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Interviews

ISRM on women and diversity

A webinar by the ISRM (Institute of Strategic Risk Management) has made the case for diversity and inclusion – for recognising people for who they are, whatever their experience, their sexual orientation, race, size, religion, and gender identity – just a few examples, as given by one of the speakers, the Australian Louisa Schneller, a past speaker at ISRM events. The event’s chair, the former senior Indian policewoman, Sutapa Sanyal, began by asking Louisa what diversity and inclusion in the security industry (including cyber) looks like.

Louisa replied: “We need to be careful that the meanings aren’t lost.” She defined diversity by categories of people; while inclusion is the act of valuing those categories, once they are in the organisation. “An organisation isn’t inclusive, just because it’s diverse.”

She stressed that being inclusive and diverse is an ongoing process; and ‘the security industry, I think it’s fair to say, has a bit of an image problem.’ By that she meant, as did others at the webinar, meant that if you think of security, you think of a man; and a white male. Likewise, Louisa went on, the IT sector has also traditionally been male dominated. Again, she and others spoke of a background of having been in the workplace ‘the only woman in the room’. She concluded, again echoed later by another speaker, Claire Humble, the head of security at Teesside University in Middlesbrough, that there’s still a lot of work to do; while it was acknowledged the progress in women’s experiences at work.

A theme of the event was recruitment (and, as important) retention – including in cyber; a later speaker, Nathan CHung, spoke of the millions of jobs in cyber not taken up, and how autistic people have been shown to excel in technical positions, who could help fill that skills gap. Unfortunately, he went on, many organisations have rejected hiring and retaining neurodiverse people.

Earlier, Sutapa Sanyal asked Louisa Schneller is lack of a talent pool was the reason. We could be doing better, Louisa replied. Many organisations, she said, tend to be little microcosms of the society they inhabit. If an organisation isn’t committed to diversity and inclusion (D&I), they will still have unconscious bias when recruiting. “Your commitment has to be genuine, because people are really good at spotting false sincerity.” Traditionally disadvantaged groups are particularly good at spotting it, she added.

She stressed that D&I isn’t about taking a top group down; but rather making access to all people. Generally, and specifically in security, she felt it was a ‘no brainer’ in terms of benefits. In security, when you are trying to identify and mitigate threats, the last thing you want to do is look through a port hole, she said; if you only have one set of experiences and eyeballs, “that is your port hole. You want as many talented and uniquely skilled perspectives as possible; that way you get more innovation and diverse decision making.”

A similar point was made by Claire Humble, who (like Sutapa Sanyal) joined the police in the 1980s when women in the police were far more unusual than today. Claire spoke particularly interestingly of her career in the police (in Cleveland, and then for some years in New Zealand); such as how as a senior police officer she wrongly used to think that she should surround herself with others with the same approach to policing as she said. Actually, she added, the value was from creating a ‘really diverse work group’, where everybody thinks differently and adds value. If you surround yourself with people thinking like you, you are limited, she added. She paid particular tribute to the work by NZ Police on diversity, such as seeking to understand the ‘journey’ of minority group recruits; and in the UK, work by the association for university chiefs of security, Aucso.

As last May when speaking to a ProtectED webinar, Claire described her work at Teesside to bring in more diverse security staff, and to retain them, to better reflect the audience in higher education (more females than males, staff and students), while acknowledging that shift patterns (12 hour shifts, four on, four off) can make it difficult for women (with childcare or other family commitments).

More in the June print edition of Professional Security magazine.


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