Sexism and Security: what should we be doing?
Chair: Martin Gill
Monicah Kimeu – Secretary General at Women in Safety Excellence (Kenya)
Angela Osborne – Associate Vice President, Risk and Emergency Management Solutions at Guidepost Solutions (US)
Susannah Fish OBE QPM – Governor at Nottingham Trent University and Director at Starfish Consulting (UK)
Angela Osborne notes that much of the sexism in the security sector takes different forms and sometimes is subtle, asking female colleagues to take notes at meetings, suggestions that assertive behaviours could be interpreted as inappropriate, some blocked opportunities. Sexism is often about miscommunication, often it is not intended, and there is a real need to think about good and bad ways of communicating. When she first entered the sector it took a while to blend into a male dominated world, where the sentiment was not to show a feminine side and to recognise the hard core focus that so often governs discussion about security issues. Progress has been made but more needs to be done to acknowledge the realities of sexism. This is important because security people work closely with clients, sometimes on their premises, in organisations security professionals work closely with other groups and it is important to engage not alienate and to set an example. Women need to be encouraged to join the security sector, and there needs to be a recognition that leadership from the top is crucial but women are underrepresented there. It is not sufficient to argue women are not represented at the top because they don’t apply, the reasons why this is the case are fundamental.
Monicah Kimeu contends that sexism is not something it is common to talk about but women experience it every day; ‘we suffer silently’. People like to assume it is not there. While in Kenya there is a robust constitution supporting women, they are underrepresented, and she stresses the need to as why? Building on a theme that in addition to blatant sexism she stresses the fact that it often takes subtle forms too. For women there is a concern that if ‘I talk to men, will they listen to me?’ There is a sense that women will not argue, it is not the done thing. Monicah stresses the need to think about unconscious bias, and underlines the importance of training and awareness raising amongst men. For her it is important to create relationships with other associations to make people aware of what can be done and to give confidence to women to take action when that is needed. Men not afraid to invest in themselves but often women are, there is a need to break stereotypes; to dispel the myths; and to train the gatekeepers.
Sue Fish notes that women are still having to find a voice and in so doing are surprising many men about what it is like to being a women. She discusses a catastrophic failure to understand sexism generally and the security sector is not immune. Indeed, it is far from clear that the amount and types of sexism experienced by women are fully understood, she invites security personnel to not just answer for themselves but to invite comments from clients and other stakeholders. Moreover, she cautions about drawing parallels with other sectors, security often does so with the police and military but as she emphasises, they are not good at this, in parts she considers them toxic and complacent, and lacking strategic direction. Sue argues that key approaches are to understand your issues; get board level buy in; be clear what success looks like; consider a cultural audit to identify problems; be aware that counting incidents may under present the problem, qualitative experiences have much to commend a deeper understanding of the problems.
This fascinating webinar makes us all conscious that we all need to be aware that it can be hard to speak up, that sexism is not a women’s issue to be solved by women, it needs to involve everyone. That focusses on sexism is not just about the blatant examples, important those these are, it is also about the subtle bias that creeps into everyday behaviours and attitudes and which finds fertile ground in a male dominated world characterised by a tradition of presenting a macho image. It is all very well to say this image no longer applies, we also need to address the outputs that it has given foundation too, and sexism is definitely one of those.
20th April 2021