Women of security: Caitlin O'Brien
Caitlin shares her fascinating career journey, full of diverse experience and skills learnt from studies in Criminology, international relations and human rights, international travel, and working as a Probation Services Officer. Caitlin currently works as a Global Physical Security Officer and volunteers for the Women’s Security Society as Social Secretary. Caitlin is also keen to support others and has always had a passion for promoting intersectional feminism and support for women in the workplace.
What is your current role and what do you most enjoy about it?
I am currently a Senior Infrastructure Consultant for Netcompany, and hold the position of Global Physical Security Officer GKN Automotive (client) - specialising in the protection of hardware, software, personnel, data and networks from actions and events that can cause critical loss or damage to an agency, enterprise, or institution. This role means I get to learn and work with people across the world. These global interactions enable me to speak with people from all walks of life and understand the variations of work cultures and corporate environments. I thrive from making new connections and networking, so this suits me very well. I've always had a passion for promoting intersectional feminism and support for women in the workplace, and Netcompany has allowed me the tools to put this passion into practice - promoting tech and security as career opportunities for women, something that was never really offered to me when I was in education or entering the working world. This industry has so much to offer and creating safe spaces where women feel comfortable to discuss shared issues and experiences, promotes a healthy mindset, wellbeing and work productivity.
"This industry has so much to offer and creating safe spaces where women feel comfortable to discuss shared issues and experiences, promotes a healthy mindset, wellbeing and work productivity."
I am also working towards a Physical Security Professional (PSP) accreditation, alongside an entry level cyber security certification to tie into my Personnel and Physical security experience. What does security mean for you?
To me, security means the protection of people, business and reputation. It has to be functional, and is achieved through sharing common values to protect our people, maintain our reputation and achieve the safety and security of our customers and staff.
Have you considered any other sectors?
My background is in Criminology, international relations and human rights. When I was looking into going to university I wanted something I felt passionate about and that was either social issues or archaeology. It could have been a very different career path if I’d have chosen the latter. I have worked in the public sector, retail, teaching, and hospitality - I've dipped my toes into a lot of industries over the years and have enjoyed my time getting to know my strengths and weaknesses in dealing with a range of situations.
Could you describe the journey that led you into the security industry?
I have a MA in Globalising Justice (Globalisation, Crime, Policing and International Relations). This was following a BA in Criminology from the University of Lincoln in 2016. Shortly after my studies, I spent just under a year living, travelling and teaching ESL in China. I returned to the UK in 2018, started working in CO-OP. However, I was struggling to know what to do with my career. I then decided to utilise my degree and start a career within the criminal justice sector. I managed to secure a role within the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) at HMP Leeds and HMP Wealstun in the position of Case Coordinator. After a year I had progressed into the position of Specialist Services Officer. I then received a further promotion to a Probation Services Officer when the CRC was taken back into the public sector in His Majesty's Prison and Probation Services (HMPPS). I worked alongside local councils, courts, police, charities, and multiple stakeholders to support prisons being places of safety, reform and care for people on probation. This was to reduce reoffending by rehabilitating people through education, housing and employment support.
"Using my transferable security skills from the prison, I was able to make a career change to the industry and currently work at Netcompany, my role for the client is Global Physical Security Officer."
Using my transferable security skills from the prison, I was able to make a career change to the industry and currently work at Netcompany, my role for the client is Global Physical Security Officer.
What do you consider your biggest success in your career?
I always divide my success into personal success and collective success. The success stories from my time working in prisons were motivating and kept me within that sector for a long time. Being able to support someone from having nothing, to being housed, sober, working on their mental health issues and childhood trauma. The collective success of giving someone the tools to create their stability in life is something I miss about working in the prison sector. But this is transferable to the passion I have for supporting others and making sure people around me understand that I am someone they can come to with their issues and concerns. This was a factor in my recent promotion to Senior Infrastructure Consultant within Netcompany - and I am super proud of this. I feel so much pride for being recognised for my efforts and rewarded as such. Another big personal success for me is being able to travel with work. Travelling is a passion that is hard to financially support but being able to do this with work enables me to do something I love.
Have you had any setbacks and how did you deal with those?
Once the CRC was taken over by the NPS, there were opportunities to qualify as a Probation Officer. I had put my application through - with confidence, as I was certain of its success. This was 'my bread and butter' after all and I had been working there for some time, had knowledge of all the processes and systems. It was a major setback for me when my application was declined and I received a generic automated email. After receiving this, it was a knock to my confidence. Not because I wasn't able to progress as such, but because I thought it was just another step in the right direction. Having found myself with no real direction, or urge, to move to the next step within the probation service I was then open to other opportunities. This rejection spurred me to reconsider what I wanted for my career journey and how I was going to get there. My transferable skills for security were there, alongside the willingness to learn and adapt to a new situation and role.
Do you think there are good career progression opportunities for women in the security industry? What could be done to create more opportunities?
I think there are some amazing opportunities for women in the security industry, but these opportunities are often given by men. As blunt as that sounds! The industry is still working towards getting women in higher positions and keeping those positions. Sometimes there is a certain pressure to change your personality or characteristics to ‘fit in’ or to ‘rise up the ranks’. Searching for people/ companies who accept you for who you are and feed into the positives, not only grows their business but also makes the business stronger for it. If women see that they can hold Senior / Director roles - they will apply. There should be (and currently there is a push for) concentration on the younger generation in schools and universities to see security as a career. I want to eventually use my alumni talk at University of Lincoln to explain and support this. During university, security/ technology was not something that was given as a career option and so many people, including myself, are not directed towards this. Which is a real shame, as the security industry is so diverse in opportunities and cross over careers. Our Women’s Security Society is also a key player in this - we want to push for women to gain support and connections within the security industry. Creating a diverse and accepting community where women are not seen as competition but a hand is offered behind to get others up to the same positions.
Do you have any role models or mentors who have inspired your career?
My previous manager Liz Sunley is the most positive, passionate, and inspirational person I have ever had the joy to work with and be mentored by. She had supported me through the beginning of my career and I will be eternally grateful for the qualities she instilled in me. Her irrefutable drive to do what is best for people and to stand up for those that cannot stand up for themselves is something that I will look up to and replicate for the rest of my life. My best friend and co-worker Emily Best, who has offered me a shoulder to cry on but also a shoulder budge in the right direction. She has a knack for solution-driven support and a drive to support the younger generation to get into the tech industry. All the ladies at the Women’s Security Society. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such a fantastic group of women - with such a wealth of experience and varied background. I am lucky to be surrounded by some amazing male allies. To name a few -Nick Burnet, who has been a key support in my development from day one at GKN Automotive and has allowed me to flourish within the role. His energy, advice and positive mentality has helped me navigate the security industry. Also more recently Simon Joyce, my colleague at Netcompany - a brilliant, supportive and spectacularly interesting man who I am learning a lot from and listens to my barrage of questions with a calm and productive energy. Forever grateful! What advice would you give to women who are starting or transitioning into the security sector?
Always be open-minded - take every opportunity that is put in front of you, even if you feel like you aren’t qualified or ready. Ms Monicah recently said at a WSS Webinar Wednesday that you should always raise your hand, as men in the room will do so without a thought, even if they do not feel like they can do it. On that note - always offer a hand behind you as you rise. Mention women's names in places and talk about their successes. You do have transferrable skills! Things you wouldn't even consider or remember that you do on a daily basis, is probably a skill. The security industry offers so many diverse career paths, whether you are going down the technical route, risk management, operations ect. Eye contact! Make sure you are seen and don’t shrink yourself for the benefit of others. It took me a long time to take up space in a room, I am nearly 6 feet tall so I was always taking that room up regardless, but make sure you do not shrink under anyone’s gaze. You deserve to hold space.
What inspires you outside of work?
Anyone who knows me - has probably given me a lift somewhere. I have spent the best part of 10 years learning to drive, as it was always put on a backburner due to travelling, working and moving around. This was a goal I set myself for 2022 and on my second go (after 3 theory tests) I finally passed and got my first car. Much to the relief of my friends and family. I love a hike - I had set myself a goal of completing Snowdon in 2022 and got about half a mile away before I was snowed off. This is something I am looking to complete this year, probably with better weather planning and some gloves...
"I also volunteer for the Women’s Security Society as Social Secretary. I have always loved creating and socialising and was looking for an opportunity to exercise this, whilst merging with my passion to support other women get into the industry."
I also volunteer for the Women’s Security Society as Social Secretary. I have always loved creating and socialising and was looking for an opportunity to exercise this, whilst merging with my passion to support other women get into the industry. Alongside this, I enjoy reading and swimming. I have done a few challenges for charity with swimming challenges, getting myself back to swimming a mile. I love cooking Chinese and Korean dishes and spending time with my family and friends. My favourite thing is travelling, I've been to Poland, Denmark and Belgium this year so far (work and pleasure) and I'm currently saving up for Canada in 2024/25. A return to China is on the cards in the next few years as well to meet up with some old friends!