We are living in an era where even the mere mention of a stereotype is viewed as prejudicial. While I will forego any debate on whether or not society may be going overboard with political correctness, there is one stereotype that I'd like to address... and that is the perception of security professionals.
Whenever I tell someone that I work in security, more often than not, they will respond with, "Oh, so you're like a security guard?" While I like to think that my two Master's degrees, years of training within the Intelligence Community, working in over 100 countries, and consulting for two-dozen Fortune 500s qualifies me as more than a security guard, my typical answer is, "Sure, something like that."
Why is it that security professionals often get this knuckle-dragger reputation? Scan the bios of most Chief Security Officers and Security Directors in America and you will typically find countless former senior FBI agents, CIA station chiefs and even retired military generals. Yet, the negative perception of "mall cop" seems to linger, as long as the word "security" is in their title (and please don't send me an email saying that I am bashing mall security guards!).
Now to be fair (and as I wrote in my book, Global Security Consulting: How to Build a Thriving International Practice), we do have our share of "kooks, cowboys and conmen" in the industry. I define each of these as follows:
- Kooks - these clowns have no business being in the profession. To them, the word "security" means being able to carry a gun. Typically, these are the "wannabes" who lack training or experience.
- Cowboys - These individuals might posses their fair share of previous military or law enforcement experience and are ready to take on any risk... the more dangerous the environment the better. Their favorite movie is The Expendables. While these hard-chargers might not necessarily be bad guys, 9 out of 10 times they can be walking legal liabilities and do not present well in a business setting.
- Conmen - While every industry has them, in the security world they seem to find themselves especially at home. They claim to have tons of access to VIP clientele, as well as have a rolodex of incredible talent. More often than not, they are just looking to capitalize off partnering with more successful security firms, in order to ride their coattails. These people are poison and contribute more than anything else to the negative stereotype.
While security consultants have somehow been lumped into a category with insurance and used car salesmen (two professions that historically get a bad rep), it is up to us to keep our industry as polished as possible. We should also strive to educate the public about the lengths we go to regulate/vet those individuals who would call themselves "security professionals."
While stereotypes can certainly be negative and divisive, it remains our responsibility to define what the word security actually means and develop a positive stereotype associated with those who work in the field.
What are you doing in your practice to improve the definition of the word "security?"