Women of security: Ruth Ripley
How did Ruth become the security manager for the Adidas LDN Flagship store, and from there, the Security Coordinator for the company’s biggest contract in the West End? Read a fascinating story from Ruth: how she discovered security as a great career of choice.
Could you describe the journey that led you into the security sector?
You know when you look back at each decision you make, and you start to see how all the cogs fit into place…that has never been truer for me!
My journey started in 2013. This was the year I decided to go to university as a mature student. I applied to 5 different Universities – and was rejected from every single one. I thought at this point that the game was up however, a friend told me about clearance, and I had 2 options to choose from Bolton University or the University of Cumbria – Lancaster campus. When I was a little girl, I used to holiday in the Lancaster/Morecambe region with my family and had wonderful memories, it felt like a second home, so the decision was easy.
In 2014 I started my degree: In religious Studies. I knew that I had to work to keep myself afloat so I began working in a sandwich shop and I absolutely hated it. Working in catering was not for me and I was terrible at it! My coffees were never right, my sandwich skills were awful, and I lacked confidence because of this. So, I went on the hunt for a new job. At this point I had stuck out the sandwich shop job for a year and had settled into uni life, taking a place on our university Rugby team and the local team too. I started talking to one of the girls that played on the team, and she told me that I should apply for a security job at FGH Security. I laughed at her. I remember saying “I can’t be a bouncer, I’m only 5’4!” I went home and I called my mum to tell her about the idea and if I am being honest, the idea excited me more than it should have done. I love breaking boundaries and stepping outside my comfort zone. So, I applied.
"I laughed at her. I remember saying “I can’t be a bouncer, I’m only 5’4!” I went home and I called my mum to tell her about the idea and if I am being honest, the idea excited me more than it should have done. I love breaking boundaries and stepping outside my comfort zone. So, I applied."
When I first started in the industry, I realised very quickly that I had an affinity for looking after people; I was always concerned about the welfare of those around me and could very easily spot vulnerabilities. My first roles were working at a student bar and working on stages and welfare areas within the festivals and events during the summer. I did this for the next 3 years of my university life and I loved every second of it – the team, the job, the challenges, and the training opportunities really brought me to life.
Once I had passed my teaching degree, however, I went on to what I thought was my ideal career – a Religious Education Teacher and I did this for 3 years. The first year was amazing, I felt on top of the world, the second year was OK, but the third year was death by teaching the same thing – it was honestly like Groundhog Day. The curriculums don’t change/and the calendar doesn’t change. The only things that change are the students, and the way you teach.
I was also struggling with the red tape surrounding safeguarding. Being in the position I was, my lessons often covered important ethical subjects and it would quite often stir up safeguarding issues with the students; they would approach me after class and ask to talk. I felt powerless to help them. Of course, we had safeguarding procedures set in stone – write down what they are saying, don’t ask leading questions, escalate to the safeguarding lead immediately and keep the student in school. I did this every time, but the moment the same girl came to me with the same safeguarding issue for the 3rd time, I knew that my efforts to help her weren’t enough and it pushed me over the edge. I couldn’t face the fact that I couldn’t help her, I couldn’t give her advice to protect herself and I couldn’t speak to the person that was inflicting the pain on her. I couldn’t report it myself as it had to go through the right channels, all I could do was listen to her. Some of you might say that is sometimes enough, but for me, it wasn’t.
Whilst teaching, I had stayed with FGH, working at festivals in the summer holidays and doing the odd door shift at weekends. So that night, after careful consideration and my whole family telling me I was crazy to leave a “career” to go into security - I picked up the phone with the Managing Director of FGH and I asked if there were any full-time positions available. I explained my situation to him and why I wanted to work for FGH. He said no but there may be something in the future, but at that moment there was nothing he could offer. So, I took up a position working on the doors in Manchester and working in control rooms throughout the events and festival season, crossing my fingers that something permanent would come up.
A few months down the line, an opportunity came up to work in London. This wasn’t full time, but it was well paid, and it was a chance to be a part of FGH growing on a national scale. So, every week, I made the journey to London to assist the managers down there. Just as we were getting some traction, Covid hit and with it, my opportunity came. The MD posted a message on our Facebook page, asking for help. He said:
“We are looking for someone with exceptional Excel skills to come and join our small Covid planning team in Lancaster HQ. We have no idea how long you will be up in the office and to safeguard the team against Covid, once you get here, you won’t be able to leave.”
For the second time, I picked up the phone, rang our MD and offered my services. From that point, I made my way up to the Lancaster office and assisted in any way that I could to keep the business booming throughout Covid. It was an amazing chance to show all that I was capable of, and I learned so much from working closely with some of the leading security and business minds in the industry.
I suppose the rest is history – when the world re-opened, I ventured back down to London and became the security manager for the Adidas LDN Flagship store, and from there, I became the Security Coordinator for the company’s biggest contract in the West End. I am still heavily involved in the operation of the company and invest a lot of my time assisting and training those who are new to the industry.
"I suppose the rest is history – when the world re-opened, I ventured back down to London and became the security manager for the Adidas LDN Flagship store, and from there, I became the Security Coordinator for the company’s biggest contract in the West End."
What does ‘security’ mean to you? How would you describe the industry?
As mentioned above, when I first heard about an opportunity to work in the security industry, my first reaction was to laugh and doubt myself. I thought of big, burly men kicking people out of clubs. I hadn’t ever seen a female security officer so to me, it was a completely alien idea.
Now that I have been in the industry for 6 years, I can see how completely wrong I was. Security to me is keeping people safe, no matter where they are, or however they choose to enjoy their time. It isn’t just one company against others either, security to me is a collaborative approach with other companies and governing bodies to ensure the maximum amount of people can have a great time and make wonderful memories in a safe environment. It is about sharing best practise and encouraging learning within our industry to ensure we don’t fall short of the standards. It is ensuring that when you say security to someone that isn’t in the industry, their first thought is friendly, approachable people working together to protect those around them.
"It is ensuring that when you say security to someone that isn’t in the industry, their first thought is friendly, approachable people working together to protect those around them."
Security is pro-active, reactive, and reflective. It can never be just one of these things. You have to plan for worst-case scenarios, you have to train so that you can react and assess potentially dangerous situations, and you have to have a reflective mindset to self-assess, debrief a team, and look at what went well or what could be done better. Most importantly, you need the drive to make all of the above happen and a reasoned voice to speak up.
At the moment, I would say around 60% of the industry is striving for the above to become the norm. There is new training in place, ACS accreditations, and collaborations across the board. Social media plays a huge part in promoting best practise and shining a light on bad practices. What lets us down is the pop-up companies that post adverts on social media to their mates, promoting work for less than the real living wage.
What do you like about your work and what inspires you about this sector?
I love people. Meeting new people, hearing their stories, being there for them. I love making my team smile, building them up so they have the confidence to face pretty much anything. I love to be challenged and to problem solve, which often leads to pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. I love proving myself. If someone ever tells me that I can’t do something – I often go and do it (if I want to of course ha!) and, because I am a reflective practitioner, I will then go back to them and show them my journey and see what we can collectively learn from it, how we can help others in the future and how to make the journey more amenable for others.
I love to support others in the wider professional field too. I recently became a board member of the Women’s Security Society and like nothing more than building confidence in other women, especially those just finding their feet within the industry. I like the different opportunities working in security presents, there are countless different roles to play in a security company and I have been fortunate enough to experience a lot of these, for someone with a short attention span, this is essential. Finally, I love to travel! Within the security industry and the company, I work with, there are so many opportunities for secondments in different countries, both challenging the team and giving a fresh perspective on the work we do on our home turf. It is also an excellent opportunity to network and ensure that people are kept safe internationally.
Do you think there are good career progression opportunities for women in the security industry? What could be done to create more opportunities?
Yes and No.
Jobs can’t/ shouldn’t just be created specifically for women, just like they shouldn’t be created for men – but I do think that the mindset needs to change amongst security professionals that women are just as capable as men to do their roles.
I had a conversation with a senior male within the industry who had an issue with a retail client that had a lot of shoplifting activity within their stores by organised crime groups. He said he needs a consistent presence and a well-experienced guard. He started reeling off the names of everyone he had positioned in the store and the reasons that they had failed. I noted that none of the people on the list were women. When I mentioned this, he immediately dismissed the idea. Not because he didn’t have faith in the individual, but because of the client. He said, “I could put a great female in that position, but they wouldn’t be a strong enough presence physically to deter the shoplifters. The first moment the store gets steamed, and we have a woman in the position, we will instantly be asked to take her off. The client will blame the female.” He said that he doesn’t agree with this point of view, but as a commercial manager he has to take the view of the client seriously.
From someone who supports people over commercials within a business, it seems simply a case of finding the right person, male or female. You need someone who knows the signs of hostile recon when you are about to be targeted for theft, someone who spots patterns and has a good eye for recognising behaviours. I think if you put that in a job advert, you would instantly see a rise in applicants – it seems like a challenge like you will be making a difference, regardless of whether you are female or male. The female doesn’t need to be huge / physically daunting; they just need to be trained and without these entry-level/ front line roles being given to females as well as males, how are they expected to build their careers?
Another issue I have noticed is the capacity in which some companies value the females within their teams. I was at an awards ceremony a couple of months ago and was approached by 3 male managers/ directors from 3 separate security companies. They were asking if they could assist us in any way with our contracts and started boasting about the number of females they had in their teams. Various stats were flaunted, 30, 50 and 60% female I was told. When I asked where these women worked, 2 couldn’t answer the questions and 1 told me “Admin roles”. They were so set in using their female stats to their advantage that they didn’t stop to consider whether they were actually nurturing the talent across the board.
Further to this, I think that companies fall foul of promoting women in their team and giving the image that women play an integral part in the company, but actually don’t believe what they sell. I think in my career I have met around 20 men who genuinely believe women have a place on the frontline, in management and in their teams. There are well-preserved prejudices that are rooted within the industry, some that people may not even realise they have.
Fortunately, there are so many amazing initiatives from a small selection of security companies to recruit females and highlight the incredible work that the women are doing for the industry. It would seem that we need a much bigger PR influence than this in order to sway the biases that exist within the wider non-security world.
What do you consider your biggest successes in your career? Have you had any setbacks and how did you deal with those?
I think one of the biggest successes in my career is how much my confidence has grown whilst working in this industry. I am surrounded by incredibly supportive people who make it their mission in life to lift people up. When I think of the steps that I took to get where I am, it was quite the journey. During the pandemic when all events were cancelled, I helped keep our predominantly event focussed company afloat and quarantined with an amazing team of people. This was a huge learning curve for me as I was able to see the nuances of the business and how essential each role was to keep all the cogs turning. I was also able to see the commercial aspects of the business which I had never had the chance to appreciate. But most of all, and I don’t say this very often because I like to remain humble, my commitment and determination to assist wherever I could made me an essential part of why the company is still here today and that to me is a job well done.
As mentioned before, once the company had settled and new policies were put in place for the company to continue BAU, I moved to London full time and assisted with the mobilisation of the business in a new city. The potential for growth is huge in London as most contracts are high value meaning you need the right people working with you. I was able to assist with this and in doing so, made some incredible connections which have led to the Women’s Security Society being reformed, of which I am proud to say, I am now a board member.
Most of all though, my biggest success is building people up that don’t necessarily recognise their own potential. There are a few people that I work with who were hiding behind their old roles but had other amazing skills that simply hadn’t been harnessed. I mentored them (and still mentor them when needed), gave them the platform and the tools to thrive and now some of them have even surpassed me. I am incredibly proud of them all.
Do you have any role models or mentors who have inspired your career in the security sector?
Absolutely!! Personally, there have been 3 key people in my life that have inspired me to keep pursuing my passions: mum, my auntie and my partner, Tom. Outside of this, there are a few key people within the security industry who I hold dear because of their guidance. I will name and shame!
Amy Stanley – Amy was the person who encouraged me to join the security industry back in 2016 when we played rugby together. Amy started out as an apprentice and has since worked her way up to Events Operations Manager, responsible for keeping millions of people safe. She is the definition of what happens when hard work pays off.
Fran Butterfield – my first ever supervisor. One of the strongest, kindest females I know and a great mentor. I was rubbish at “security” when I first started but with her guidance, I grew to be who I am today. She also saw potential in me that others did not, and this pushed me to train harder and experience all I could within the security industry. We have laughed, cried and worked together for the best part of 5 years and I can safely say that I have enjoyed every single shift we had together.
Jess Spencer – This woman is a powerhouse! I don’t think there is anything in this world that she cannot do. Jess is my go-to person if I have a difficult issue and she gives very sound advice. Not only this but she is a great friend and the most driven individual I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Because of this, in a short space of time, Jess has become incredibly accomplished within the industry. During the pandemic, I learned so much and with Jess’s guidance, developed a very strong sense of self-worth.
Houdah Al-Hakim – What can I say, Houdah has the kindest heart I have ever come across and has truly been my rock in London. She has dedicated her life to helping all within the security industry and doesn’t believe in leaving anyone behind. She has a way of bringing the best out of people and founded the Women’s Security Society to bring other females into that nurturing fold to help them grow and develop. I have never met someone with as much passion for helping others as Houdah and I wouldn’t be where I am now in London without her.
What advice would you give to younger women who are starting careers in this sector? Where could they find information about the variety of opportunities and career paths?
I would tell them to come into the industry with an open mind. It is very easy to get swept up in a male-dominated environment and get that sinking feeling of self-doubt. The trick is to find a way of being in the industry that suits you, you don’t need to act and think in the same way as others to gain traction in your career, in fact, the more unique you are, the better.
I would also remind them to celebrate their successes and be bold. This industry can be tough and if you don’t celebrate the successes, you can quickly get dragged down. If you do something great, shout about it and share it with others, you never know, someone else might really benefit from your strategies. I would also add to stick to your morals and hold yourself and others accountable. If something doesn’t work, work together with your team to fix it. Not everything is going to work perfectly the first time and the mark of a good professional is to recognise this and try again.
"I would also add to stick to your morals and hold yourself and others accountable. If something doesn’t work, work together with your team to fix it. Not everything is going to work perfectly the first time and the mark of a good professional is to recognise this and try again."
Most of all – NETWORK! Get to know others in the industry, share ideas, and build each other up!