Celebrating Women in Security

By Michael Gips, CPP, principal, Global Insights in Professional Security

If the measure of a society is how it treats its women, then the security industry has taken enormous strides in the last 15 years or so. At GSX, more and more women are presenting sessions—by my count, about 20 percent of the speakers this year were female. And women now regularly keynote a General Session. This year we heard journalist Amanda Ripley discuss “good conflict,” and recent shows have featured cybersecurity expert Keren Elazari, tech policy analyst Tarah Wheeler, former deputy national security advisor K.T. McFarland, and fighter pilot Carey Lohrenz.

At GSX we see female security experts, technicians, business development experts, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and CEOs. Credit goes to the many trailblazers who defied stereotypes, fought through harassment, and contributed new perspectives to a hidebound profession.

Recognition is due in a lot of places, but ASIS launched perhaps the first community to specifically support females in the security industry, called ASIS Women in Security (WIS), in 2009. Other organizations soon followed suit.

When I worked at ASIS International headquarters, the impetus came from Jenny Hartman, my colleague in the Strategic Operations department. Strategic Operations was the home of the CSO Roundtable (now CSO Center for Leadership and Development), and WIS arose as a CSO Roundtable initiative. I recently talked to Jenny about champions of the cause, and she reminded me that, “Without a doubt, the number one supporter was Marene Allison,” then CSO of Medco and now CISO at Johnson & Johnson. Linda Harmon, then of Accenture, came on board next, and Accenture sponsored some of the first events. Other members of the inaugural committee were Judy Matheny (now at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), Natalie Runyon (now at Thomson Reuters), Normadene Murphy (now at BASF Catalysts Division), executive recruiter Kathy Lavinder, and Lorrie Navarro (now at Biogen).

Creating a community for women was controversial. Some female security practitioners thought it implied that women couldn’t succeed on their own. An ASIS staff member wondered whether we would next be creating a group for bald, left-handed men named Mike.

That cynicism eventually dissipated, and WIS is one of ASIS’s strongest communities. It has liaisons in more than 125 ASIS chapters around the world, 957 community subscribers on ASIS Connects, and 5,700 group members on LinkedIn. A new generation of female leaders has taken the reins, including Loye Manning, Brittany Galli, Mary Gamble, Donna Kobzaruk, Deborah Allen, Lynn de Vries, and Nicole Fikes. Their events occur regularly around the world, ranging from virtual happy hours to career coaching to business and security skills.

Our work is far from done, but ASIS and its members can feel proud for beginning to change the narrative.