Generational Diversity in Security: Scouting for Talent

Much has been made of generational differences and their effects on the workplace. Few generations have not found fault with those who came before or followed after, but the acceleration of technology and services has forced many organizations to contend quickly with the need to recruit and retain a digital native workforce. Security is no exception.

Here, Security Management connected with Angela J. Osborne, PCI, PSP, regional director for Guidepost Solutions and an advisor to the ASIS Young Professionals Community, to discuss multigenerational management and how recruiting a diverse workforce can benefit security departments and organizations—as well as some pitfalls to avoid.

Want to learn more about this issue? Hear more from Osborne, plus Jairo Borja and Michael Brzozowski, in their session How to Recruit and Retain Gen Z in Security Organizations on Monday, 21 September, at GSX+.

Security Management. How does having multigenerational talent—Generation Z in particular—bring value to an organization?

Angela Osborne. Having multigenerational talent in security departments is highly useful as we bring distinct perspectives based on our shared experiences as members of different generations. Our baby boomer colleagues often bring institutional memory, experience in working in the field, and an understanding in how to get things done within an organization.  These individuals often know where the landmines are placed and the past interactions with different departments and stakeholders.

Gen X is a bridge between baby boomers and millennials, and GenXers often have the ability to translate baby boomer expectations and explain the rationale behind the department’s structure, the method of working, and the means to navigate the entity.

For millennials, they bring a diversity of live experience, savviness with technology, and understanding of perceptions on how security guidance can be understood by millennials and Generation Z colleagues. Gen Z, in particular, is known for its openness, focus on practicality and fiscal responsibility, and digital nativism.

A strong team will focus on having representatives across these groups due to the fact that our organizations and client bases are made up of these different groups.  In security, much of our work is on training and awareness, gaining compliance on security protocols, and achieving buy-in to security culture. We need to present guidance and plans for our organizations by considering these distinct groups, keeping in mind that people are individuals, and we cannot assume things about people solely based on their generational range as well.

Security Management. What strategies have you seen succeed in attracting and retaining multigenerational talent?

Angela Osborne. Often in the security field, recruitment takes place based on people’s professional networks, as our work focuses on trust and integrity. The challenge with this is that we are limiting ourselves to our own pool of contacts. We will tend to attract people like ourselves with similar backgrounds and life experiences. Here are three best strategies that I have seen:

  • Reach out to college and university career centers. Universities often have career posting pages to allow potential employers to promote new positions for recent graduates.
  • Consider engaging interns. It is important to reach out to Gen Z early for internships as well. From personal experience, I joined the Archer Daniels Midland Corporate security team as an intern when I was in college.  It had a tremendous impact on my life.  Prior to this, I did not realize the diverse careers in private sector security.  We have to get the word out about the careers in our sector to attract key talent.  We want to identify people early in their careers.
  • Engage the ASIS Communities and LinkedIn. I recommend reaching out to the ASIS Young Professionals Community leadership and posting about positions in Communities and on LinkedIn.
  • Connect with high performers and ask for recommendations. It is a good idea to talk with high performers from the security department and from other departments to identify potential candidates.
  • Place new joiners with supportive managers. The next recommendation is to match up the new joiner with a supportive manager. Studies show that people, particularly Gen Y and Gen Z, leave jobs because of bad managers. This is a critical element, and a check-in process must take place with both the manager and the new employee.

Security Management. How can a security leader successfully manage someone transitioning into or beginning their career in security?  

Angela Osborne. First and foremost, it is important to be clear about expectations. People transitioning into this field need to know what is expected of them, and I try to put these expectations in very clear terms for people.

The next step that goes hand-in-hand with clear expectations is to communicate continually, and don’t assume people will interpret your tasks and direction in the way that you would. We have to maintain open lines of communication, so if people have questions, we can address them early on in the process. The communication should take the form of phone calls or virtual meetings, email, and messaging to cover the bases.

As an example, when I first joined TAQA in the UAE, I reported to a manager based in The Netherlands. Our communication was all virtual for my first summer. This person was very engaged in ISO terminology and put everything in terms of ISO. He asked me to submit a deliverable plan. I submitted a list of goals in the SMART format in order to meet this requirement. We had a very circular conversation after this list, and I realized that we were not speaking the same language. He was looking for me to put my content in MS Project and to use ISO terminology. Once we clarified the terminology, we were able to work together in a more productive manner.

We also have to recognize that among generations we are likely to see things differently based on our life experiences. We should be able to express ourselves but to be mindful that not everyone will agree with us and some topics are not appropriate or productive for the workplace. I encourage teams to avoid discussing politics, religion, and controversial topics in the workplace. We should focus on our entity and department values and use these to guide our interactions. Our societies have a number of exceedingly divisive issues, but our teams must be able to function effectively without alienating people. This is why training and awareness on diversity and inclusion is needed.

We also cannot make assumptions that people joining an entity for the first time or joining a security department for the first time have the same understanding of ethical responsibilities—for instance reporting improprieties. We must stress the importance of acting in ethical manners and reporting concerns, and this should be communicated not just to full-time employees but also contractors and part-time employees. Security departments depend on their reputations, and the team members must hold each other to a higher standard to maintain stakeholder trust.