CASE STUDY: Women's Security Society

WSS board members at soft launch event, 26th February 2013
WSS board members at soft launch event, 26th February 2013
The Women's Security Society was set up in response to a sexist incident in a professional context, (see Women in IT security) when Jane Wainwright and her co-founders said, “We need to do something, what are we going to do?”

Following market research they found women interested in various sub-sets of security, but the founders passionately believed in convergent security and wanted to include the other aspects of security that are often overlooked so they decided to bring together women from all disciplines in security (www.womenssecuritysociety.co.uk)

Wainwright adds, “When we go to forums in cyber it's just preaching to the converted on many occasions. But there is so much to be learned about so many facets, there are so many touch points in security that impact other areas of what we do. So we created the Women's Security Society and it represents what we do, covering women from intelligence, privacy, close protection in hostile environments, fraud and investigations, cyber security, academia, physical security, and we also have uniformed services and loss adjusters.

“The model is that we have the founders at the top, with Sue Seaby, vice president and global head of corporate security and safety programmes for Aon Service Corporation, as chair. In each of these disciplines we have identified women who are top of their game in their own right, and they lead their group, and bring together almost all the women that focus on that particular discipline, and we have inclusive networks to provide support for them.

“We bring them together and talk about common issues, perhaps of being a woman in a fairly male dominated sector.”

She also points out that post- 9/11 positions of chief security officers now have more kudos and an expectation (in the US) of being ex-FBI or NYPD etc. Another reason Wainwright gives for the formation of the society is the “... incredible amount of nepotism in the security industry. Not so much in cyber, but in the corporate security world. If you were to do a survey of heads of security across the country you would find an interconnected world where they all know somebody who knows somebody, and there's people being overlooked for interviews because they've never worn a uniform before, never served with the incumbent.

“We thought that was a shame that some of these ladies were not even given the opportunity to interview because the job was already appointed, passed on to pals, and that does happen quite a lot in security so we try to work through that and find other opportunities for women to get themselves in. A lot of these ladies often didn't even know these opportunities existed.

“What we definitely do in these forums, and it's not a ‘women only' invitation, is get sponsors from within the industry that endorse women in security, so the Post Office has just given us a second year's sponsorship. We've had very senior male heads of security as speakers who've come along and handed their business cards out, and got more women involved. We've worked closely with the recruitment agencies. And we have also put on events that are specific for each of those disciplines. We have an intelligence event coming up quite soon, we've done a cyber-only event, and we co-hosted the Cyber Security Challenge, So we do these individual events and then big events where we bring everyone together and talk about various things.

“It's not bra burning, we're not suffragettes in any way. We tend not to focus on a women's agenda that much. We just open doors and give them opportunities that may not have existed. I had one comment from a very senior male head of security who said, what we were doing was fascinating, because not only were we bringing the women together, but doing it in a way that men hadn't done, converging different disciplines in security together, so he found it very valuable to be there in a room with people from physical security, cyber security, close protection, whereas he'd normally have just met people from corporate security.

“We host round tables including men and women, people from recruitment, from CISO level to try and understand different roles – a lot of the ladies didn't want to get into cyber because ‘it was all about hacking.' They just weren't interested. So the industry has a lot to do describing what cyber security is, and the different roles available. Some of the recruitment agencies also have a role to play in relation to the very generic job descriptions. When we talk about security, we have to open up more about what opportunities are available, and what jobs they can do – particularly in cyber. I am not techie, I have no interest in being a techie, but I have people in my team who are very, very good at the techie side.

We're not getting resistance (against more women in the sector) – in fact it's the opposite, we are being encouraged. I think some thought when we set up the society it would be women meeting, drinking champagne, chewing the fat and sharing experiences. But it has taken off; the endorsements and support we received was huge and we got a lot more gravitas than we had expected. We are using that to help and we don't want to lose it. We've had great feedback – people saying, I got that job because you helped me, I came to that event and shared business cards with x, y & z, and had an opportunity. The feedback we've had from members has made us want to get up and do more about it.

“There is the counter argument, that if you are trying to get yourselves integrated, why do you segregate yourselves as women? That's why we've got, say Brian Higgens, a member of the Cyber Security Challenge team, a magistrate, who is leading on criminal justice for us, and bringing women from the criminal justice side – we have men who talk at our events, we invite men to come along, and we have had men as members. What we don't do is discriminate as that would be the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. We are looking for people to endorse, and support women in security. We don't want to close the door and talk amongst ourselves as we don't think that's going to help.”

What's next for the group? There are smaller events throughout the year that represent each of the disciplines and larger member events where 250 to 400 people to attend – limited by the size of the venue – hence hosts for the event are sought. The main problems now seem to be those of success – how and where and at what rate to expand. “A big consideration is, do we go regional in the UK, because we've had ladies from say Scotland say that it can be tricky to get down to London for a one-off event? Or do we go global? There has been an approach from Australia to set up a Women's' Security Society in Australia and this is also under consideration.”

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