Building resilience and innovation through an inclusive approach to security

Anna-Liisa Tampuu and Lisa Reilly (MSyl), co-chairs of the SI Inclusive Security SIG discuss diversity in the security sector.

How does inclusion impact resilience and support innovation within the security sector, a vital industry providing fundamental services to protect societies in an ever-changing risk landscape? To understand the dynamic threats of tomorrow, diversity and inclusion are crucial factors to consider when designing risk management strategies, as well as building the capacity to adapt, grow and innovate.

To truly understand the risks and threats of modern societies, the talent pool should reflect the society it serves. Diversity of thought is essential to equip the security sector to face the challenges of the future.

Beyond the business case for diversity and inclusion
In the past decade, there has been increased understanding of the business case for diversity, recognising how diversity and inclusion are enhancing business operations and driving growth. An article “How Diversity Can Drive Innovation” published in the Harvard Business Review, highlights research that provides evidence on how diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth.

Diversity is a concept that can be understood in various ways. Interestingly, the article makes a distinction between two kinds of diversity: “Inherent diversity involves traits you are born with, such as gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Acquired diversity involves traits you gain from experience” (Hewlett, A., Marshall, M., Sherbin, L. (2013) ‘How Diversity Can Drive Innovation’, Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-diversity-can-drive-innovation).

It would be interesting to consider whether staff who remain within an organisation (or even a single sector) for an extended period of time, find their acquired diversity traits come together creating a more homogenous group than originally formed?

However, diversity, in itself, is not enough. To drive change we need to create a psychologically and physically safe working environment that fosters equity and inclusion. There are many examples of companies that push for diversity hires who are then surprised when these staff do not stay. Hiring is only the first step, an inspirational leader is one who creates a team that thrives, whatever the inherent and acquired traits of the individuals.

Building Resilience - Who is Inclusion for?
In a sector that is predominantly male, it is noteworthy that events on inclusion tend to be attended by more women than men. And as the voice for greater diversity is raised so is the backlash. This is disappointing as we do need everybody in the discussion. We do not want to sideline those already in the sector – there is so much we can and must learn from past experience and current solutions.

White men, if you are feeling excluded – restructure your frame of reference – everyone is part of the inclusive sector that is sought. When you look at someone you don’t know their religion, do they have a neurodiversity, perhaps a medical condition or dependents for whom they are the primary carer. What experience do they have? Maybe they spend their free time deep-sea diving or grew up in Africa? These traits, as much as someone’s ethnicity and gender, define who they are and what they can bring to a diverse and inclusive team.

As a sector we often talk about the importance of resilience, but what does this mean for individuals and teams as well as the organisation? Do we have the psychological safe space needed for staff to bring their ‘whole self’ to work? It is recognized that mental health issues are so often ignored, the British Culture is one where speaking out about problems is seen as an unacceptable weakness, particularly for men; and, in our sector which is dominated by men, the traditional culture of ‘be strong’ does not encourage mental well-being and resilience.

So, don’t be afraid of the conversation on diversity, inclusion and equity – embrace it, it is for everyone.

How does diversity and inclusion connect to risk?
When considering diversity and inclusion, the conversation does not often involve looking at diversity through the risk lens (For example GISF. (2018) Managing the Security of Aid Workers with Diverse Profiles. European Interagency Security Forum (EISF)). However, the security industry needs to recognise that inclusion and diversity have a vital role to play in risk mitigation and resilience.

The Deloitte Review “The diversity and inclusion revolution: Eight powerful truths” (Burke, J., Dillion, B. (2018) ‘The diversity and inclusion revolution. Eight powerful truths’, Deloitte Review. Issue 22. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/4209_Diversit...) highlights that diversity of thinking enables groups to spot risks, reducing these by up to 30 per cent, as well as being a source for creativity, enhancing innovation by about 20 per cent. It adds that diversity of thinking smooths the implementation of decisions by creating trust and buy-in. The article emphasises that high-performing teams are both cognitively and demographically diverse.

The Review argues that “By cognitive diversity, we are referring to educational and functional diversity, as well as diversity in the mental framework that people use to solve problems. A complex problem typically requires input from six different mental frameworks or “approaches”; evidence, options, outcomes, people, process, and risk.”2 The authors reason that no one is equally good at all six and that is why complementary team members are required. The article refers to Bourke’s “Which Two Heads Are Better Than One”, giving an example of how cognitive diversity has an impact: “For example, racial diversity stimulates curiosity, and gender balance facilitates conversational turn-taking”.

The security sector deals with risks and threats on a daily basis. The societies it serves are diverse and ever-changing, demanding a response that requires a cognitively diverse team that can address complex problems and build inclusive risk mitigation strategies on the best possible foundation. This foundation needs to be capable and flexible, made up of diverse and inclusive teams that can spot the risks that future threat actors will present. The sector needs to be mindful of groupthink and homogeneity of thought if it wants to stay ahead of developing threats.

Diversity and Inclusion Surveys and growth of DE&I focused initiatives
The security sector has been seeing a growing number of DE&I focused initiatives, however without baseline data it can be difficult to present compelling arguments for change.

In 2021, the Security Institute’s Inclusive Security Special Interest Group (IS SIG) launched an Inclusion and Diversity survey, aiming to gather data to understand the security sector’s workforce in greater detail.

The survey received a total of 760 respondents, with 72 per cent members of the Security Institute (SI).

Unsurprisingly, with the majority of respondents coming from within the SI, the majority were older and in more senior positions. This highlights the need to bring more junior and younger staff in the sector into the ‘professional space’, encouraging career development and staff retention. It may also be possible that a younger cadre of respondents would demonstrate greater diversity than found in this survey.

While anecdotally it is known that the number of women in the security sector is below the national average, the actual figures were quite shocking. With only 22 per cent of respondents identifying as women in comparison with the 2021 UK census figure of 51 per cent in the general population. The sector scored better on other traits such as ethnicity 83 per cent identifying as white in the sector vs 85 per cent in the general population and for those identifying as LGBTQ+ 9 per cent vs 4 per cent. Disability was another area where the security sector scored badly, with only 12 per cent of respondents identifying as having a disability in comparison to 19 per cent in the broader community. 36 per cent of all respondents identified some form of barrier or disadvantage during their career, by far the most significant cause identified was gender.

There were a minority of white men who felt discriminated against because of their traits. The survey analysis highlights the difference between positive discrimination, which is mostly illegal under the Equalities Act 2010 and fosters the idea of unfair ‘diversity hires’, and the importance of developing more inclusive hiring approaches to encourage non-traditional applicants. For example, in our modern virtual based context, do working hours need to be 9.00 – 5.00 in an office? A requirement which effectively excludes many women with young children.

Towards resilient, inclusive and innovative security
How can the sector build resilience from within as well as attract and retain talent to foster innovation? A good first step is understanding that having cognitive diversity, and teams with different inherent and acquired diversity traits, supports building resilience and reducing risk. The diversity of viewpoints and backgrounds can help the sector tackle the ever-evolving threats.

There is also no meaningful merit in diversity without inclusion and equity. Providing a psychologically and physically safe space for all individuals creates an environment where people are not scared to present their ideas, are free from prejudice and discrimination, feel listened to and safe to step out of their comfort zone. Inclusion must start with inclusive leadership and management. In the book “Great Ted Talks: Innovation” (Hughes, N., C. (2021) Great TED Talks: Innovation. London: Portico), Kristian Ribberstrom is highlighted: “Ribberstorm believes that we have an opportunity for groundbreaking innovation when we tear down silos, cross boundaries, and purposefully learn from the unfamiliar, unknown and unexpected.”

Inclusive security is for everyone to create and benefit from, and there are steps that we can take individually, as organisations and collectively within the industry. We can have courage to ask questions, practice active listening, be allies to our colleagues, nurture the talent of tomorrow and share best practices and new ideas within the industry. We must work collectively to ensure that diversity and inclusion initiatives are not just for minority groups to champion and guard against these conversations staying in separate silos. Collaborations between different organisations should become force multipliers working towards a common goal.

Change takes time. However, if we contribute to building an inclusive sector that values the diversity of ideas and backgrounds, we also build resilience from within and strengthen the services to protect the society the sector serves. Moreover, in an environment where new ideas have a safe space to be nurtured, innovation will follow. As highlighted earlier, there is evidence that teams which are cognitively diverse, bring dynamic problem-solving skills that are essential for effective risk management.

Inclusive security will equip the security sector with innovative tools and services to face the new challenges of the future with confidence.

Hear from Anna-Liisa Tampuu, Co-Chair of the Inclusive Security Special Interest Group, The Security Institute, speak at International Security Expo 2022, 27th September, 12:00 – 12:30 on Building Resilience and Innovation Through Inclusive Security, and at 13:45-14:30 on a panel discussing The Impact of Diversity on the Provision of a Secure Environment.


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