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Women of security: Judy Atkinson



Judy came to the UK with her daughter, one suitcase and courage, fast forward - Judy is now in a director’s position and will be a Board Director for ASIS International UK from January. Judy also sits on the board for the WSS. What inspires Judy about security and how has she shaped her career in this fascinating sector? Judy shares her trials and tribulations in this inspirational interview about courage, strength and determination.



Could you describe the journey that led you into the security industry?


I hear this all the time from women in security. I fell into it. They all say the same. Security was never on the horizon as a career option. I had always been in sales all of my life but one day someone rang and said “have you thought about selling keyholding?” I said “what’s that?” I soon found out and I was offered the role the same day as I was offered a role with Rentokil Initial with the Pest Control Team (selling the service of course) I took the job with Reliance Security. I liked the company and what they stood for. In fact, Reliance Security 20 years ago was a good company. Local centres which all operated autonomously with a head office. I spent time with their mobile division and learnt everything to do with alarms and BT Redcare lines. I was then asked to sell their manned guarding division and was the first to pilot a test scheme to sell a blended solution which involved me learning all things tech, so I am a pro on CCTV, alarm systems and cabling.



What are the main transferrable skills that you brought to your security career from your previous roles and how have these skills supported you?


I had to think hard about this. Selling is the obvious one. However, prior to this I worked overseas looking after 5000 British arrivals on holiday. Mitigating risk was a daily event. Ensuring the guests' safety as well as my team of 40 staff. I had to negotiate but risk assess everything to ensure compliance at all times. It was incredibly varied but taking hundreds of guests on coaches where alcohol is involved is never easy. This gave me a huge understanding of what can go wrong.


Then having my daughter added to that. All of a sudden risk and security became very important and that is why, now I look at all situations to think, about how can risk be reduced and how we protect people and assets. Looking after a lot of people helped as a major skill. Being a negotiator, leader and mentor.



What do you consider your biggest successes in your career?


I am always going to say having my daughter. We came to the UK with one suitcase and no money. I am now in a director’s position and will be a Board Director for ASIS International UK from January plus I sit on the board for the WSS.


I value success as being happy. As long as my family and dogs are well and happy, we have enough to eat and be safe is a success.


But if I look at successes in my career, then it will be that I am viewed as knowledgeable and kind.


"I am always going to say having my daughter. We came to the UK with one suitcase and no money. I am now in a director’s position and will be a Board Director for ASIS International UK from January plus I sit on the board for the WSS."


Have you had any setbacks and how did you deal with those?


As a single mother originally, I had to sell to have enough money but not at the risk of my reputation. One does not always win a contract that one is sure they will. You must always deal with that setback and move on.


I worked for one security company that was successful but then suddenly money was an issue and staff were not paid. It was horrible. I tried to help officers to get to work. We were then made redundant. Having to find work immediately is never good. We were literally out. However, there are always people who will help. You have to believe in yourself and dig deep. Have faith!



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 have been many changes in the past few years that have had an impact and consequently, women are considered more for roles. One example is Covid. It made us rely on tech and social media platforms and most business people will now use Linkedin to do business. Meetings are held virtually which means location is not usually an issue. Connecting with other people and much more recently women in security has risen. People understand now you have to have a diverse workforce. Security knows it has to have more women within it, as different types of people deal with situations differently and that is key when delivering security in its many forms.


Women have realised they are not alone. WhatsApp groups are popping up where they join forces for support.


I never thought in my lifetime I would see 3 Female CEOs of the top security companies at one time. We now have women at the top in ISS, G4S and Securitas and that is amazing.


That said, opportunities are not as equal as they should be. Only this month, two senior roles were not even advertised and were given to “mates” and this was in two very large companies. My advice for any security company in whichever sector you are in, if you are truly invested in a diverse and inclusive workforce, engage with Women Security Groups. Advertise roles there. Welcome them in. The imagery from the SIA is improving but we need to see a fair share of images within our industries. I have no doubt that this three CEO’s will push for this. Meanwhile groups like the Women’s Security Society, need to grow so that our voices are louder.


"Women have realised they are not alone. WhatsApp groups are popping up where they join forces for support.
I never thought in my lifetime I would see 3 Female CEOs of the top security companies at one time. We now have women at the top in ISS, G4S and Securitas and that is amazing."


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


Part of being a woman in security for 20 years is that I have never had a mentor or been offered one. I have never been offered to do a security qualification and now I feel it is too late. Role models for me, are advocates for diversity and inclusion. Sarah Hayes HR Director for Securitas speaks about this constantly. I offer my services to help new people coming into the industry or even those who just want help or advice.


Sadly, my role models are outside of the industry. Mary Portas is one. Her determination and values are great. Emma Kay who set up Walksafe is another. Her persistence in trying to make life safer for everyone, is to be admired. I tend to be inspired by those who have worked hard and against all the odds, made a difference. They did not just talk about issues, they actually did something about it.


What inspires you about the security sector?


I have had two roles whereby no two days were the same. Working overseas was one and the security sector is another. It inspires me, as there are so many different roles and facets to this sector and because of technology and outside factors, it is always changing. It goes back to why I joined in the first place. Security can help every single person in the world. Every single person needs security in one form or another.



What advice would you give to women who are starting in or transitioning into the security sector?


My biggest advice, is join a free group like the Women's Security Society. I am not saying that being biased. I am saying it because there are many women here from different roles and countries who are able to give advice. Their own speciality of security will allow those starting or transitioning into this sector ideas as to where to take their career. So, by joining and talking to them, as a first step that will help.


Use social media to reach out to women you see who you think look interesting. I believe that most women will always want to help and advise. Think which area of the sector you may enjoy. Is it tech, close protection, cyber, guarding. The list is endless. This sector can take you worldwide.


However, they need to remember than women in security are still on a journey to make it completely equal but that the percentages are changing to be 50/50 day by day, so to embrace that, help with it and enjoy it.





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