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I was honored when Tatiana Scatena, ASIS RVP, and Josefina Borghi, Rio de Janeiro Chair ASIS, asked me to join a panel at the IV Forum of Women in Security event in Rio de Janeiro. However, it was the topic – “Empowering DEI in Security” – that really excited me.

When I joined the security world 18 years ago, I was an anomaly. After all, security was seen – and unfortunately, is still seen by many – as a man’s job. Fast-forward to 2023, and women are still a minority in the field. Particularly, Latin women like me. Yet, I’ve never let that stop me. My professional and personal history of creating diversity and ensuring inclusion in environments where diversity is not the norm have provided me with an array of experiences – some that still make me laugh (and others that make me cringe). After all, let’s face it: When we look back, those experiences make for good stories to share with audiences like the one at WIS.

There is so much noise about DE&I in the workforce today, but do people truly understand what it means? The key words – diversity, equality and inclusion – for which this acronym stands for, could be interpreted in so many ways. After all, one person may believe that DE&I is in place while another feels the opposite. You see, DE&I is thought of as a concept all companies should implement, but it is actually a very personal feeling.

To share the stage with professionals like Erika Zanete, Chen Gilad and Maria Teresa Septien and be able to have an open conversation about what each one of those words mean to us, as individuals, was so enlightening. I was asked what inclusion means. To me, it means having an open mind to all and making a conscious effort to remove unconscious bias. It is not about assimilation or erasing/ignoring individuality, but rather, accepting and recognizing the differences and making a conscious effort to include those differences. But how can we, as leaders in the security field, improve DE&I? We shared how we must think like a sports coach and recruit for the team as a whole while still looking for individual talent, how we must spread the net by designing a recruitment process that can reach diverse talent and then nurture the new talent to become diverse leaders.

The IV Forum of Women in Security event itself was attended by tenured and young security professionals, both willing to share experiences and learn from one another. It was a unique opportunity to inspire and be inspired. So with that in mind, I left the audience with the following calls to action:

  • To the tenured security professionals and hiring managers: Spend time getting to know your team, find their strengths and give them opportunities to demonstrate their strengths. Statistics show that men apply for jobs even when they knowingly only have 60% of the qualifications, whereas women hesitate to apply when they have 90%. Give them a chance!
  • To the next generation of security leaders: Find a mentor – listen, learn and don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all need mentors (and help from time to time). Build your internal and external networks and never underestimate the importance of stakeholder engagement.
  • To all present: Take time to understand people’s insecurities about DE&I. It is not just a concept, but a sentiment felt in our core. Everyone interprets it differently because we’ve experienced it differently.

Finally, do not let our interest in the topic of empowering DE&I in corporate security backslide now that the event is over. Water it daily and remember to extend the ladder to help others climb it even if they don’t look, act or think the same as you do.

cynthia-merchant.jpgCynthia Merchant, CFE – Novartis Global Security Associate Director