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OSPAs webinars return to diversity

The OSPAs thought leadership webinars returned to diversity and inclusion this afternoon with an all-UK panel of women. They were Emma Shaw, Managing Director at the counter-surveillance consultancy Esoteric, and a former chair of the Security Institute; Dr Fidelma Ashe, Reader in Politics at Ulster University; and Amanda McCloskey, Sales & Marketing Director at the London-based contractor CIS Security.

She began the webinar, recalling work through the UK chapter of the security management association ASIS, promoting ‘Women in Security; but pointed also to the under-representation in the security industry not only of women, in a male-dominated sector (as in related ones such as facilities management), but in terms of disability and sexual orientation. She said: “I feel that it’s a much broader subject now; the world is changing; we are trying to attract a diverse multitude of new talent into the industry; and let’s face it, we are an industry that allows our workforce to be referred to as guards still, and often ‘manned guards’, rather than security professionals. Therefore in my opinion we must address the overall perception of the industry, if we are to attract people to it.”

As for how the industry is faring, she gave some March statistics from the UK regulator the Security Industry Authority (SIA). Out of more than 400,000 licence holders in the UK, near nine in ten (89.4 per cent) are male (‘no surprises there’, as Amanda commented). As for nationality, some 70pc are British, 13pc from the European Economic Area (EEA) and the erst of the world 16pc. She also gave some figures that would suggest the licensable sectors (largely in terms of numbers, door staff and contract officers) also are falling short in terms of age diversity, or, not drawing in enough younger people; for whereas 9.8pc of licence holders in the Uk are aged 18 to 25 years, 15.9pc are aged 60 to 65. The security industry has a long way to go, to achieve diversity and inclusion, she concluded.

Dr Fidelma Ashe at Ulster began by speaking of Northern Ireland as coming out of conflict and peace-building; an ethical peace cannot develop, she went on, without equality, including in the security sector; and police. Policing tends to be highly masculine; when opened up to more diversity and with more of an emphasis on equality, the militarised and masculine aspects start to break down, she argued. She spoke also of a need for diversity because of communities’ distrust of police forces.

Emma Shaw began by saying that diversity has become significantly more prominent now than it’s ever been, ‘and quite rightly too’. A diverse workforce brings lots of value to an organisation; the pulse of an organisation, how it lives and breathes. Like others on this subject, she spoke of how ‘we’ve come a long way; we have got a long way to go’. She wondered about the influence of the pandemic and working remotely on diversity.

Much of the debate and questions from the floor put to the panel by the OSPAs founder and webinar chair Prof Martin Gill, of Perpetuity Research, followed from such points; such as, whether the security industry can or should be satisfied with the direction of progress, or whether more speed is called for; and whether new approaches are needed, such as quotas.

As for something aired in past OSPAs webinars on the subject, panellists contrasted a ‘tick box exercise’ to diversity of strategy and policy and other documents ticked off, and – a point by Fidelma Ashe – of diversity, inclusion and equality without exclusion, and by identifying barriers. Emma Shaw agreed, that we need to look at the barriers that keep people from entering the sector. Likewise Amanda McCloskey urged that organisations ‘keep it simple’ when it comes to a mixed workforce.

The discussion also turned on perceptions, that might put off those who are not stereotypically male and white from entering security. While traditionally security was only physical security (that is, not only done in the real world but perhaps requiring physical strength or at least agility, that might be a deterrent to those with disabilities), now security is also about cyber and risk, which may allow for more diversity. A final point was made by Amanda McCloskey; that the security industry does have to drive change, otherwise change will remain slow.

More on women in security in the June 2021 print edition of Professional Security magazine.

You can sign up to webinars and listen to past ones at The next one on Tuesday, May 4, with an inter-continental panel, asks: how competent are security officers? and why does it matter?


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