GIVEN THE sheer number of male influencers within the security sphere, it stands to reason that white male managers hold the key to increasing diversity across the security (guarding) sector. In the first of a series of articles exclusive to Security Matters, Claire Humble explains precisely why.
Valuing diversity within the workplace is by no means a new concept. Far from it, in fact. Over 30 years ago as a young and rather naive female, I joined my local police service. At the time, it didn’t matter to me that no-one looked, acted or spoke as I did. Looking back, I’m not even sure that this truism even registered with me. In joining the police service, I knew that I was entering a male-dominated environment. A boys’ club, if you like, that I was going to have to infiltrate if I harboured any ambitions of being successful.
That situation didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. Indeed, I saw it as a challenge. Having joined a team of 14 male colleagues, I worked extremely hard to emulate them. To act, speak and ‘police’ as they did. Even if I say so myself, I became very good at it. I ditched the handbag and skirt and donned the trousers and boots. Against all odds, it seemed, I passed the police sergeant examination and qualified for promotion after only five years’ service.
I was having a ball and really had no interest in being promoted. At the time, it was rare for females to be promoted on their first attempt in any event. I had been accepted into the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and was thriving. Loving every minute of it.
Five years down the line, there were still relatively few women within the policing ranks and even less in the CID. Those who were resident often saw each other as competition rather than colleagues. That was simply how things were back then.
Female role models – ie women to whom you could aspire and learn from – were very few and far between, while those who had managed to climb the promotion ladder then sought to pull it up rather than leave it down for other females to climb. This account of the situation back then will resonate, I’m sure. with other female police officers of that generation.
It was left to the mainly white male managers to do their level best to develop and grow future female leaders. For many of the former, though, this was a problem for Human Resources to resolve and not them. Thankfully, a few sage and insightful male managers understood the value of diversity and provided guidance and opportunity. This was very much welcomed among the small, but nonetheless growing group of female officers.
Frankly, I experienced the best and worst of times during my career as a police constable. Despite my ability, capabilities and acceptance as ‘one of the boys’, I was certainly subjected to sexism, unwanted sexual advances – both physical and verbal in nature – and the most brutal acts of bullying from some senior male officers.
Particularly memorable was the juncture in my CID career when I opted for part-time working after giving birth to my first child. Back in the late 1990s, part-time working had only just been introduced, while diversity and equality measures were beginning to emerge. Many senior male colleagues in the CID environment were keen to push back on this and ‘blamed’ female workers for the introduction of diversity and equality within the workplace which, at that time, was being resisted at all costs.
The CID was viewed by many as the last bastion of male supremacy. The place for many of my male colleagues to work hard and play hard. It certainly wasn’t an environment for putting family first. I remember being so personally hurt and upset by this kind of attitude emanating from senior officers that I didn’t want to return to work after my maternity leave.
Return to work
Ultimately, I did go back to work as soon as three months after giving birth so that I could prove myself as a valued member of the team even though I was there on reduced hours. Had it not been for the courage and support of my male detective sergeant and several of my male peers, I would almost certainly have been thrown out of the CID. Not because I wasn’t capable. Far from it, but rather because I had the audacity to suggest that the work of a detective could be conducted on a part-time basis.
Thankfully, my personal resilience and dogged determination to succeed and advance, coupled with the support of many of my male colleagues, eventually paid off. I was elevated to the rank of inspector and, in 2016, the dream job of staff officer to the chief constable.
The role of staff officer (essentially the policing assistant to the chief constable) is somewhat unique and enabled me to gain key insights into the strategic running of the police service as a ‘business’. More than that, it enabled me to learn from the brightest and best male officers.
Of course, I set about studying, observing and regurgitating what it took to be an executive officer within the police service. This insight, I believed, would provide me with a strategic edge and an advantage for the rest of my career. After all, not only had I learned to police as a male, but I had also learned some key skills in how to police as an executive male.
Sadly, it would take me a further six years – and a new career forged with the New Zealand Police as a senior leader and manager – to actually understand that the greatest value I could offer the police was not as a successful police officer who had mastered the art of policing as a male. The true value I brought to my senior leadership role was policing as a woman and the diversity of thought I carried with me to the management table. It was about being a role model, mentor and supportive colleague to all of my members of staff, including females and the members of minority groups.
Mentors and supporters
Some of the greatest mentors and supporters during my policing career were white male managers. Males who, even in the 1990s, recognised the value of diversity and equality within the workplace. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for them, I would not have experienced such a rich and rewarding career within the police service. These males were the true trailblazers willing to stand out from the crowd and support individuals who found themselves in the minority. Individuals who they knew had potential to make a positive difference within the police service regardless of their personal characteristics.
This is where I see the wider security sector as of right now. We need white male trailblazing leaders not only to step forward, but also to step up and acknowledge that the sector simply must do better. If we’re to progress and grow as an industry and as a profession, we need to create an environment wherein young men and women view the security sector as a long-term career choice. A career with opportunities for advancement and where innovation, new ideas and diversity of thought are both embraced and encouraged.
There’s no time to waste. We need to take action now. By ‘action’, I don’t mean engaging in dialogue. I mean taking physical steps to bring about real change.
Acknowledging unconscious bias
In my view, this change has to start with leaders acknowledging unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is alive and well in all of us. Recognising and factoring that into our decision-making process is a good first step.
Perhaps an opportune place to begin in challenging our unconscious bias is during the recruitment process. Ensuring that at least one panel member is a female security professional would be a perfect step forward. This may be challenging to begin with, but it can – and does – have a significant impact on the decision-making process. Men and women often have differing views on many things. Considering other people’s perspectives within the workplace can be enlightening and realise conclusions that would not ordinarily have been arrived at under other circumstances.
Perhaps then we can start to look at the retention process as well. Focus on training and learning pathways, shift patterns, uniforms and, if we’re brave enough, even seek to tackle the subject of team culture.
In my opinion, what we must avoid is equity. In other words, the numbers game. Having traversed the police service for over 25 years and faced – and overcome – significant challenges around equality during that time, the last thing we need to do as a sector is promote people because of their personal characteristics. This can – and very often does – have disastrous consequences.
I’ve seen it happen in the police service. The genuine need and desire for diversity and equality was rushed and handled badly. Many women and individuals from minority groups were promoted not because of their talent, but due to their personal characteristics which, in some cases, led to terrible consequences for both the individuals and organisations concerned.
People were promoted who were neither ready for this, nor capable of performing at a higher level. In turn, they struggled. This initiative eroded the value of women and minority group members who had been promoted on merit because the general feeling was that they were only in their loftier positions because they were perceived to fit the ‘narrative’ of the day. When all’s said and done, people should be recruited or promoted because they’re the best candidate for the job. Period.
My final thoughts on this topic are for my fellow female security leaders. We do not receive a pass mark here, either. Equally as important – if not more important – to the security sector’s diversity conundrum are the current female leaders within the sector. We have an essential role to play. Current female security leaders absolutely must lower the ladder for other females to climb. They must make themselves available as mentors, confidants and friends.
Women can be their own worst enemies when it comes to advancement. I’ve certainly learned this the hard way. Females can be brutal to each other, and particularly so in situations of advancement. If I’m being completely honest then, to some extent at least, I’ve been guilty of this in the past myself. Later on in my career, I began to understand the rewards of seeing young males and females in whom I had invested time and energy start to shine and progress in their own careers. This makes the effort involved absolutely worthwhile.
I know there are many women willing to help, nurture and develop their colleagues, but we simply must do more. There are plenty of female groups, Think Tanks and virtual conferences where the subjects of diversity and equality are discussed with a passion, but there’s a danger of going round in circles and such gatherings becoming mere echo chambers. Now is not the time for dialogue alone.
Now is the time for action. A time for new trains of thought and a different approach. Industry leaders need to think about the sector and how it’s currently perceived by young people looking to select their career of choice.
Speaking as a female who has managed to forge a very successful career in the security sector, I’ve experienced some significant highs and lows along the way. I’m excited to say that the industry is ripe for change. It’s ready for a new breed of diverse leaders. Leaders who will need to be encouraged, nurtured and helped by all leaders, and notably so white male leaders who are in the majority right now. They are the leaders who are going to have to not only step forward, but also step up and take positive action to bring about meaningful change.
I’ve lived through it. I know that meaningful change can happen and for the better. Together, let’s give it a go. Let’s make a positive difference now.
To all the budding female and minority group security officers out there hoping for a successful career within the security business sector, I will leave you with a quote from one of my many amazing senior male mentors: “Just be excellent at what you’re doing right now and you will be noticed.”
Claire Humble MSyI is Co-Founder and Director of Nuology (www.nu-ology.com)