How to overcome the corporate security function’s lack of diversity

Historically, the security function has a diversity problem. This poses a challenge for anyone who wants to build credible and capable security functions that protect and support their organisation.

A key part of the security team’s job is to engage with the organisation, drive cultural change and mobilise staff from all parts of the business to protect its people, property and information. A lack of diversity means organisations are not only missing out on talented, experienced individuals, but they are also finding it more difficult to communicate with existing colleagues in a meaningful way.

Creativity and innovation must now occur as a part of the normal functioning of a business, and homogeneous environments and social groups rarely produce new thinking. Long gone are the days when the security function just dealt with ‘guards and gates’. The diversity of threats to a business is growing; organisations must employ a wider range of staff to develop imaginative ways of managing these risks and responding appropriately.

What are the benefits of diversity?

Diverse work teams are smarter than homogenous ones, according to a Harvard Business Review study. The aptly titled ‘Why Diverse Teams are Smarter’ found such workforces are better for three key reasons:

  1. Diverse teams focus more on facts;
  2. They process those facts more carefully; and
  3. They’re more innovative.

Working with people who are different from you challenges your brain to overcome rote ways of thinking and sharpens cognitive performance.

McKinsey research from 2017 showed companies with greater gender diversity were 21% more likely to have above-average profitability. Meanwhile, a University of Illinois study revealed that every added 1% of racial diversity in hiring within an organisation leads to an approximate 9% increase in sales revenue.

As highlighted in our recently published 2019 Security Market Report, diversity has also been shown to improve decision-making and customer experience.

Why does security have a diversity problem?

There are three sides to the world of security in recruitment:

  • Cyber security;
  • Corporate security (physical security, crisis management etc); and
  • Security intelligence and analytics.

Many people who have traditionally moved into corporate security roles did so as a second career after a Government background, such as the police, military or intelligence services.

Security intelligence and analytics also has a smattering of Government alumni, although a broader scope of candidates has emerged in the sector due to the growth of university courses in relevant subjects over the last decade or so.

One of the challenges of introducing more diverse hiring into the security field, particularly corporate security, is that many of the Government organisations where candidates originate from are not diverse themselves.

A breakdown of diversity in key Government organisations

The police and the military have poor diversity levels. For example, approximately 93% of police officers are white and almost three quarters are male. The same proportion of military personnel are white, but there are even fewer women in the forces (9.5% are female). 

The main intelligence services have better gender diversity, although there is significant variance across the seven main agencies and the figures are still not representative of the wider UK population. Less than one-fifth of employees in Defence Intelligence, which is comprised mainly of military staff, are female. The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism has the highest proportion of women within the intelligence services at 47.5%.

Other areas of diversity can be tricky to research. I couldn’t find any current statistics on the number of LGBT or disabled employees within the police or the military. Like-for-like data on areas such as race and sexuality can also be difficult to find because individuals may choose to not disclose their status.

The intelligence services have produced the most in-depth figures, thanks mainly to a Government Select Committee. Unfortunately, the statistics aren’t particularly encouraging. On average, less than 5% of employees across the seven main agencies identified as LGBT, although the percentage of people who chose to not disclose their status was as high as 93% in some organisations. The results were similar for disabled employees, and non-disclosure rates were up to 75%.

All intelligence service boards are comprised of at least 25% women, which compares favourably with companies on the FTSE 100, where 29% of all board positions are held by women. However, the committee report described the ratio of BAME candidates at Senior Civil Service levels as ‘lamentable’. Only one agency (Government Communications Headquarters) had BAME staff in senior positions at the time the investigation was conducted – and the proportion was just 4.8%.

What can we take from this?

Clearly, the services that feed the recruitment channels for corporate security management personnel are comprised predominantly of straight, white men.

Our own research shows a significant disparity in the gender balance across the corporate, cyber and information security recruitment markets. There are currently approximately 10 men to every woman, which is hardly surprising given that 84% of respondents said they don’t have diversity or inclusion targets. Of those that do, 60% said diversity-led hiring had yielded positive results.

Security is generally seen as a conservative function, where change constitutes a threat to be guarded against. In this environment, male dominance becomes self-reinforcing, as those in the profession seek to hire and promote staff with similar, familiar backgrounds, skills and qualifications.

Communicating the full breadth of the security field as one of the most interesting, varied and challenging fields within which to work is a challenge. Security isn’t just about ‘bombs and bollards’ or ‘guards and cards’. Security is about commercial change, staff behaviour and attitudes, as well as communication, engagement and balancing business risk.

Recognising that we need broader skillsets and encouraging staff to move in and out of the security function over the course of their career is important. It’s also crucial that clear career development paths are presented within the profession.

We need to attract people with skills in communication, training, project management, policy development and leadership. While technical skills and qualifications will always have an important role in any security team, not everyone needs them to work in a security role.

Building a diverse security workforce

Tackling the diversity problem in the security field takes a multi-pronged approach during the recruitment process and beyond.


The first step to improving diversity is ensuring a broader selection of people apply for your jobs. Out-of-the-box thinking is needed to encourage more candidates from different backgrounds into the industry; gone are the days of advertising investigations jobs in Police Review!

Online sources such as LinkedIn can be useful for reaching a wider audience. You can also use gender decoder tools to remove masculine-coded language from adverts so that vacancies are more appealing to women. These tools are readily available online and only require a simple copy and paste of the text.

Unconscious bias, which I’ll discuss in more detail shortly, can have a significant impact on hiring. For instance, one study of applicants to law firms showed that men who signalled they were from wealthy backgrounds due to their hobbies (polo and classical music) were 16 times more likely to get interviews than those from seemingly working-class backgrounds. One way to tackle unconscious bias is by ensuring decision-makers only see blind CVs, where the candidate’s university and hobbies aren’t revealed.

An over-reliance on referrals can also hamper diversity hiring. You’ll simply end up with more of the same candidates. Start considering applicants with great potential; companies are rarely going to find a 100% qualified person for the job. A recent CareerBuilder survey in the US found 66% of employers plan to train new workers who don’t have the required skills but show excellent promise.


Have you heard of the ‘Rooney Rule’ in American Football? This is an NFL policy that requires teams to interview black and minority ethnic candidates when hiring for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. Many large corporates, including Facebook and Citigroup, are now using similar processes.

Interview panels should also be as diverse as possible to ensure different perspectives are provided on interviewees. People who are required to interview regularly may benefit from diversity and unconscious bias training. The theory of unconscious bias – which is unintentional, deeply ingrained stereotyping behaviour – has only been recognised for around 20 years, but countless studies have already confirmed the power of biases to shape decision-making.

There are some scary statistics underscoring this trend. For example, one study revealed white candidates were 74% more likely to achieve success during the application process than applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds, despite identical CVs. University professors have also been revealed to be far more likely to respond to emails from students with ‘white-sounding’ names. US doctors recommend less pain medication for black and Latino patients than white patients who have the same injuries.

There are a number of ways businesses are avoiding some of the unconscious biases that may arise during the interview process:

  • Side-by-side evaluations: 51% of employers who consider candidates individually choose someone who underperformed relative to the group. This figure plummets to just 8% when applicants are assessed side by side.
  • Online soft skill assessments: These are useful for measuring traits like teamwork and curiosity, which are difficult to gauge in interviews.
  • Job auditions: Candidates are paid to do real work for the organisation while a supervisor observes their capabilities.
  • Informal team interviews: Applicants talk with potential co-workers, allowing both sides to chat about the role and see whether it’s a good fit for the candidate.
  • Standardised interview questions: Unstructured interviews can lead to the interviewer focusing on traits and characteristics they have in common with the applicant rather than assessing relevant skills for the role.

Onboarding and retention

Keeping your staff is undeniably important. Recruitment is an expensive business and no successful organisation wants knowledge and experience walking out of the door. Diverse professionals are in high demand and if the people you hire don’t feel like a part of the business, you’ll never be able to retain them.

Onboarding is a pivotal moment for making employees feel included from day one. It sets the tone for a person’s tenure at your company, laying the foundation for their knowledge and experience of working for your company.

Nearly 90% of employees are believed to make the decision to stay with their company within the first six months, an Aberdeen Group study found. Letting employees know that diversity and inclusion is a strong company commitment can therefore be crucial for retention.

Furthermore, if professionals from underrepresented groups become frustrated or quit because diversity is ignored, word is likely to quickly spread about your organisation’s shortcomings. Introducing biannual ‘stay interviews’ can help identify what will keep people at the business, as well as highlight planned opportunities for greater freedom, challenge, growth and recognition.

Flexible work policies also need to be the norm rather than the exception, and modern remote working technologies and practices mean there are no reasons why these perks shouldn’t be freely available. According to BCG’s 2017 Gender Diversity Survey, flexible work policies are the number one priority for male and female employees under 30.

Take inspiration from industry leaders

If you want to see a company that has implemented a successful diversity programme in the UK, look no further than Lloyds Banking Group.

Their diversity and inclusion strategy is led from the very top, with Group Executive Committee members championing their agenda by sponsoring specific focus areas, whether it’s gender, ethnicity, disability or mental health. The organisation staunchly promotes the importance of having a varied combination of demographics on the Board to ensure a range of perspectives and support solid decision-making.

Lloyds has also committed to having women in 40% of senior roles by 2020, as well as launching its award-winning women’s network, which is currently the largest of its kind in the UK with 15,000 members and 4,000 mentors. The company also sponsors causes like the ‘Women of the Future Ambassadors Programme’, connecting award-winning women with school sixth formers to provide students with mentors and role models. In 2017, Lloyds engaged with more than 2,500 students.

While this is the gold standard for diversity and inclusion strategies, any organisation can begin taking steps in the right direction now. There are no quick and easy solutions but emphasising the importance of diversity within the security function and the wider organisation will lead to more motivated, happier and better performing teams, which in turn should also drive profitability.

What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion within the security function? Could your business be doing more to promote diversity? Or is your organisation leading the way with pioneering policies and practices? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment or question below. Alternatively, if you’d like to discuss diversity within the context of recruitment or any of the other issues raised in this article, please call 0207 936 8955 or email

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash