Women are rising to the top of the security industry, a sector often seen as male-dominated. (Online Exclusive)
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.
Maureen S. Rush, M.S., CPP, Vice President for Public Safety at the University of Pennsylvania, directs the tactical and strategic direction of the Division of Public Safety and over 175 staff members. She believes to be really successful in the security sector a 24/7 commitment must be embraced. “Anyone signing up for a career in public safety or policing must realize that you are never really off the clock,” says Rush. “The higher up you go, the buck stops with you. To be successful you need to be able to manage great people and keep in touch so that when there is a disruption on campus, you have the information and resources available to communicate and mitigate the situation.”
Prior to coming to the University of Pennsylvania, Rush had a distinguished 18-year law enforcement career with the Philadelphia Police Department. In 1976, Rush was one of the first 100 female police officers hired to serve the City of Philadelphia on street patrol in a pilot program directed by the United States Department of Justice. Women now comprise twenty-five percent of the Philadelphia Police Department, with approximately 1,650 officers, as a result of that successful pilot program.
Rush patrolled a very rocky road to ensure a place for women in law enforcement and security. Lilly Rush, the only female Philadelphia homicide detective on Cold Case, was named after Rush by executive producer Meredith Stiehm, a University of Penn graduate. “When I started in law enforcement, there were virtually no women on patrol. Women were assigned to the Juvenile Aid division and brought out on occasion to act as decoys for purse snatchers.”
A class action lawsuit filed on February 12, 1974, by Policewoman Penelope Brace against the City of Philadelphia, the Commissioner of Police, the Director of Personnel, and the City of Philadelphia Civil Service Commissioners alleged that the Philadelphia Police Department discriminated against females in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Brace’s legal victory led to the hiring of 100 women to patrol the streets. Rush was assigned to the 25th District, a high crime district. “They wanted us to fail and assumed we would,” recalls Rush. “The senior officers engaged in mean spirited and dangerous hazing to the women on the force.” Unlike male rookies who worked in patrol cars with veteran officers, female rookies walked the most dangerous neighborhoods alone. The police department brass assumed by the time the winter season approached the female officers would be fired or would quit. No uniforms were made for them. “The first hundred women on patrol in Philadelphia were all dressed in men’s clothes,” remembers Rush.
“The solidarity of the women working to succeed, despite jeering and danger, made me tougher,” says Rush. “When I hear younger women complaining about unfair treatment, I sometimes lose my patience because they don’t understand what it was like for women prior to the onset of the EEOC laws.”
Education and Training
What are the qualities and background women need to thrive in the security business? “Join your local chapter of ASIS International, an association dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and productivity of security professionals worldwide,” recommends Eleonora Tumbiolo. “Join a committee of your local chapter and be an active member who networks with others. Take the Certified Protection Professional (CPP) exam from ASIS which allows you to become Board Certified in Security Management. This is similar to a CPA for accountants.”
“Find or be a mentor,” advises Nancy Higgins, National Account Portfolio Manager for AlliedBarton. “Your mentor should be a business savvy professional in the security industry who you might find at your ASIS chapter or at your company.”
“Get educated,” advises Rush who holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Organizational Dynamics. A polymath, she’s also completed leadership programs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Northwestern School of Staff & Command, and the FBI’s Law Enforcement Executive Development Program and acquired CPP certification from ASIS International. “An education in criminal justice or business is highly beneficial to a security or law enforcement career,” she says.
Take advantage of the training programs your company offers. Contract security firms like AlliedBarton offer comprehensive training programs to all employees. “Find out what your company offers and go through the training,” advises Higgins. “Many people start in contract security as security officers and junior administrative staff and work their way up to district managers, vice presidents, and beyond. Training helps them get there.”
“Brush up on your communication skills,” advises Tumbiolo. “While women tend to be good communicators, it helps to become comfortable in public speaking which enhances your communication skills with employees, clients and upper management.” Tumbiolo joined a local chapter of Toastmaster to help her overcome her fear of public speaking.
In today’s business world, the successful team is a blend of the best men and women. As the security industry continues to evolve and tap into the greatest talent and resources, we will continue to see more and more women as senior leaders, middle managers and new entrants to the field. The security sector offers unparalleled opportunity across multiple disciplines. “Women should not be caught in the old mythology about what she can or cannot do,” says Rush. “Women should know that there is nothing they cannot do if they set their mind to it.”
UPDATE: ASIS International has started a formal women’s mentoring program and is taking applications for mentors and mentees now. For more information, please contact Jennifer Hartman or stop by the ASIS Women in Security group on LinkedIn .
Mimi Lanfranchi is Senior Vice President, National Accounts and Specialized Services for AlliedBarton Security Services. Lanfranchi began her security career as an Investigative Specialist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Lanfranchi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .