A Silent War: One Woman's Experience In The Security Sector
Written By: Lady Venomous - December 27, 2020
I work in the Security Industry as an Account Manager for a company in Silicon Valley with a Master's Degree in Communication, and I am a woman. I figured out a way to remain healthy and resilient in this field despite the infestation of toxic masculinity, sexual harassment, stereotyping, and discrimination against women. Even at the self-proclaimed progressive corporations, I've experienced men of all ages doubting my competency and intelligence because I am a woman. At this point in my life, I've cultivated self-discipline, restraint, temperance, and a beast-mode mentality of out-performing and out-earning everyone in my field. I figured out how to make it work, but that does not mean the challenges end here. The challenges get worse periodically, depending on the new hire culture. Every woman entering this field should brace herself for a world built to destroy her and come armed.
In any gender dominated industry, there are bound to be gendered normalizations that create a hostile environment for anyone not fitting into the majority. I get that, and I don't have ill-will toward the men who are still blind to their biases. I would only like to share a list of challenges that I faced as a woman in the Security Management field and the things that have helped me combat the injustice of gender role stereotypes. I expect any young woman entering this field will face these issues head-on for several years to come––maybe decades, so ladies, be prepared.
Name Calling: You will likely be called a "b*tch" or some other derogatory term by men and women behind your back, but remember the words of Jane Elliot who says, "The B-word is an acronym for Being In Total Control Honey." Being the boss means organizing and communicating the needs of the company, not making friends. No one needs to like you to get the job done.
General Abuse: The older men, especially, are from a different era, so they may either comment on your body or verbally berate you as inferior and incompetent if you let them. I want to keep it real, so I'm not going to lie. You will likely be harassed and bullied by both misogynistic men and women with internalized misogyny.
Competency Challenges: Regardless of your education and expertise, people will question your intelligence. Many men may feel inferior if you have a higher education level like I do because most of the older men in this field only have ex-police or military backgrounds.
Sexuality Probing: If you are not married, many men may assume you are lesbian because supposedly, no straight woman would enjoy a career surrounded by so many men. Do they ever stop to think about why that might be? Of course not. Be prepared to receive the subtle lesbian jokes and hints about their guess as to your sexual orientation.
I've shared some tips below for what you can do to minimize the misogynistic attacks, but remember that tolerance is not required. When you see something, be sure to say something. A private meeting in a semi-public place like a glass framed office space where people can see you but not hear you is best. In public, with sufficient distance from curious ears is a good alternative, but always call out the action or words directly. Always document the dates and times of harassment, what exactly was said and exactly how you handled it. Document the date and time that you informed them of their inappropriate behavior and what you told them. If you're in the position of a superior, always provide it in the form of a written warning when it crosses a professional boundary.
When delivering the news, it's best to start with something you like about them. Then, lead into what they did or said and how it made you feel. For example, I really appreciate _________ about you, but when you said _________, I felt_________.
Here are my personal experiences
• People have tried to get me fired because I made them look incompetent and unaccomplished only by comparison.
• People have commented on my level of attractiveness, my physique, my dress, my haircut, and tattoos, and I've been labeled by some as an aggressive lesbian when the truth is, I am an unmarried cishet woman.
• Men and women alike harassed me in subtle ways because of my gender. While I've included tips below for reducing your misogyny target, it's only a small measure when discrimination comes into play. Ultimately, the behavior is the other person's responsibility, and the victim of abuse is never to blame. If you have the will to, say something.
Below I share how I turned each obstacle into an opportunity for personal growth and lessons that taught me resilience in this field.
Disclaimer: These tips aren't intended for world domination.
20 Tips To Thrive In The Security Industry
1. Prioritize Your Sh*ts: Stop giving a sh*t about what people think. You have a list of things to do, and their feelings aren't on it. People will talk about you behind your back. Embrace it! They envy you because you are becoming more powerful. People will always hate those in power.
2. Leave No Room For Doubts: Even your friends and family may say you can't make it in this industry, but you absolutely can. Never doubt yourself, and stop spending so much time with people who don't believe in you or bring you down.
3. Find A Mentor: Find someone who is accomplished in the position and has the reputation you want, then befriend and emulate that person. Allow this person to mentor you and be your ally in your growth, but always leave room to achieve more.
4. Stay Healthy: Run, workout, lift weights, and prepare for battle the way warriors do. Eat healthy meals and get plenty of sleep.
5. Wake Up Early: Wake up at 4 am, or 5 am, to be exact. The industry's top leaders are notoriously early risers because they get up and get things done. OWN YOUR MORNINGS. Plan any changes to your schedule, and if you have one, notify your assistant.
6. Caution With Relationships: Be friendly, but keep your personal life and any history to yourself. Only befriend those in your workplace that aren't tied to your performance. It's as essential to befriend people below your station as much as those above, but make sure they're not in your department. For example, the kitchen staff, janitors, and IT personnel know everyone––and their worst behavior. They often overhear conversations and see things that can be an excellent resource for picking up suspicious activity and security risks. While you'll want to remain more professional with the security staff above and below you in your department, you can relax a bit more with the other teams because their performance doesn't directly affect your performance. Still, they can be great allies for your success by giving you the inside onsite scoop that you can't get from peers, subordinates, or authority figures in your department.
7. Support System: Build a robust support system with your girlfriends and family outside of work. Make sure it consists of people who will be there for you on bad days and would let you sleep on their couch if you ever needed a place to crash.
8. Check Your Feelings At The Door: No matter what's going on in your life, if you display emotions at work in a male-dominated industry, you'll be viewed as emotional forever. Before leaving home, make sure you're in the right headspace. Leaving early, especially by an hour or more, can help. Getting plenty of sleep and rising early in the day is critical to your success. Leaving with plenty of time to drive to work safely, find parking, and settle in, will help get your affairs for the day. It allows you to collect any snacks or drinks you may need later, and at the same time, chit-chat with the staff. Watercooler talks with those outside your department help to build the relationships that you need for success. Handle your personal feelings on your own time. Schedule time off as needed to deal with personal affairs, and never vent or complain to anyone inside or outside your department at work.
9. Therapy Is Key: Get a therapist because you will need someone to help you deal with the stress and work-life balance.
10. Learn Daily: Make it a goal to read something new and learn something new every day. "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers." ~Harry S. Truman. Learn continuously, and focus on leadership, not power. Always be aware of trends, news, and emerging issues in the security field.
11. Chart It Out: Create problem and solution charts every time you encounter issues at work. People are visual creatures. If an issue has a chart with clearly defined milestone markers to achieve a visually obtainable goal, it will be easier for your team to get there.
12. Find The Motive: When interacting with anyone, find their motivation. Ask questions to find out what the purpose of the conversation is. Just like when you go chit-chat with someone to build rapport at the watercooler, some people may try to do that with you. If the person's in a subordinate position, or especially if they're in a place of power over you, don't let your guard down. People talk with a purpose. They might need to get something off their chest, or they may need your help but are too afraid to ask for it, and that's fine, but they might be trying to manipulate you also. If manipulation is their goal, it can be either for their benefit or your detriment. Ask questions until you understand their intentions and their purpose. Take everything you hear with a grain of salt. Don't assume anyone's intentions are pure.
13. Guard Your Time: Only check your email on a schedule, so you don't become a slave to your emails. Create a generic autoreply email that goes out to every incoming communication that hits your inbox. Ensure the autoreply lets them know the times you check your email and how they can contact you or your assistant in case of emergency.
14. Say You're Welcome: Always make sure to leave the conversation letting people know you've done them a favor. Say, "You're welcome." Or, "I'm glad I could help." But never say, "No problem." Or, "My pleasure." Because that sounds like it's no big deal because your time is not valuable.
15. Team Building: Be proactive in setting the expectations of the workplace atmosphere and culture you want to see. If you are vocal about the expectations you want to cultivate from your team, those opposed will be more likely to quit if they feel like the culture no longer reflects their workplace expectations. Let them go in peace. Be very clear about your workplace culture with all potential new hires, so they know what to expect.
16. Drive Results: Be on the lookout for KPI (Key Performance Indicators) and what makes your team shine. Keep records of your team's successes throughout the year, and always talk up your team and their list of victories when the annual reviews come due. Encourage each team member to do the same on an individual level.
17. Continued Education (CE): Pick up new certificates, licenses, and degrees whenever possible. A degree in management or cybersecurity is helpful and often required when aiming for a director and above executive-level position. Attend as many conferences and meetings as possible to get to know others in your field and rub elbows with the elites. A CPP and PSP license is considered an industry gold-standard.
18. Teach: Teaching is part of our communication skills. As much as it's crucial to continue learning, it's equally important to share the knowledge and pass along information that the team needs for success. All the groups of an organization work both independently and interconnectedly. Gathering information from other teams on how their processes work will help you teach your team the best ways to perform their duties without upsetting the other groups' flow affected by their performance.
19. Evaluate Your Success: Every six months, schedule a meeting with your boss to go over your team's successes and milestone achievements. Highlight your accomplishments, including continued education and problems you helped resolve. If you found a way to save the company money or increase profits, make sure that's highlighted as well. After going over all the things you do well and accomplished in the past six months, make sure to ask for their input on areas where you can still improve. Take this to heart and add their feedback to your personal improvement goals over the next six months. If they have no input or feedback for improvement, submit a request for a raise in writing based on your excellent performance review.
20. Know Your Worth: Keep your resume up to date. What's the next step in your career? Ask for it every six months. Plant the seed with your superiors when they tell you how great you're doing. It's okay to joke that if they want to pay you back for all your hard work, you would love that corner office that you both know comes with a huge bonus and new business title. Be diligent about asking for a raise, more responsibility, or anything you want. "Ask, and ye shall receive." Delegate everything you can to others, and communicate your results out loud regularly.
- The 48 Laws of Power, Mastery, and 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene.
- The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday
- These are great for leveling up your leadership skills.
Tips To Minimize Misogynistic Response In The Workplace
1. Dress For Power: You can still be sexy in pantsuits and blazers because those who will objectify you don't care what you're wearing. Just make sure your outfit expresses how far out of their league you are. You're way too important to care about their desires. The best tip I can give you for style is to emulate those one level above you.
2. Natural Makeup: Wearing natural, light-coverage makeup is best when it comes to working. It's best if your makeup looks effortless with well-blended neutral colors and minimal eyeliner. Natural makeup helps people focus on your face and not on the photoshopped blur effect you achieved.
3. Avoid Romance: Keep in mind that if your partner works with you, even if your interoffice policies don't prohibit that, the other person's behavior at work reflects on you. It's best not to date anyone at work. If you find that you want to date someone, it's best if you or the other person looks for a new job before pursuing a relationship. To reduce temptation, never accept lunch dates or drink dates after work with people you find attractive unless accompanied by other employees. Never date a subordinate employee or anyone directly above or below you in the corporate hierarchy. It's a conflict of interest and a moral and ethical violation because of the imbalance of power.
4. HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND: Document everything and confront abusers, as we discussed above. Before going to HR, make sure you have the following ready:
- Dates and times of the incidents and precisely what happened.
- Dates and times of your response to each incident and exactly how the offender responded to your concerns.
- If the behavior is verbal, the documentation collected needs to show a clear intention and harmful misconduct pattern. Intent can be sufficiently showing they chose to ignore your requests to stop and that they persisted with the unwanted and unwarranted behavior after multiple interactions requesting they stop.
- If the conduct is physical, report it immediately.
- Be Aware: Reporting an issue to HR without documentation will usually result in you getting fired or forced to quit through retaliation. Companies or the offender will often retaliate, even if retaliation is illegal. Keeping records for all interactions that constitute harassment or retaliation after reporting the issue to HR will be helpful if you need to sue later.
I wouldn't blame you for second-guessing the Security Industry for a career after reading this article, and I must tell you that you are not alone. I have only met three other women in high levels of security management during my career, and we all got here with the help of allied men. Yes, although still seemingly rare, allies do exist. We're sorely outnumbered, and the workplace culture is suffering for it. It's time for gender and background requirements to change. Continuing to hire hostile and toxic ex-military/police force men is both not helping and not necessary. While not all ex-military/police officers are tainted, the majority are, and it's a background requirement that needs to stop receiving a boost on the application profile list of preferences. I would much prefer to hire an inexperienced new college graduate than an ex-military/police proud boy.
The security industry needs more strong, independent, empowered, intelligent, compassionate, and fearless women in charge. We need women who dare to declare war on the people who sexually harass and bully other women in the security field, especially in power positions. I wish all young women the strength, courage, and resilience to enter the security management field. If we are strong and show that we are equally as competent as our male counterparts, we can change this industry and change the world.