Cobac’s Women in Security for International Women’s Day
Cobac's Women in Security
for International Women's Day
When it comes to diversity, the security industry still has a lot of work to do. Whilst there are many more women working in management roles, the rate of licensed women working on the front line remains at a stubbornly low 10% of 370,000+ UK licence holders.
This International Women’s Day, we sat down to talk to three of Cobac’s team – MD Diane Johnson, Operations Manager Jo Govey and Distribution Team Leader Natalie Brannigan – to discuss their careers, how the industry is changing and what can be done to promote further diversity in security.
Let’s start off at the beginning - why did you choose to go into the security industry?
Jo - I had a Saturday job in retail when I was 16 to 18, and I used to watch the store detective in action and I wanted to do it. It looked exciting, and I used to think - what gave people the right to just come and help themselves, when other people were paying? So it was a combination of the two factors.
Diane – My interest in retail crime also started as the result of a weekend job – having caught my first shoplifter as a 16-year-old Saturday girl at Woolworths! It was a bulk theft of children’s clothes and the process interested me - the police, store management and the following prosecution of the offender, culminating in my first time going to court to give evidence.
A few years later I applied to be a store detective at the Co-Op and very quickly I was hooked and my career in security began. It was a great time to be in the role. The training and benefits - being in-house - were exceptional.
The team of store detectives at that stage were mainly women, with senior management roles being taken by men. With hard work and persistence a few women within the store detective role were able to break that ceiling and take on those roles successfully. This was my first encounter with Jo as we both progressed to running the teams of store detectives in our regions.
Natalie – For me, going into security was a no-brainer. I wanted a challenge and something totally new – and as I’d previously worked in customer service-based roles and had strong interpersonal skills, I felt this was the right move for me. Security has always interested me as the role is to protect and maintain safety - as well as to be there as a deterrent for criminals and to prevent incidents. I’ve always wanted more for myself, and as more women are now going into security, there are more options for progression.
How did your career progress from there?
Natalie – I worked as a security officer at a girls’ boarding school, and I’ve provided security for football matches and in hospitality - keeping an eye on the pub goers and making sure everything’s running smoothly. I joined Cobac and later became a Team Leader in distribution in summer 2018, so I’ve been doing that role for nearly three years now.
Jo – After starting out as a store detective, I went on to work as an area loss prevention manager- eventually managing a team of 8 loss prevention managers with The Co-Op in the South East. Amongst other things we were responsible for investigating internal theft and non-compliance issues, dealing with external crime, reducing stock loss and the protection of our People, Premises and Property – those were our 3 ‘P’s!
In 2012, after 21 years, they took out the whole function in a restructuring. I went to Cardinal Security – I already knew Diane, who’d worked in the Co-Op too (but in a different area) who was now at Cardinal – and I went from being on the client side across to manned guarding on the supplier side.
Every client has different requirements and expectations – and going from being the client to the supplier, I had an understanding of what the client was looking for and what good looks like.
My current role with Cobac involves the recruitment, training & ongoing development of our officers onsite. I also conduct client site visits, which aren’t about collecting data - as our systems compile that for us, leaving us free to spend valuable and quality time with our officers and our clients, which undoubtedly enhances performance.
Diane – I’ve been in many roles over the years, building up my knowledge and experience across the industry – from store detective, loss prevention and profit protection through to finally working for what was classed by many as the ‘dark side’ of working as a supplier!
I progressed from Operations Management to Operations Director and then finally to MD of a manned guarding supplier. My true passion though is – and always has been – operations and delivery of a service to clients.
My position now within Cobac is a culmination of all these roles – and allows me to actively promote women within the industry and to support growth and opportunity within Cobac for women who want to progress.
There are now more women in senior security roles, such as management and directors.How do you think the industry can get more women into licensed roles?
Diane – It’s great to see so many more women in the middle to higher management levels than when I started back in the 1980’s! It’d be great to see a career path promoted by the industry, where women can see the progression path and be supported to achieve the training required.
It needs to be made clearer that completing the training for a license is the gateway to a solid career which competes with other paths that could be followed. Security’s not just a temporary fix for unemployment – I’ve come across that before, working with some women who’ve almost found an accidental career in security! I think across the board, employers are now making the industry more attractive and stable as a career – with benefits and solid T&C’s that weren’t always historically offered within the security industry.
We also need to promote the change in expectations for women around maternity and childcare attitudes. In the 80’s, it was challenging bringing up children and having a career too. Time off was seen as detrimental to your career - which resulted in many women choosing to return to work after just a six-week break, so as to not lose their perceived need to put the job first. Progression was hard if you planned on having a family during that time, and it affected the promotions and opportunities available to you. The changes in the workplace for women now are so much more inclusive and accommodating to a balanced family life and career.
Jo - It’s still predominantly male out there in the field, and getting more women into licensed roles is about businesses looking at their models and how they recruit. When we’re advertising, it’s about encouraging female officers too – offering flexible shift patterns or job shares, better maternity packages, career progression, education on – and proactively bringing people from – unlicensed roles. Non-frontline licences also exist, but people don’t necessarily know this is an option.
For women with children, they need the option to get back out there for themselves and their own self-worth too. If they feel that they can’t get the hours they want, it puts them off. Women who want to are entitled to get out there and pick up a career again - and as a caring employer it’s our responsibility to ensure this can happen and get the recruitment plan right.
How can women already in the industry help attract more women into security from a grass roots level?
Natalie – If workshops were implemented in schools and colleges with higher profile women – managers and directors and so on - we could even further remove the stigma of females in security and appeal to a younger audience who feel like they’re able to make a big difference in this sector, like myself.
Diane – We need to engage with women both in the media, but also in a practical sense. Supporting job fairs - perhaps with the support of the SIA – to promote not a specific company but an overall industry. We need to show what paths can be taken, where they can lead and what skill sets can be gained. Especially with the uplift in requirements for cyber security now becoming so prevalent, we need to demonstrate that a career in security can lead to so much more than just being a static officer on a site.
Jo - It’s all about the networking. You use LinkedIn and your platforms and go out to forums and meetings – make the relationships and contacts.
When I first started, I used to walk into a room and be the only woman. And I’m a Jo – I’ve always gone by Jo – so people would be expecting a man. I used to get a few reactions – people would just say ‘oh’ when I wasn’t who they expected.
Nowadays there’s a lot more women there at these events, and a lot more senior roles too – managers and ‘heads of’ and directors.
"The industry is very inclusive, and I’ve found great support out there whenever I’ve needed it. There’s always someone willing to help or pass you on to someone that has that specific expertise."
What do women bring to the security sector?
Natalie – Women can access areas and fulfil roles that men can’t. For example, female officers can enter female dressing rooms and bathrooms, and physically search women who enter large events or secure areas.
Jo – There’s definitely a market for more female officers, and it’s also good to have diversity on the team, it brings a totally fresh approach.
I’ve had clients in the past who’ve been wary when they’ve had a female officer placed on site. It’s not been what they expected – the stereotype is often still a security officer that’s a big burly man. When I’ve gone back a month later, they’ve told me how much they love having her! People see women as less confrontational, so often the female officers have had a word with the local hoodlums and moved them on without having that confrontation and escalation in return.
Diane – Like many women before me, I’ve fought against inequality and stereotypes in the industry – and I believe genuinely that to have a team who are diverse in opinion and outlook is beneficial to all situations, whether they be men or women.
I have, like Jo, very often been the only woman in the room and been seen as the ‘token woman’. This has encouraged a need for women in the industry to be good at what they do and be knowledgeable about their subject, which leads to great employees for a business – hardworking, committed and rounded.
What advice would you give to women looking to enter the sector?
Diane – Be open to which part of the sector you move into, whether it’s commercial or retail, systems, investigations or cyber security. Connect with people who can offer advice from their own experience, or approach someone in the industry to be a mentor – someone who can support and guide your growth to achieve what you want.
The industry is very inclusive, and I’ve found great support out there whenever I’ve needed it. There’s always someone willing to help or pass you on to someone that has that specific expertise.
Jo - I talk to people now and they say “I think I’d like to go into security” and I always encourage them – they should follow their dreams! When you come into this industry, every day is different – no day’s the same.
I’d say have confidence, believe in yourself and learn from any mistakes – because we’re all human and we make mistakes – but turn a mistake into a positive. Get out there, build your relationships and set personal goals and you can progress all the way through.
I’ve absolutely loved every minute of my career in this industry. It gives you the opportunity to gain new skills in all different avenues and opportunities to develop yourself as a person.
"I’ve absolutely loved every minute of my career in this industry."