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Women of security: Laura Van de Vloet





Laura Van de Vloet shares her captivating journey that led her to the security sector. Laura is currently working for a member-led NGO forum that drives change through our global network of member organisations, influencing good security risk management practice that works for the whole humanitarian sector, improving the security of aid workers and operations for sustainable access.


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


I am currently, and have been working for over 15 months at the Global Interagency Security Forum (GISF), a UK based member-led NGO forum that drives change through our global network of over 125 member organisations, influencing good security risk management practice that works for the whole humanitarian sector, improving the security of aid workers and operations for sustainable access. The organisation has three main pillars; original research, capacity building, and information sharing, and my role as Projects and Membership Officer (PMO), lies most closely to the latter two.


I’m primarily responsible, alongside my counter part in the USA, to design and organise security risk management oriented workshops and events for the organisation’s membership. Topics here vary from inclusive security, to crisis management or information analysis. The other part of the role centres around member engagement, ensuring that the NGOs we work with stay engaged and that the topics and projects we prioritise are relevant to them.



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


Security industry is an incredibly versatile industry which can encompasses jobs ranging from cyber security analyst at a major tech firm in Silicon Valley, to working as a guard to securing a compound in Addis Ababa or serving in a government’s foreign service, and everything in the middle. It is an industry in itself but also one that is intertwined in almost every other sector, as enterprises, and organisations will require some sort of security.


In addition to that my current job, which is focused on security in the third sector, showed me an extra layer to what I previously considered ‘security’. Security risk management; where mitigating the risk follows a very people-centred approach, realising that our employees are our most valuable assets and that keeping them safe, both physically and psychologically, is vital. Fulling our organisational duty of care but also mitigating the risks to the best of one’s ability allowing your practices to be more sustainable.


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


Considering myself very new to the sector with a lot to learn and discover, ‘security’ has been something that I have been interested in starting University but it were the two terrorist attacks that took place in the Belgian capital in 2016, during my first day as an intern with the federal police, that triggered a more proactive attitude and a desire to better understand and hopefully one day contribute to solutions and help people around the globe. With that I decided to pursue a MA in Counter-Terrorism (CT) and Homeland Security which I consider having been my first real security related experience.


Considering myself very new to the sector with a lot to learn and discover, ‘security’ has been something that I have been interested in starting University but it were the two terrorist attacks that took place in the Belgian capital in 2016, during my first day as an intern with the federal police, that triggered a more proactive attitude and a desire to better understand and hopefully one day contribute to solutions and help people around the globe.

After finishing my masters I decided that the best way for me to further figure out what sparked my interest the most within the CT and security spheres was to start working. With that I undertook several internships, working for UN Peacekeeping Operations, NATO’s emerging security challenges, and political affairs division, and lastly the Belgium’s permanent representation to the UN.


Each experience with its own focus and challenges brought me closer to understanding what sparked my interest. Where policy and big international and multilateral entities were very inspiring and impressive, for me personally, the work itself often didn’t feel tangible enough. But what did feel tangible was security; keeping people safe and mitigating risk, so I knew that I needed to get deeper into understanding that part of the sector. When I found out about my current job, it felt like the ideal next step, combining SRM in the third sector, a sector that creates tangible change and I feel very strongly about. So here I am.



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


I believe women (and men) are needed in each industry, regardless of its kind, both bring expertise and different perspectives. However, unlike some other sectors, women are still very much underrepresented in the security industry. This inequality is fuelled by the misconceptions of what security is, and perceptions of it being male profession, and preferably someone who’s ex-military or police.


Personally, I feel that this is changing, but change unfortunately takes time and we are far from where we need to be. I believe that it is the job of both women and working in the sector to advocate for a more diverse sector, going beyond gender alone.


As a young woman in the sector I primarily want to help in building awareness amongst young graduates that this sector exists and show how versatile it is. Once people are aware it’s up to them to decide if this a career they see themselves pursuing or not.


As a young woman in the sector I primarily want to help in building awareness amongst young graduates that this sector exists and show how versatile it is. Once people are aware it’s up to them to decide if this a career they see themselves pursuing or not.

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


‘Have patience with yourself, you don’t need to know everything yet, and have faith in your skills!’ To be honest, it’s advice I still give myself every day. Where I expected at 22 that my first job would be ‘it’, and my career path would be set from there on. I now know that’s not. However, I learned to be confident that every different job or project will teach you something valuable that will help build your experience and knowledge in ways you might not have expected. What is important is to try your best, be humble yet proactive and stay open to opportunities, because opportunities will come your way.


Despite still being young I now realise that the moment where you feel like you understand it all, and are on top of it all will never come, and that ok, because wouldn’t it be boring if you had it all figured out?


Where I expected at 22 that my first job would be ‘it’, and my career path would be set from there on. I now know that’s not. However, I learned to be confident that every different job or project will teach you something valuable that will help build your experience and knowledge in ways you might not have expected. What is important is to try your best, be humble yet proactive and stay open to opportunities, because opportunities will come your way.


Is there any advice you would give for younger women who would look to start their careers in this sector?


There are a couple things one could do; be strategic in choosing your studies, go the extra mile, put yourself out there, be confident in your skills, accept compliments when they are given, don’t be afraid to speak up because you will know the answer more often than you think. But I also want to acknowledge that, I believe, luck will always be involved to a certain degree, luck in getting that fist job, luck in meeting the right person in the right place, etc. However, for one to get lucky you will need to get out there and create as many opportunities which will allow you to get lucky.


Also take that job, or do that extra-curricular activity that might only be slightly related to where you want to go, because you will learn more valuable skills than you can imagine, skills a next potential employer will pick up on.


Anecdotal: a few weeks into my first job my manager told me: ‘On paper you weren’t the most qualified candidate but you had experiences that were different from the other candidates, and I saw in your cover letter that you were truly interested so I decided to give you a chance, and I’m glad I did’. Luck & having a different profile; was what got me the first job.




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