The New Changing of the Guard
Creating a New, Inclusive Face for the Security Sector
Last month saw the anointing of a new British sovereign, His Majesty King Charles III, and the promise of a more modern monarchy, aspects of which were seen at the Coronation where some of the pomp was replaced with more pared back protocols on everything from less formal dress to the recycling of thrones as a nod to the new head of state’s passion for sustainability.
The last time the institution of the monarchy was modernised was the Coronation of the exiled Charles II, the first King to be throned after the bloody civil war that ended after the regicide of Charles I and ultimately resulted in the restoration of the Changing of the Guard ceremony, an event which to this day still attracts millions of tourists to Buckingham Palace every year.
The event, involving the Household Cavalry, is mainly comprised of the Coldstream Guards and has long been an all-male event, but in recent times more women have swelled the ranks of the ceremonial band. Time marches forward, but modernisation is a slow step in an institution that is as wedded to preserving its traditions as it is to affecting change for the future.
The Security Industry
The same can be said for the changing of the guard in the security industry which has too long been male-dominated. But the sector is experiencing an existential crisis in recruitment and retention because of the harsh reality of the pandemic where many frontline guards who were given “key worker” status at the time lost their lives to the virus or simply left their jobs when faced with growing levels of violence and aggression, a trend that has continued in the post-COVID retail environment. Now the industry is struggling to find enough officers—male or female—to fill vital roles, the result of which has been a re-think around greater diversity and different approaches. These include greater technological support—body worn cameras, for example—and pledges of career progression as well as more emphasis on training in de-escalation rather than detention.
According to 2022 figures from the Security Industry Association (SIA), the accrediting body for the sector, only 11 per cent of the guarding sector are women, a factor that is being challenged from within the industry and outside of the sector as users of the service strive for greater diversity and inclusion as well as a reflection of the wider community.
Indeed, apart from third-party providers, many retailers are now looking to train some of their own colleagues to take on frontline security roles as a result of these wider shortages, and the SIA has also launched its own campaign to explode myths around women security officers including concerns about physicality vs fitness—claims such as “I’m too short or not strong enough”—and sexist generalisations around it being “a man’s job”, that have been preventing prospective women candidates coming forward.
What’s in a Name?
Although the numbers on diversity are disappointingly low, the stereotypes referred to fail to reflect the reality of every day in the security industry where even the description of the job is changing with the word “guard” being replaced in many instances by the descriptor “officer” to reflect the person in the uniform rather than the function, or as one retailer put it “guarding is what they do while officers is what they are.”
The job today is in fact more about team working, conflict resolution and de-escalation, rather than collar feeling. Indeed, these complimentary negotiation skills are often preventing the need for physical intervention in the first instance, which is the ideal outcome for potential flashpoints in every scenario from nightclubs to retail stores.
It could be argued that the obstacles faced by the SIA have also been confronted in the police force where there are now more female officers thanks to the removal of height restrictions for all candidates.
However, as many recent news reports have found, there are still disturbing cases of misogyny across several forces, a fact that may have a longer-term impact for force recruitment and retention.
Diversity and Inclusion
The security industry has been on its own journey around D&I (diversity and inclusion), but it would be the first to admit it has a long way to go. Also, although we talk about D&I, most experts would argue that the emphasis should be switch the model around to inclusion and diversity (I&D) as you cannot achieve the latter without the former as candidates, particularly Gen Z recruits, are looking for wider representation of themselves in their workplace—from LBGTQIA+ to those displaying broader neurodiversity, before applying for positions.
It is that sense of belonging that also transforms those short-term applicants into longer-term employees, according to diversity experts.
2nd Line of Defence
It is at the confluence of this sense of belonging, recognition of difference, the pandemic and the cultural-driven existential crisis of recruitment and retention in both the police and the security industry that triggered the creation of 2nd Line of Defence, the first female-focused recruitment agency in the security sector.
On its website, 2nd Line of Defence states: “Brexit and the UK’s COVID-19 responses to the pandemic have resulted in large-scale displacement of door supervisors working in the night-time economy in different roles. The SIA has reported a significant drop in licence applications. The combining factors have left the industry with (up to) 60 per cent of job roles being vacant in regions across the country.”
“Our focus is on filling these roles with a new, diverse and inclusive workforce with a gender bias towards women. We aim to be more than just a recruitment agency in the security sector but at the forefront of issues facing the night-time cultural economy. There will be a drive to hire more women and make them more visible at the doors of venues and changing perceptions of what it takes to be a door supervisor. The ultimate purpose is to provide an effective and diverse workforce. This will reflect the customers’ venue base more accurately and working together with them should help to keep everyone safer.”
The business was founded by CEO Lisa Baskott to address the talent shortage of fully-trained and vetted SIA licensed frontline door supervisor security staff in the UK. Lisa, a magistrate with more than 10 years’ experience on the bench, had no background in security or recruitment before establishing the business in 2021 in the wake of the pandemic and the murder of Sarah Everard, the two driving factors that forged the idea for 2nd Line of Defence.
“My lightbulb moment came when I saw the news about Sarah Everard when she went missing in Clapham, where I used to live before I moved to Hove. It’s a part of London that is normally very peaceful, and watching the bulletins I had a growing sense of dread—and then when it transpired that she was actually the victim of a serving police officer, I was completely floored,” said Lisa who in September 2021 qualified as a SIA door supervisor. “She was a normal woman going about her business, who became the victim of an officer who used his warrant card and handcuffs to carry out this crime.”
“As women, all the pressure is on us to—how we dress and behave—rather than allowing us to be ourselves. The focus instead should be on the behaviour of predatory men. I can’t believe that in the 21st century we are still being treated this way,” she said.
“After Sarah’s murder I was asking the question: “who is there to protect us?” The private security guards have taken over the role of the police, but only 11 per cent are women and I feel that the industry has done too little to repudiate the stereotype of the burly man on the door.”
Although her twenty-year background was in media and advertising as well property development and interior design, Lisa’s role on the bench has catapulted her into a role championing a greater emphasis on widening the net on our perceptions of who qualifies to be a security officer. In 2021, Lisa was appointed as Inclusion and Diversity Magistrate for the south-east of England but she has further earned her stripes by carrying out extensive research into women and young people as well as vulnerable neurodiverse individuals who, taking a current snapshot of the security industry would not recognise a role for them under the current regime.
Lisa continued: “Even if they were interested in entering the industry, they would argue that they do not see other people here who look like them or will understand them and what they have to go through as part of a nightly ritual of safeguarding, just to go out. I have to ask myself: is my skirt too short? Should I put flat shoes on? Is my phone fully charged? Men do not have to think about any of these things.”
She argues that a focus on women in the sector would help change that perception as well as making the point that safety is good for business.
“We are now brilliantly placed to be on the front line where diversity in security guarding is key. We want to change the model by not only getting women through their SIA accreditation but through providing additional training in diversity, mental health, heritage and culture through partnering with our client’s organisation.”
“It is that extra mile of raising awareness and creating empathy when dealing with other human beings in everyday situations, treating them well and building trust which means that our officers who have gone through the training are better equipped to prevent conflict before it happens.”
“I am now working to curate an industry-first event next year to bring together key stakeholders in the industry, local and central Government to change the conversation and look at the barriers facing the sector including recruitment, retention, pay, conditions, professional development and mental health. We need to be able to navigate a way towards greater transparency in an industry that is still opaque. It must be about prioritising the safety of all people,” she said.
Achieving the Right Balance
Director of loss prevention Aimee Charlton, a former senior executive with a national security guarding business, said: “Is the security industry where it needs to be? No, but I don’t think it is necessarily all about the lack of diversity or that by putting all women in a team on the door is the right approach as it does not reflect the offender guarding ratio.”
“In retail where there has been a massive increase in violence and aggression, we need to make sure the pendulum of representation does not swing too far either way. It is about getting the right talent to get the job done and having complementary teams working together to achieve it.”
Alison Ashley, Account Director for Total Security Services (TSS) which counts a number of leading retailers among its clients, said that attracting more women into the sector is also about creating the right conditions and that includes the work-life balance.
“We’ve thankfully moved away from the phrase manned guarding,” she said.
At 15 per cent, TSS’s employment of female officers is slightly above the national average but the business is committed to driving the numbers up by making guarding an attractive and progressive career choice.
“I’ve been an advocate of women in security for many years and I’ve been championing this by working with both our operational team and HR functions to encourage women to see this industry as a place for them to work, offering part-time, flexible working hours to achieve a work-life balance and manage other commitments outside of work.”
“I’m all about changing the ideology of the industry from it being a male-dominated place of work and that doesn’t just mean employing more females—it is also about moving away from the big burly doorman approach to considering all applicants regardless of their stature or walk of life,” she said.
“In the past we have all been guilty of suggesting we need muscle at the door, but what about strong women? I don’t mean physicality—I mean those women who are able to face a situation head-on and use negotiation skills to calm a situation down.”
She continued: “It’s about having the right team in the right place, displaying the right professional attitude, which includes tonnes of empathy, you often don’t know what the situation is in front of you nor what is driving it and respond accordingly, and quickly, being able to change the dynamic of a situation without confrontation.”
“As a business, we look at a number of factors when pulling a team together, predominantly, what does that store require and what has the client asked for. These requirements may be at odds, but guarding companies need to be braver in challenging clients and be able to argue their rationale by demonstration and being able to measure the success.”
These are some of the challenges that Alison takes back to TSS’s senior leadership team where nothing is off the table and discussions around different team and operational structures are top of the agenda.
“If we do something differently in a pilot and it works, we want to be able to demonstrate the success and make a noise about it—it’s what drives the business forward.”
Many of the guards are faced with anti-social behaviour and shoplifting that involves stealing to feed a habit.
“As a business we do a lot of work and sponsorship through PC Stuart Toogood at Livingstone House in Birmingham, a charity working with offenders who are ready to break this self-destructive cycle through a rehabilitation programme. TSS is now sponsoring a place for rehabilitation at Livingstone House, trying to help one more person turn their life around, giving them a second chance without discriminating about their past and errors they may have made previously,” she added.
Jo Day, ASEL’s director of people, experience and talent, said:
“Continuous improvement in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is driven from the senior leadership team and forms part of our core values. We actively encourage affinity groups and have colleagues who have created ASEL People with Disabilities, and ASEL Women, covering those in security, data analysis and technology roles.
“We hire with intention to ensure we has varying skills, perspectives, personalities, and behaviours. We work closely with our customers to ensure we have relevant shift patterns to support working parents and make ASEL a welcoming and safe place to work,” she added.
Every Little Helps—Tesco’s Journey
At the time of developing this article, Brogan Lowe, Tesco’s Regional Guarding Capability Partner for Northern England, Scotland & NI was living the diversity dream by mapping out the store security response to managing the Eurovision song contest, which was being held in Liverpool, a city that has a huge musical heritage and fifteen multi-format Tesco stores.
Brogan, as female diversity champion for Tesco has always been an ambassador for diversity and inclusion in security. As a member of the LBGTQIA+ community, Eurovision was a great opportunity to plan for an event which sees a combination of cultures, backgrounds and nationalities come together to celebrate music.
Brogan manages the store guarding suppliers who are delivering Tesco’s “Everyone, Every Day, Home Safely” strategy both in terms of static and mobile security teams and is a strong advocate of diversity delivering the best results on the ground.
“We are all about making sure the officers we use through our providers understand it is a career. It is not only about the day-to-day job of keeping each other safe and giving great customer service, there is progression, additional training and technology to help them be able to do their role.” said Brogan.
“We have some fantastic female static and mobile officers who are enjoying the role and being able to use their skills. They understand that it is not about putting themselves at risk to get stock back. In fact, we would praise them for making the right decision to keep themselves and others safe. They are experts at de-escalating and calming situations down, and they have the technology, the body worn cameras and the headsets which add an extra layer of confidence as well, because we believe their safety is absolutely paramount.”
“We do a lot of coaching and training on conflict resolution, body language, the psychology of conflict and customer service. Our female mobile officers are scoring really highly on their KPIs for the cluster of stores that they look after—they have been and continue to be, a great success.”
But Brogan does not want to stop there. “I want to understand from women what they want and what it is they don’t currently find attractive. It could be that there are misconceptions about retailers expecting them to get into a tussle on the floor with a shoplifter over a bag of pasta, but that is not going to happen on our watch.”
“We work with our suppliers to ensure that we have great opportunities and flexible hours. If an officer has childcare commitments, or is pregnant, we will support wherever we can and look at other roles that may be better suited while she is still at work. It is about changing the conversation and I believe it is heading in the right direction, although there is still a way to go.”
Changing of the guard is a slow march, but it is picking up pace in an era of demand for diversity and ESG where retailers and hospitality businesses are also taking a long hard look at how they accelerate that change by becoming part of the solution rather than the problem.