There are now more female entrepreneurs in the security industry than ever before, and the numbers are growing, making this an exciting time to found and operate a business. However, it is hard to deny that pre-existing notions of gender and new obstacles can often pose challenges to women trying to make it on their own.
As a young female entrepreneur in the security industry, I have become acutely aware of both the successes and opportunities, as well as the challenges, faced by my fellow founders. Each and every day, we push ourselves to strategize about growth and development within this ever-evolving market.
This article will highlight the agility required to run a business in the security industry as a female entrepreneur, all while simultaneously defying social expectations, balancing familial duties, finding a supportive network, and overcoming the struggle to be taken seriously (and not be underestimated) in a male-dominated industry.
Why we do it
I never thought I would be an entrepreneur by my mid-20s, especially not in the security industry simply due to the feedback I received at the start of my career. As a multi-ethnic immigrant, my name attracted occasional ill-informed remarks. I was also told that an individual with an accent and an ethnic background like mine had no future in the security or diplomatic services.
When I attempted to enter the security industry, I was advised to get an entry level call-center job and work my way up, get an administrative position or switch industries entirely because “it is difficult to enter the boys’ club.” I endured an emotional rollercoaster before finding my niche and entrepreneurial calling.
However, I was very fortunate to have already built a strong network of professionals and mentors who believed in me, saw my potential, and helped me enter the industry gracefully. Many women have experienced a similar story: being laid off or being passed over for a promotion for reasons of gender (or gender stereotypes) are unfortunately still common occurrences in the corporate world. As a result, many women are leaving jobs that they no longer find inspiring searching elsewhere for career opportunities. Being an entrepreneur and starting your own business is often the best way to break through.
Over the years, many women in security have shared with me that entrepreneurship is a source of empowerment and authenticity. Now, as a full-time entrepreneur, I couldn’t agree more. It provides independence, freedom, and flexibility. As your own boss, you establish your own rates and take your salary into your own hands. Of course that independence comes with its own sets of challenges.
The entrepreneurial struggle
These are some of the reasons entrepreneurial women have shared with me about working in our male-dominated industry.
Personal and professional life balance:
Even though gender roles and societal expectations have changed drastically over the past few years (especially in North America), expectations about women as primary caregivers and homesteaders (while also working full-time) have remained the norm. Workplace sexism that dominated the corporate world until the late 1990s has become much more muted, but there is still an unspoken expectation that women must dedicate more time and energy to their families than to their careers. This is extremely difficult, especially for women with unsupportive partners, children, and an overall lack of resources.
Some still don’t take professional women seriously:
Most women I know have a story where they experienced this firsthand. At some point in our lives, we have all been in situations and workplaces where our leadership role was not acknowledged; in such situations, it is important to realize that a deep-seated gender bias is likely the cause of such interactions, instead of our own personal misgivings or inadequacies. While it can be hard to ignore (especially in the moment), we must remember to shun and disengage with such biases and preconceived notions, and instead stand firm in the face of adversity. Refuse to allow someone’s antiquated mindset to determine your worth.
Women tend to not give themselves the credit they deserve:
When a woman communicates her successes or accomplishments, it is often perceived as bragging, attention seeking, or showing off. Hence, women usually tend to speak of their accomplishments as a group achievement, rather than as an individual success, or worse, downplay the overall triumph. Self-promotion is difficult, especially online, but you must keep the bigger picture in mind. For people to know about your business and your brand, you must promote. Or how will someone know about your business or your services, if you do not talk about it?
Trying to achieve too much:
Most of us feel like we must prove ourselves, so we volunteer for committees, plan holiday parties, organize free seminars, register for online courses and/or extra-curricular activities, and engage in other things where our skills can be demonstrated and appreciated. However, that can lead to burnout, which can impact your overall career in the long run.
I list these challenges not to discourage, but to highlight the frequent realities of our industry and to help professionals avoid or overcome challenges they potentially might encounter.
Encouraging female participation
There are many ways that management and owners can support women entrepreneurs in our industry:
Have an open-door policy:
Create a safe space for individuals to come and use you as a sounding board.
Encourage and listen:
Your feedback might positively impact the businesses trajectory.
Offer support and mentorship:
This goes a long way, especially since the entrepreneurial journey can be quite lonely.
If you know someone who can help, provide exposure, or needs a specific service, it could potentially help kickstart the business.
Hire women-owned businesses:
Not because it is women-owned, but because you see value in their skillset and they can add value to your organization.
Women face unique challenges as entrepreneurs in the security industry, but this is nothing that can’t be overcome, and it shouldn’t hold women back from establishing themselves and venture out into new territory. My examples above apply to most female entrepreneurs but the personal stories of women in business will vary depending on the industry and country. Some social mores still prevent women from attaining their true potential in particular parts of the world, but women are strong and resilient. We find a way. We cope, we work harder and we eventually summit the peak of our various professions. But we can’t do it alone. Help others when you can and pay it forward.
To recap, you do not need permission to play with the “big boys” and you can inspire yourself and promote personal growth. If your corporate job is unfulfilling and too rigid, maybe it’s time finally to explore the idea of becoming your own boss.
I wholeheartedly believe that it feels better potentially to fail at something you love and are passionate about than to succeed at something that doesn’t fuel you (and potentially makes you miserable). Don’t forget to fully explore the possibilities your life has to offer – it might lead you on a most unexpected and exciting journey.
Suzanna is founder of Evolutz Inc, a security-focused branding agency that helps businesses increases their profile across the world. She is also founder of holistic security firm Hilt International. Suzanna writes internationally about security issues for several publications and websites offering her unique insight. She was named second in the IFSEC Global Top Influencers in Security & Fire Commercial Security for thought leaders and academics category in 2020 and in 2021 Canadian Security chose her for its Emerging Leader Award.
Discover more about her company https://evolutz.com/ and you can follow her progress and insights on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/suzannaalsayed/
This is the unedited version of Suzanna Alsayed’s article which was featured in the June 2022 issue of Security Journal Americas
You can read the magazine online HERE with Suzanna’s article beginning on page 58.
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