Women in the Security Sector

By Mimi Lanfranchi

Today’s security professional is part of a multicultural work force and represents a variety of ethnic, racial, religious, and gender backgrounds. Despite the workplace diversity in the security sector, some people still believe that the average security employee is a male with military or law enforcement experience. While men represent the majority of employees in the security sector, more and more women are gravitating to the field, attracted to the wide array of opportunities that are available.

Security is one of the fastest-growing professional careers worldwide. In my position as a senior leader at the country’s leading physical security services firm, I see more and more women enticed by this industry. Today, my firm employs more than 14,300 women nationwide in a wide variety of positions including security officer, account manager, district manager, vice president and senior vice president. While security was not traditionally a sector that most women considered to build their careers, the landscape has shifted dramatically. It has been an evolution, rather than a revolution, that has attracted the diverse population of employees who now serve as our country’s security professionals. The issues and threats that exist today are quite different than those of 20 years ago, as is the demand for a multicultural and diverse workforce to creatively and collaboratively address them.

Women have a unique contribution to make in the everchanging security field, regardless of their background. I had no family or friends in the security or law enforcement sectors to influence me into the industry. Rather I became interested in the field when I signed up for several criminal justice classes in college. I then began my career as an Investigative Specialist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation before moving on to the private sector. It has been an exciting and challenging career working in the security industry and I have been fortunate to have had the best mentors in the business. While the industry itself can be demanding and present challenges, the obstacles aren’t insurmountable and in most cases can become opportunities.

Today’s Security Leaders

Even the most accomplished women in the security sector have overcome obstacles to become today’s leaders. Bonnie Michelman, CPP, CHPA, Director of Police, Security and Outside Services for Massachusetts General Hospital has over two decades of security management experience in diverse industries and oversees 300 security professionals.

Although her male colleagues have been overwhelmingly supportive, Michelman says “there are times being a woman in this particular field feels like being a minority.” But she believes there’s an upside to working in an industry where you have to prove yourself, however unfairly, to your colleagues: it can light a fire inside. “Anyone who is a minority in an industry - whether you are a male nurse working with female peers or a female security professional working among all males - tends to work much harder to be successful,” she says.

She’s also seen the makeup of the security profession change drastically during her career. “There are many more women in the security sector today, than when I entered the sector over 20 years ago,” Michelman says. But nevertheless, she decided to see herself as an individual not as a woman. “When you demonstrate your credibility in your profession, whether you are male or female, young or old, minority or majority, people respond favorably,” she says. However, there have been challenges along the way.”

Michelman earned a Master's in Business Administration as well a Master of Criminal Justice and is a Certified Protection Professional and a Certified Healthcare Protection Administrator. She also served as President and Chairman of the Board of ASIS International and currently serves as president of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS). An instructor at Northeastern University's College of Criminal Justice, Michelman cites a “strong education including ongoing specialized security focused education, networking, and willingness to take on additional responsibility” as key drivers for women looking to be successful in security.

Eleonora Tumbiolo, District Manager for AlliedBarton Security Services, has been in the security industry for over 15 years and views Michelman as a true mentor. Tumbiolo, who prepared a thesis on the challenges of women in security in support of her Master of Management degree at Cambridge College, said that Michelman helped her “work through many difficult decisions offering her guidance along the way.”

After a six month stint as an administrative assistant in a corporate security department, Tumbiolo was promoted to financial crime investigator. A few years later, Tumbiolo was appointed as a security director for a major convention center until she received a job offer from AlliedBarton, the largest American-owned contract security company.

While Tumbiolo revels in her district manager role, she believes that men and women in the field may approach a situation the same but be labeled differently. “Ultimately, it is how the woman handles the situation that determines how she is perceived in the workplace. I believe that women who allow the natural and nurturing part of themselves to be available can more easily build genuine relationships with the men they work with and for,” says Tumbiolo.



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