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Women of security: Tara Arthur



We are delighted to bring you an interview with Tara Arthur, projects and membership officer for the Global Interagency Security Forum (GISF) based in Washington, DC. Tara shares her journey of getting into the sector, from martial arts background to her childhood experiences to her professional chapters in the NGO shaping the journey: "There is always a new challenge brewing in this field, and I love to problem solve, but even more so to prepare and prevent. I enjoy the opportunity to learn from so many incredible and experienced professionals and see the shape of how the sector is going to continue to evolve over time. Perhaps, most of all, I appreciate what it means to be part of helping to keep aid workers safe all around the world."



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


I work for the Global Interagency Security Forum (GISF), a member-led NGO forum influencing good security risk management practice for the humanitarian sector, improving the security of aid workers and operations for sustainable access. I am the projects and membership officer based in Washington, DC. One of my main aims is to help expand our presence in North America, as we recently transitioned from being the European Interagency Security Forum to going global. I work alongside my colleagues in the EU to help create relevant programming and content (webinars, workshops and trainings, blogs and resources) for our member organizations.



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


For me, the security industry encompasses a multitude of sectors, professions and responsibilities. At its core, it’s about managing risks and enabling and maintaining safe systems and environments from individuals and assets to organizations. There are various categories and perceptions surrounding the security industry. For example, physical and operational security, where private security guards might be more recognizable to some when hearing the word security industry, rather than a host of equally relevant areas that also comprise the industry. For me, I do think of these, but I also think of examples like, NGO security, cyber security, aviation security, national security, security analysis and so much more.



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


To best answer this question, I have to look back at my martial arts background and being of Haitian decent. These two worlds have long intersected with and inspired my development and career aspirations.


Having a martial arts background, I have long been passionate about personal awareness and protection, as these are key foundational concepts. Growing up I experienced the power of community and importance of humanity during challenges. These lessons helped propel me to study political science and international development.


Having a martial arts background, I have long been passionate about personal awareness and protection, as these are key foundational concepts. Growing up I experienced the power of community and importance of humanity during challenges. These lessons helped propel me to study political science and international development.

My parents were very active in the Haitian diaspora, so I was aware of the various obstacles the country faced (economic, political, outside influence) as well as the numerous opportunities. For example, I remember my family opening our karate school to the community. In particular, I recall a time when our karate school was used as a safe distribution space for refugees who fled instability in Haiti. I was a young girl at the time, but I saw first-hand the importance and solidarity of helping one another through a challenge.


Fast forwarding, I grew to recognize how my martial arts experience was helping with several aspects of my personal development and later professional interests. Having been fortunate enough to travel to various parts of the world (my parents worked for the airline industry and valued exposing the family to cross-cultural experiences), friends would often consult me prior to traveling— on things to look out for or think about. I was able to add perspective and context as a well-heeled traveller and as a black American female—not to mention some security considerations.


In undergrad, I worked in the office of Residents Life, starting out I was a Resident Assistant in charge of helping with residential student safety and security for my assigned area. I was later promoted to Village Assistant, which managed Resident Assistants on campus and was tasked with working directly with senior leadership on issues facing campus safety and security and those of the Resident Assistants. In that capacity, I gained a lot of perspective and some first-hand exposure to parts of the security sphere. Interestingly, some of the experiences, incidents, investigations and situations I came across working in residents life would become familiar to the work I would later become impassioned with, security risk management.


After working in residents life, and before heading to graduate school for a period of time, I did take a frontline security role as a mall security guard. Though very different roles, and in some ways requiring varied skillset, they each without question to me are an integral part of the wider security industry.


When I was in graduate school, my master’s paper focused on sport and development and women’s empowerment, themes to which for obvious reasons I naturally gravitated. After graduate school and a few different international development, advocacy and other posts, some while living overseas. I eventually found myself at an INGO in the US. My supervisor at the time was the head of global security. Both he and the person who later took over after his departure were crucial for helping me recognize that I could (and should) have a role and relationship with humanitarian security risk management. They exposed me to a part of the humanitarian sector that, initially, I hadn’t realized aligned with many of the skills I was developing and others I desired to learn. From helping with risk assessments, updating security plans, supporting country offices, monitoring staff travel, to being part of a network of security professionals and bridging security and programs. I thank them and my colleagues who have played a role in helping me see that humanitarian security risk management has been a part of me and continues to be so, as I learn and grow in the field. And I desire to be that same supportive voice, to encourage others who might be interested in this work.



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


First, I would say that women have long played a role in the security sector, however we remain underrepresented. From leadership positions at headquarters to security managers in remote field offices, women play and have always played significant roles and contributed to strengthening the security industry impact and reach, often in hostile environments. Women’s contributions to the security sector go well beyond a lot of the perceptions that have played a role in defining the sector previously.


I remember when working on my master’s paper that I read how female peacekeepers were better able to keep peace during conflicts than some of their male counterparts. This resonated with me as a martial artist. It also reminded me that it would be great to have more women in key roles. I was used to not seeing as many women in high-ranking positions, but I also saw this as a challenge and something I hoped to see change in all areas.


First, I would say that women have long played a role in the security sector, however we remain underrepresented. From leadership positions at headquarters to security managers in remote field offices, women play and have always played significant roles and contributed to strengthening the security industry impact and reach, often in hostile environments. Women’s contributions to the security sector go well beyond a lot of the perceptions that have played a role in defining the sector previously.


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


Having worked in the field myself and having loved ones serve in various high-risk environments around the world, I have a vested understanding of balancing aid workers responding to various situations with the importance of keeping them safe. One of my favorite things about working in humanitarian security risk management is the chance to apply several cross skills. There is always a new challenge brewing in this field, and I love to problem solve, but even more so to prepare and prevent. I enjoy the opportunity to learn from so many incredible and experienced professionals and see the shape of how the sector is going to continue to evolve over time. Perhaps, most of all, I appreciate what it means to be part of helping to keep aid workers safe all around the world.



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 definitely believe the opportunity is present, but not without barriers. I think there have been great examples and female role models who have blossomed in the security field over the years. Their contributions have laid the foundation for so many of us to be able to forge forward and in some cases further ahead than predecessors.


One thing I have been thankful for is when I do come across female security professionals, they are traditionally very uplifting and encouraging. I think this has really inspired me to keep going and follow this path forward. As much as the women I have come across have been very supportive, so have the men. I can say this from my time working as a front-line security guard to working in humanitarian security risk management. There have been supportive voices along the way. Those who were not or less supportive tended to not be familiar with the sector or understand what it really takes to be in the industry.



I think to see more opportunities in the sector, we have to continue to work on broadening the perceptions of what the security sector is and what it looks like. For example, as a black female American woman, I have not come across many who not only work in my specific focus area but in the wider security industry compared to other men or women counterparts. For the security sector to continue to grow and meet needs, we need to make more investments in diversity and inclusivity. \

I think to see more opportunities in the sector, we have to continue to work on broadening the perceptions of what the security sector is and what it looks like. For example, as a black female American woman, I have not come across many who not only work in my specific focus area but in the wider security industry compared to other men or women counterparts. For the security sector to continue to grow and meet needs, we need to make more investments in diversity and inclusivity.





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