A Conversation with ASIS International�s Women in Security Council Chair Gail Essen
?To support and assist women in the security field, ASIS International created the Women in Security Council in 2015. It is open to both women and men, and has 37 members, six committees, six subcommittees, and 87 ASIS chapter liaisons out of 234 chapters.�
Security Management Assistant Editor Megan Gates interviewed Council Chair Gail Essen, CPP, PSP, head of enterprise integrated security at Honeywell Building Solutions, for an article in our June issue onwomen in cybersecurity. Their conversation, some of which appears in the print�June issue, follows. The interview has been slightly edited for clarity.�
Megan Gates: How did you enter the security industry? Did you start out in security, or did you move into the industry from another business sector?
Gail Essen: I was hired into the industry directly out of a technical school by a manufacturer of commercial and residential fire and security systems. I worked in the repair department, fixing boards at the component level. I was promoted several times and left the company as a regional manager.
Gates: What challenges did you face when you entered the industry and what was your initial impression of the security field?
Essen: I was the first female in the department that was not in an administrative role. The challenge I faced initially was credibility: �Did I really know what was needed to do the job effectively?�
Once I proved myself, I was able to add value to the team by organizing the department to improve efficiency. I really felt like I was part of the team, but it took time. This was the same challenge at every step in every company I have worked for. There was a constant need to prove myself.
Gates: You�re currently the chair of the ASIS International Women in Security Council, which is relatively new. How was the council created?
Essen: The council was birthed from the CSO Roundtable (now the CSO Center) in 2009. Four strong women had the courage to launch an ad-hoc council for women in security. This was neither welcomed nor well received, but they had a vision. They forged the difficult road to dispel the myth that the council was going to divide the society. This was�clearly�not the case. Their early vision was right, and most of the early naysayers are now strong supporters.
When I joined the council, my intent was merely to be a task master. I was on the Membership Committee, but when the committee chair left, I stepped up. I created the first council member list and used it to connect the other ASIS council chairs to our vision and to identify gaps.�
While chair of the membership committee, the ad-hoc council chair resigned due to her workload. She asked for volunteers to lead the council, so I raised my hand. My only contingency was that I needed time under an experienced chair to better understand the role.�
Lisa Dolan, CPP, was assigned the chair position and she mentored me for two years while I was in the vice chair role. Lisa continues to mentor me to this day and she has become an invaluable resource for my personal and professional growth.
The Women in Security ad-hoc council became a full-fledged council in 2015, but it did not change how we operated. We already had an organizational structure, mission, and strategic plan. Becoming a council provided us the public confirmation that what we were doing was of equal value to the other ASIS councils. The recognition was an important validation of the vision of the four founding members.
The Women in Security Council is global, and we are extremely diverse in the vertical markets we serve, as well as the professional lanes we work in. We have both private and public sector members. We have entry level to global security leaders on the council.�
Gates: Security is a traditionally male-dominated industry. What unique challenges do women face in entering the security workforce? And how can the Women in Security Council help them overcome those challenges?
Essen: The challenges are similar to what they were when I entered the industry. They include the need to prove one�s worth and the challenges it takes to move into leadership.
Council members know the impact that having certifications can have. At a minimum, certifications are an equalizer and they serve to be the proof statement needed. Networking is also vital to success, and building your brand is a fluid component.
Gates: What are some of the programs the Women in Security Council offers that address these areas?
Essen: Our council mission is based upon three pillars: Support-Inspire-Promote. Everything we do connects to the three pillars. If what we do does not result in member value, member retention, or in new members, then we do not do it. It must connect to at least one of the three pillars and provide overall value.
Under my leadership, we have launched several initiatives. One example of this is mentoring. We were the first council to work with the ASIS Leadership and Management Practices Council to test drive the Mentoring Security Leaders Program before its official launch. It has become a staple service we provide ASIS members globally.�
Our Ask-A-Mentor series was an initiative that was launched to support ASIS members in their journey to leadership. We have male and female leaders talk about overcoming obstacles and strategies for success. Some examples of speakers include Steve Harrold, CPP, director of global security at Corning, Inc.; Ray O�Hara, CPP, executive vice president at AS Solution; and Jeannette Lee, CEO at MoboTour.
It is important for people to understand that they are not alone in any given situation. Knowing that someone else had the same experience and what they did to succeed�in spite of it�brings a great deal of comfort and confidence.
Another example of our initiatives is LeanIn(to) WIS. We have several circles that meet monthly to discuss issues and problem-solving techniques. Participants are assigned a video and/or a reading paper as pre-work. The discussions get personal, so confidentiality and trust play a vital role to success.
We also host the annual Karen Marquez Honors on a Sunday evening at the ASIS Seminar and Exhibits. We honor four women from the Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Latin America, Asia Pacific, and the U.S. regions. Karen Marquez was a significant advocator of women and Latinos, and her mission was higher education for both. Karen passed away from cancer, but her legacy continues through her foundation and the Honors.
Gates: As chair, what are your goals for moving the council forward?
Essen: My goal is �to double.� While that sounds aggressive, I believe that people will rise to the bar that you set for them. We want 100 percent of the chapters to have active Women in Security Council liaisons that deliver value and increase membership.
I know that there are women out there who are not members because they do not know how well we can support them. Getting the word out about the focused programs we have will draw them in.
Gates: What are some areas that you�d like the council to focus on? And if readers are interested in joining the council, what�s the best way to do that?
Essen: We want to have the female members of ASIS increase from 11 percent to 51 percent. Why? Because it matches the population statistics. It can be done if they know we are here and what we can do for them.
You can join the council by going to the main ASIS website and then to thecouncil�s page. If your chapter does not have a chapter liaison, raise your hand�male or female. We need you and have many tools to help you be successful.?