A lot of people are surprised to learn that women work in executive protection – and that I’m one of them. They often ask me how I got into the profession, so let’s cover that first.
When I finished my bachelors in international relations the job market looked tough. I wanted to work in intelligence in general and at the CIA in particular, but interesting positions weren’t exactly hanging on trees. So I signed on for even more student loans and a masters in international security – then graduated right into a hiring stop at the agency.
It was time to reconsider my options
My father has worked in executive protection for years. I grew up with his stories from the trenches, and had always thought it sounded like a really cool job.
I talked to Dad about a career in executive protection and he was encouraging. In addition to having way more education than most of the guys he’d met in the industry, he thought I had the emotional intelligence to thrive in the job. I had been training in martial arts for years, so I had the physical readiness down. All I needed was some driving and EP training, he said, and those are skills you can learn. So I went for it.
It’s not that I didn’t know what I was getting into. I knew it was a man’s world, and that a woman might have to be twice as good as most guys to get a break. Still, it just looked too darned interesting not to give it a shot.
Four years later, I’m glad I did. I’ve learned a few things along the way that I’d like to share with everybody in the industry – and especially with women looking in from the outside and wondering what it’s like.
1. Executive protection is a man’s world. But that’s changed for other fields and it’s changing for EP, too
There aren’t many female role models in executive protection.
If you surf websites of providers, training schools and others involved in the industry, you simply won’t find much about women providing protection. If you look at protective jobs in the military and law enforcement, the picture’s the same.
As a woman looking in from the outside, this can be pretty daunting. I think it’s why few women even consider working in the field: if you don’t see people like you doing the job, it’s hard to imagine yourself doing it.
From a woman’s point of view, this lack of role models is compounded by stereotypes that affect everyone in the industry: the idea that protection is best provided by burly men in black.
That’s what people see in the tabloids – celebrities being tailed by bodybuilders who are ready and willing to get in any paparazzi’s face. Even in corporate executive protection, some alpha male principals can’t imagine themselves being protected by anything but a pack of other alpha males, much less a woman weighing in at 115 lbs.
This isn’t exactly emboldening for women, but we faced similar situations in other fields decades ago and have since made great strides. The share of women in medicine in the U.S., for example, grew from around one in ten in 1970 to one in three in 2010. Today in many countries there are more women than men earning MDs. We’ll get there in EP, too, but it’s going to take a while.
2. Equal pay for equal work? Sometimes.
Worldwide, women often make less than men even when they’re doing the exact same jobs. The degree of difference varies by country and profession, but the trend is consistent.
I wish I could say this isn’t the case for protective jobs, but I can’t. At least not based on my own experience.
At my last job – not at AS Solution – two men and I shared managerial responsibilities for an operations center. They both made more than I. Way more, in fact. Yes, there were some factors that could explain some of the salary differences, but in my view nothing but entrenched views on gender could explain the extent of the salary disrepencies.
My current job is different: team members are paid equal salaries for equal work. So of course this can happen. It should just happen every time, everywhere.
3. Women don’t get the same protective job opportunities as men
Even after I got my foot in the door at my first EP company I couldn’t get transferred to protective field work. I had the training, skills and motivation. I applied for everything that came up. The company just didn’t let me do it. A job in the operations center was one thing – and I had to work hard enough to get managerial responsibilities – but the men in charge of assigning protective details never managed to find one that fit my skill set (or my gender?).
That’s different here at AS Solution, and I love my current role as a protective agent working all over the world. But you still don’t see many women on many teams.
There is the one biological fact that can reasonably explain at least some of this: women get pregnant. I can’t imagine doing what I do as a protective agent a few months into a pregnancy, and balancing a solid case of morning sickness with extensive travel and odd hours would be tough. Still, we’re only pregnant for nine months at a time, and companies of a certain size really should be able to work out a schedule that allows women to alternate between field and other responsibilities as needed.
4. Women bring a different perspective to executive protection, and that’s a good thing
Women bring different perspectives than men to many situations, and executive protection is no different. Just as this diversity of outlooks makes for better decisions in corporate boards, I think it also contributes to better executive protection teams.
One area where this is apparent is in what you could broadly describe as “service”. I put myself through college with a variety of customer service jobs and after a while I think I got good at it. There’s a certain balance that is important to strike between keeping the customer satisfied and keeping your eye on the company’s bottom line. If you apply yourself, I found, you actually can do both – and also have a good time at it. In my experience, women were in general better than men at consistently delivering high standards of customer service.
Similarly, here at AS Solution for example, we aim to keep our clients safe, happy and productive. This entails matching the service aspects of organizing travel logistics and enabling high productivity with the responsibilities of keeping people out of harm’s way. It’s a balancing act between physical and psychological security that women and men approach in slightly different ways. Women are good at it. We have something to add. We’ve been doing it in one way or another throughout our hunter-gatherer history, and working moms pull it off day in, day out.
See for example this recent article about what women do better than men (multitasking, empathizing, driving…) Some of the stereotypes about women are more than myth; I believe they actually help us in executive protection.
5. Women blend in better than men
From a protective point of view, women have another important advantage: we blend in better.
As we touched on above, some clients do prefer the burly bodyguard types. But many, many do not. They want security, but they’re not into broadcasting that they’ve got it or putting up obvious barriers between themselves and the people they meet in their travels.
I don’t know how many times people have assumed that I’m my client’s PA or nanny. Fine with me. In addition to the tactical advantage this allows, it diminishes the whole spectacle of protection and lets the principal get on with her or his life the way they like.
6. Women can go places men can’t
This one is obvious but it’s still important: women can easily go where men can’t, including dressing rooms and bathrooms.
If the principal is a female, this clearly can matter from a security point of view.
7. It’s all about the team
While the focus of this blog has been about women in executive protection, I think it’s important to point out that women and men also have a lot in common when it comes to our profession.
No matter what your gender, there’s a lot to love about working in EP. You’re constantly challenged both mentally and physically, and that keeps you sharp. You have the chance to apply the skills and knowledge that you’ve picked up along the way in college, if you’ve gone that route, or from the military, law enforcement, or EP/driving/emergency medicine training. And no two days are the same.
No matter what your gender, what’s really important regarding job satisfaction is the quality of your team. I’m fortunate to be working with some great people every day, and it makes a world of difference. It’s also great to work in a company where management takes a personal interest in your career and how you’re doing and is accessible.
Women have a bright future in executive protection
I’m convinced that the number of women working in executive protection will grow.
It will probably take many years before we get to where women are right now in medicine, business or law, but we will continue to get more and better jobs in the industry, and the industry will be better for it.
I look forward to your comments!