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Women of security: Anna-Liisa Tampuu

Updated: Jan 7



Anna-Liisa, head of intelligence and analysis in the private security sector shares her journey into the industry and how her current career path has been shaped by different experiences.


Anna-Liisa notes about the sector: "Security industry for me has always been a fascinating sector, where knowledge and global issues come together, where people step in and work collectively to solve issues in order to provide safety and security for others. People think that the industry is heavily dominated by ex-military but we do see change in the past couple of years and the sector becoming more diverse. I think it is about perceived accessibility where we have to focus our efforts and show to wider community that there are so many different jobs, from risk analysts, to media security advisers to cyber security analysts, and they don’t require military background. There is a huge opportunity for women in this industry."



Are you currently employed in the security sector and what do you do for work?

I have been working in the sector for almost over 6 years. I am currently head of intelligence and analysis for a global emergency assistance company and I am engaged more widely in the sector as a co-chair for the Inclusive Security Special Interest Group for the Security Institute. I feel very humbled to have been given this opportunity to lead such important initiative. I also launched SheTravel in 2019, and greatly enjoy developing this initiative.

What does ‘security industry’ mean for you? How would you describe the industry?

When I started out, I never knew our sector has so many opportunities and jobs available, and the wide reach of the industry. When I finished my Masters in International Relations and Security, I was incredibly lucky to have an internship with NATO HQ in Brussels with the Counter-Terrorism Section. But after the internship, I didn’t know what I wanted to do next and I was still oblivious to the possibilities the sector had to offer.

Security industry for me has always been a fascinating sector, where knowledge and global issues come together, where people step in and work collectively to solve issues in order to provide safety and security for others. People think that the industry is heavily dominated by ex-military but we do see change in the past couple of years and the sector becoming more diverse. I think it is about perceived accessibility where we have to focus our efforts and show to wider community that there are so many different jobs, from risk analysts, to media security advisers to cyber security analysts, and they don’t require military background.

Did you shape your career to work in this sector? Could you describe your journey that lead into your current role?

I studied Politics and Governance for my BA in Estonia, and did a year in Criminology in the UK with ERASMUS programme. I had never been as fascinated by a topic as I was about criminology and I considered a career in the field. Then however, I unexpectedly won a grant to study Political Journalism in Washington DC with Georgetown University as part of a summer programme and this gave me some time to think what I wanted to do next.

I completed my MA studies in International Relations and Security and an internship with NATO Counter-Terrorism Section, opened my eyes about different possibilities of a career in the industry and showed the more international level of it. But it wasn’t until my boss, head of CT at NATO told me about the private sector, that revealed my first glimpses of how big the industry actually is. With the help of my contacts in NATO and their kind advice, I was able to meet people in London and shape new opportunities.

What role do you think women play in the security industry?

I think women bring many strong skills and diverse experience to the sector. To create innovation and dynamic services & products, the sector needs a talent pool that is as diverse as the society it serves. I often think there are not enough role models out there for younger women to see that they do have opportunities and career paths in the security sector. It is hard to know what you don’t know and I think it is time to show the role models so we would have more visibility of the journeys that women have already taken.

I think women bring many strong skills and diverse experience to the sector. To create innovation and dynamic services & products, the sector needs a talent pool that is as diverse as the society it serves. I often think there are not enough role models out there for younger women to see that they do have opportunities and career paths in the security sector

I think women can also bring in different dimensions in how we think and perceive what safety and security means and how to deliver for example duty of care and safety for other women. We bring our own experiences, lived experiences both personally and professionally.


What do you like about your work and what inspires you about this sector?

It have always loved how dynamic and fascinating the security sector can be. In some roles, although the work can be very fast-paced, you are able to deal with interesting cases and also sometimes the work may feel very rewarding. When I created SheTravel, a platform with travel safety information for women globally, I was truly passionate about creating change and perhaps helping to advocate and create awareness.

I think women now have more opportunities to apply for different roles, may it be in cyber or risk management. There is still challenges of getting into senior positions and leadership roles, and I think this is something we need to collectively work on. Women need to be involved in all levels, including board-level and decision making.

Do you think there is good career progression opportunities for women in the industry? What could be done in your opinion to create more opportunities?

I think in the past years, we have seen more opportunities for women to enter the sector. But there are still challenges, mixture of perceived accessibility and also sometimes acceptance of the sector for women to enter more leadership roles. We need more women in those senior roles to pave the way, and also shed light to their very existence in the sector.

For younger women, we have to raise awareness about our sector, and perhaps sometimes also confidence, that they too can work in this industry. We also need to define and promote the sector. 'Security sector' itself seems to be a rather unknown concept and often, outside perceives it as police or physical security, but it goes so far beyond.


For younger women, we have to raise awareness about our sector, and perhaps sometimes also confidence, that they too can work in this industry. We also need to define and promote the sector. 'Security sector' itself seems to be a rather unknown concept and often, outside perceives it as police or physical security, but it goes so far beyond.

What do you consider your biggest successes throughout your career?

One of my early successes was to have an opportunity to see how organisations like NATO function on a daily basis. When I applied for an internship with the Counter-Terrorism Section within the Emergency Challenges Division, I could have never imagined actually being chosen for it. The evening when I found out that I was accepted, I closed my laptop and thought to myself that I would only tell my father if the email is still there tomorrow morning and I hadn’t been dreaming. And it was.

I am also grateful to have had an opportunity to further my career in London and work my way up to a senior position. I have also been privileged to meet kind people on the way who have mentored me and believed in me when my self-confidence wasn’t the highest.

I have learned a lot from inventing and launching SheTravel, and I had to pinch myself when giving a presentation for UK NGO Security Group at Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation about SheTravel and on the wider topic of women, travel and safety. I never thought this road was possible for me.

Co-chairing Inclusive Security Special Interest Group with the Security Institute has been the latest project very close to my heart – there are so many talented people already working in our sector and I am eager to spread the word.

What have been the biggest challenges in your career? And your biggest challenges in the security sector?

I found it challenging to find my first roles as I didn’t know the scale of the opportunities in our sector. At times, it was also quite daunting to start a career in a foreign country and in a big city, so I was trying to learn about the way of life and opportunities in London by expanding my network and being curious about what people’s jobs meant in real life. I got involved in volunteering work and made it my purpose to understand different communities here, and find where I felt comfortable in.


I still think it is challenging to get into position of decision-making and leadership roles for women in our sector. The sector needs to work together to improve this, although I think progress has been already made in the past few years and we need to keep the momentum going.


Finally, I have also come across and experienced bullying and intimidation, and I know about stories from other women who have had similar experiences. It is very challenging as a young woman to step up against bullying or harassment, more so when you are your own livelihood provider in a big foreign city. It is easy to sometimes think that you have done something wrong or haven't worked hard enough but bullying is never justified or right. Through lived experience and getting older, I find it easier to spot this kind of behaviour. I hope to support other women in the future and advocate for the fundamental right for employment without fear of intimidation, harassment or bullying.

What does the word ‘security’ signify to you?

For me, I have always connected security with safety, which connects to Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. It is a basic human right to be free from fear and violence, no matter what shape or form they manifest in. Security for me is duty of care, either from professional level, looking after your teams or clients, or travellers.

If you could give advice to your younger you, what would it be?

If I could go back in time, I would place a hand on my younger me and say: “Don’t worry, have confidence in you, you will find where you will fit in. The journey will be worth fighting for.”

I still find it challenging from time to time to have confidence and self-belief. I also doubted about my appearance, that if the way I look, would prohibit me to fit into the security sector. Being 6 ft tall and blonde, made me rather shy in the boardrooms as I worried that perhaps people would not see me as someone who belongs in the industry.


I have also been conscious about the fact that I am a foreigner in the UK. I sometimes thought I would have to work extra hard to prove my worth.


My own self-perception has changed over the years, with gained experience, I have grown more confident about where I belong and I have found my community – people who support and positively further me on, people I also have so many things to learn from.

In Estonia, we grew up with a belief that one should be humble and hardworking, but always care for others and put your own ego aside. In a competitive environment, such that can be in major cities, I still hope to see the community and empathy. I like to choose collaboration over competition.


I still find it challenging from time to time to have confidence and self-belief. I also doubted about my appearance, that if the way I look, would prohibit me to fit into the security sector. Being 6 ft tall and blonde, made me rather shy in the boardrooms as I worried that perhaps people would not see me as someone who belongs in the industry.

One last thing I would say to myself is that a toxic environment and bullying can eat away your self-confidence and make you see reality in a distorted way but is not your fault nor a healthy environment where you can grow. Surround yourself with people who can help you to change the environment and move on to a place where you are valued.


Do you have any role models or mentors who have inspired your journey?


I have been lucky to have met many kind and inspiring people during my time here in the UK. When I think of a role model, a woman in the security sector who brings energy, leadership and inclusion, I think of Caroline Neil. Caroline is the Managing Director of RPS Partnership and for the last 25 years, she has worked around the globe as a security and risk mitigation consultant and trainer.


I have had a privilege to work with Caroline on various female travel safety projects for more than 3 years and I consider her as a mentor and also as a good friend. Caroline has had an extensive and such an interesting background in the sector and she also cares about the bigger and more deeper causes, supporting others and empowering young women. I have learned so much from her.

I was also lucky to meet many interesting and inspiring people during my time in NATO. Amongst them, I have been glad to have Adrian Kendry, former NATO’s Senior Defence Correspondent, as my good friend and mentor. Adrian has been a real champion and a supporter for my career, keeping me up to date with developments on more international level and telling me to always believe in myself.


Another incredibly inspiring woman I have met in our sector is Kate Bright. Kate is the founder and CEO of Umbra International Group and when I heard about her career and experience working with Private and Family Offices as well as widely in the security sector, Kate seemed like a force on nature to me. Kate is also kind and cares about the sector, empowering others to step into the industry. She is definitely someone I would consider as my role model.


I would also like to mention Jillian Kowalchuk, founder and CEO of Safe & The City. I met Jillian through SheTravel and I have followed her journey ever since, admiring the work they are doing in bringing together innovative technology and safety, particularly empowering women and helping to create safer cities for all of us to live in. It goes to show how intertwined security is with all of our society and various sectors, and how much we can collectively do with our different skills and careers.

Finally, I think it is beneficial to have mentors and people who inspire from other sectors. This is helpful to understand which of your skills are transferrable, and how security connects to other businesses. Through SheTravel work I met Tracey Livingston Howard, a fierce businesswoman and a coach, whose collaborative approach and people-oriented kindness in business is such a breath of fresh air. Tracey also taught me to have confidence in my skills and how to see through toxic environments and bullying.

Is there any advice you would give for younger women who would look to start their careers in this sector? Where could they find out about the roles and career paths?

I would advise to reach out to people and be curious about their roles and careers. I think we can always learn from each other. If you have a starting point, for example one connection in the sector, ask them to recommend any other contacts you could speak with.

I would recommend to also take part in events, or virtual events during these challenging times, as it is always good to hear about new ideas and perhaps you see someone speaking who you’d like to know more about or you’d get some great signposts to where to further look for.

I would advise to join professional networking groups and communities. The Security Institute is a great starting point to get involved in different events, workshops, jobs board and networking with others in the broader security sector.

GISF is a great source of information and platform if you are interested in security roles in NGO sector.

I personally also think it is also interesting and valuable to engage with other likeminded groups which are not necessarily in the security sector, and for me particularly, AllBright Club in London has given some great ideas. This is a members club for networking opportunities for business women. They have a Digital membership option which is affordable and has some great podcasts and lectures online, focusing on confidence building and various topics for empowering women in their careers.


And finally, I would advise to not look for a perfect career, but give opportunities a chance, and pave your way through them. A role that you may think would be that perfect fit for you, may turn out to be nothing like you expected. But it also helps to learn about your own skills, what you like, and what you are not that passionate about. I have been listening to Squiggly Careers podcasts and it is truly amazing how many careers people have in their lifetime in modern times.


It is never too late to change, adapt, to learn, to have courage to make mistakes. I believe this is how we grow.

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