organization and serving as an HR leader to continue my career path. With experience in a variety of industries, I did not target a specific industry.

A recruiter brought the dormakaba opportunity to me. Prior to that, this company and this industry were not on my radar. Two things attracted me to dormakaba. First, I saw new opportunities for me, as well as a role for HR to support overall business growth — both of which excited me. What sold me on dormakaba, however, was its strong purpose in making the world safe and secure so people can move about seamlessly. The company’s commitment to its purpose was clearly evident. I wanted to help advance that.

How does your organization serve the industry?

dormakaba services the security industry by remaining laser-focused on our commitment to make access in life smart, safe and secure for every place that matters. We are a trusted partner for access products, solutions and services. In addition, we are active participants in industry events and trade associations and frequent contributors to media and educational programs. On the human side, we integrate and innovate best practices to attract, develop and retain top talent across the organization.

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?

You’ll find women in all roles within dormakaba. We have women in nontraditional roles such as engineering, technology, manufacturing and supply chain. We also have women in functions they have gravitated to historically such as finance, HR, marketing and customer service. We need to attract more diversity and acknowledge that “diversity” can mean many different things. This isn’t limited to gender, ethnic or cultural diversity — it must include diverse thinking and recruiting from different industries to attract and retain top talent.

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

There are many new opportunities if we choose to think differently about our approach. Our industry has a strong sense of purpose — making the world more secure. While the gender lines are blurring a bit here and men are more vocal about this perspective, women are attracted to companies with a strong purpose.

Here’s one example. When we look at security products used in schools and hospitals — two large, purpose-driven market segments for our industry — we see that many of the gatekeepers to sales are women. Having women who are selling, training and working with these decisionmakers adds to dormakaba’s ability to relate to its customers.

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

The security industry in general is not well-known as a career path. At dormakaba, our products are not household names. People drive by our factories and offices and don’t know who we are or what we do through name recognition alone. We need to be active in communities like universities and high schools to let people know about internships, apprenticeships and career options.

For midlevel professionals looking to change jobs, we need to brand and market our industry overall and engage with associations and chambers where candidates may be looking for career information. We typically don’t use words like “branding” and “marketing” in HR, but it’s our job to sell this industry to prospects.

What do you see as important trends in the industry? More specifically, what trends are you seeing in your HR leadership role with dormakaba?

The biggest industry trend I see is a hunger for data. Security is becoming less about having a key and more about the data available with electronic access-driven security devices. Products still allow or deny entry, but they also track time, location, biometrics and other data that provides information and solves problems.

The impact on HR of this industry trend toward technology is compelling, and we’re seeing a generational change in work styles. Baby boomers are retiring. Newer workers are more tech-savvy (which aligns with the security marketplace shifts) and are used to having research and feedback intelligence at their fingertips (again, similar to the data drive in our industry).

In HR, this means that these newer employees want information about their performance and career opportunities more frequently. If an organization can’t provide this, then the worker is likely to leave. If we are going to attract and retain top talent, we must change our processes for career development and performance feedback using automation and technology. I’d like to say this is an evolution of our best HR practices, rather than a revolution, but with the volume of boomers exiting and new workers coming in, we have to move quickly.

If we define HR leadership in terms of years of service, we’re losing an experienced workforce more quickly than we can replace them. COVID accelerated this even more — people are deciding to get out of the workforce completely, pursue gig economy roles and generally reevaluate whether they need to go to work. We must act now.

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

First, like everyone else, we’ve seen the convergence of social and world of work issues from the global pandemic, employee turnover and inflation. The human element of the workplace has never been more important. In fact, I’ve been in HR for 30 years, and I haven’t heard the word “care” as much as I have in recent years. In the past few years, we’ve brought life to work, so to speak.

We’ve had to navigate the very real issues of absence due to illness, quarantine and even death as well as significant employee turnover. This affects all levels of any organization — not just dormakaba. The workload redistribution that results adds stress. Higher costs due to inflation add wage pressures to the organization in order to attract and retain top talent.

Second, we must address the knowledge gap resulting from experienced employees leaving the workforce. It’s a fine line. The knowledge of these workers can’t be replaced item for item, and the knowledge base of new employees represents a complete paradigm shift in terms of how “experience” is defined due to the fact that they are digital natives. They’re bringing in new knowledge and skills that weren’t present before and will have a positive impact on our business.

How do we navigate these issues? dormakaba has adopted a continuous improvement mindset. We’re doing a better job of knowledge transfer from exiting workers to both remaining staff and new hires. We’re also trying to take an active approach to retention and engagement by identifying pain points and concerns and figuring out how to address them.

Finally, we’re not just making transactional replacements of one new person for one who departs. We’re reevaluating each role. What did it look like? What does it need to look like? Does each role need to be replaced with the exact same skills? Replacement roles may look different.

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

Externally, the No. 1 opportunity is to attract people to the security industry as a career path. We’re not well known. At dormakaba, we’re using career development to help address this. We started our Rising Talent program in 2021 with 27 interns working on meaningful projects. In 2022, that number grew to 40.

Internally, we’re working to improve internal programs for people development across our employee experience spectrum from early talent to existing talent to experienced talent. Some HR statistics show that younger generations want to take on new jobs or roles every 2.3 years. We need to show that this type of career progression can occur within dormakaba.

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

Ultimately, I hope there isn’t a need for the Women in Security Forum because our industry is reflective of a 50/50 balance ratio of women to men workers. To do this, we need to make our industry attractive to women in all functions and disciplines and at all levels of the organizational chart.

What is your best advice for women in the industry?

Get engaged with different trade organizations, like SIA, that align with your career path. For me, this step has allowed me to get to know others in industry and connect on challenges, network and receive and provide mentorship. That engagement creates community, and a sense of community makes you feel like you belong.

Who or what was the strongest influence in your career?

There have been so many! I’ve had mentors in different stages who have said the thing I needed to hear the most. For example, I was with an organization that challenged me to make a complete mind shift in how to deliver HR. I’m passionate about the role of HR as a business partner to the organization. I was asked to take on an internal HR role where I would oversee and develop 35 HR business partners across the Americas, which I interpreted as a functional HR role. I didn’t want to be internally focused.

The chief HR officer, who is still a mentor today, told me to go do this for 18-24 months, after which I would be put back into a more traditional HR business partner role. It ended up being one highlight of my career. By changing my mindset, I had chance to shape the future of so many HR business partners. We morphed from a company of HR generalists to one of true business partners with the ability to lead.

Sometimes you have to do something you don’t think you want to do. My mentor saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself at that time. I wouldn’t have discovered it if he hadn’t pushed me.

How do you define success?

This is a hard question for me as an overachiever! Being functionally focused, I define success as improving the employee experience from candidate to retiree. It’s an incredible opportunity to touch people with a positive experience and good benefits, help with a personal situation and create a work environment they want to be part of.

As a business partner, I’m successful when HR can influence a business decision that meets the needs of employees and the business at the same time. Balance is not always easy, and how we deliver tough messages is very important. Not every experience will be positive, but we have a huge opportunity to demonstrate respect for humanity.

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

I still consider myself new to this industry since I’ve been here less than two years. My advice? Embrace the challenges. This is a great industry with a strong purpose. There are so many ways we can make a difference in the lives of others through new product development, exploring new markets and solving problems.

Any final thoughts?

One of things I truly believe is that we must be our authentic selves. Don’t try to be what you think others and your employers or the industry want you to be. Be your authentic self. When I first entered the workforce at a manufacturing company, I was the only woman in the room and I tried to be “one of the guys” by wearing dark pants, a white shirt and a scarf (my version of a tie). When I broke that mold and added color and jewelry, I started being who I am. It’s exhausting to be anything other than yourself.

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