‘What’s in a name’?
Written by Claire Humble
Advancing to senior leadership level in Cleveland and New Zealand Police, Claire has transitioned over to the corporate world, co-founding a Safety & Security Consultancy, Learning and Development and SMART business, Nuology. As an accomplished transformational change agent, Claire has positively impacted many organisations' culture, people, and processes, nationally and globally.
An engaging speaker who captivates multicultural audiences, presenting on topics that resonate with others, such as ‘Transformational Change within Security Sector’, she is frequently invited to attend webinars as a panel member. She holds a Master’s in International Security that complements her vast experience in security, risk and resilience. Advocating Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Claire sits on multiple ED&I working groups in renowned international security institutes.
‘What’s in a name’?
Firstly, we need to take a minute to reflect and consider this question in the context of the security industry….
If I were to ask you now to describe a ‘Security Guard/Officer’ what image and narrative would that conjure up?
In fact, to test this out I asked my husband this very question over a coffee this morning.
Stereotypically, we both agreed without much variation that it would probably be;
a ‘male, aged between 40-60yrs, paid a minimum wage for a 10–12 hour shift with little industry training or investment from employers. Maybe wearing a high viz jacket working at a supermarket, shopping center or transportation hub standing at or in the vicinity of an entrance or exit. It’s unlikely that he has had a briefing or signed role relevant SOP’s and is highly likely to be disenfranchised and feel undervalued’…...
Ok, so I accept this is a generalisation.
But is that a fair reflection? Or, is your image something more positive and professional?
I know from my experience there’s a very large spectrum of security officer roles, assignments, experience and of course people who carry them out. In fact, a quick search of the internet suggests that there were approximately 218,220 security officers employed within the UK in 2022*, that’s a big number to regulate.
But isn’t that the point?
The term Security Guard/Officer is so broad and the industry so big that perhaps regulation and industry standards is the very least we need to ensure our Industry is as professional, diverse and inclusive as it needs to be.
So, with so many different roles, assignments, skill sets, experience and associated outputs, how do we start to regulate and standardise the industry?
To positively showcase the role of a security officer to appeal to a more diverse section of the community?
Yes I know this is a complex and multi-layered question which deserves a great deal of consideration and critical thinking. It’s not something that can be answered or indeed solved overnight, yet I do feel there may be some low-lying fruit that may, just may provide our sector with some quick wins…
Take for example the term Security Guard/Officer. Now we have already established the volume of people, the wide-ranging deployments and general breadth of this role is overwhelming in many respects. Yet perhaps the start of our transformational journey may be as simple as reconsidering the name we are choosing to describe what we do?
Perhaps, it might be a worthwhile exercise to consider, depending on your operating environment if ‘Security Guard/Officer’ or ‘Security Services’ is a title that best reflects the role we carry out.
Take the Higher Education environment for example. This is a very nuanced assignment with a varied and in some respects unique environment in which to work. I know from my 4 years working within that culture there is a growing desire to reflect and review the security officer role to better represent the work they do.
Indeed at the mighty Teesside University myself and my team undertook a journey of change (some may say transformation) and arrived at our destination with a new name, uniform, culture and mandate that helped to change the view and status of the work we carried out and raise the profile and interest in the roles we advertised. With just a small tweak to our title - from Security Officer to Safety & Security Officer - we immediately became more relevant to our whole university community. The title reflected more specifically the role we carried out.
With some work on our job adverts, interview processes and social media footprint our recruitment pool suddenly became more diverse especially in terms of age and gender, and although still a work in progress the results were certainly positively tangible.
Many more HE Security Managers I am working with have with some gentle encouragement also embarked on their transformation journey. And, having seen the positive results across the [HE] sector are now keen to review and challenging their status quo. Many progressive security managers are now starting to sit up and take note. And in some cases, one of their primary fixes has been a name change.
For example, Safety & Security Officer, Community Safety Team, Protection Officers, Protection Services or First Responders etc… which for their teams better reflects the function and role they carry out. This simple yet effective first step towards contemporary change has served to remove the legacy of ‘them and us’, ‘closing windows and locking doors’ and has in many cases increased interest in the role internally and externally and assisted with staff buy-in and retention.
Ok so I recognise that a name change is not the answer to the larger Security Transformation conundrum.
In fact in the general scheme of things it might well be a very small part. However, there is growing evidence that a change of name to better reflect the role carried out and work environment may have some positive impact on addressing key issues within the security industry not least recruitment and retention of a more diverse workforce.
Indeed, having seen growing evidence of this approach within the HE sector I wonder if this is something we could or should seriously consider for the wider operational security industry?
As a point of personal reflection. In my experience when speaking with other professional women many have commented they would be or are less likely to consider applying for an operational role with the title of ‘Security Officer’.
But would be more likely to consider a role which suggests a less confrontational and traditionally masculine title such as ‘Safety & Security Officer’.
Largely the explanation for this being ‘Safety’ has a more ‘caring and empathetic’ connotation which can be more appealing to many women and younger men than ‘Security Officer’.
Perhaps this is too simplistic an approach to such a big issue?
But as a first step, perhaps worthy of a few minutes of your time to reflect and consider within your work environment?
I would be very interested to hear from you and know what you think…..