Women and the SA guarding industry: what’s changing and why?

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South Africa’s private security industry is slowly but surely opening up to women, with Forbes putting the country’s female guarding force at between 10 and 11 per cent.

Estimated to be worth around R50 billion, South Africa’s private security industry has nearly 8 700 registered companies and a guarding component of approximately 500 000, according to the Private Security Industry Regulating Authority (PSiRA). This equates to five privately-employed security guards to one single police officer.

To put things in a global context, Moneycontrol.com, quoting a study by The Guardian, reports that India has seven million security guards and 1.4 million police officers, while China has five million private security guards compared to 2.7 million police officers.

“Half of the world population lives in countries where there are more private security workers than police officers”, it says, noting that the global market, currently worth US$180 billion, is expected to grow to around US$240 billion by 2020.

Driving forces
According to Statistics South Africa’s most recently released Quarterly Labour Force Survey, South Africa hit an unemployment rate of 6.08 million people in the second quarter of 2018 with an official unemployment rate of 27.2 per cent. The survey notes further that the ‘expanded unemployment rate’, which does not take the job search into account, was even higher, increasing from 30.9 per cent in 2008 to 37.2 per cent in 2018, with the rates higher among women than men throughout this period.

The rate of unemployment among women was 29.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2018 compared with 25.3 per cent amongst men, according to the official definition of unemployment, which is no doubt going to see this sector becoming an increasingly critical source of jobs.

Gender equality
Aside from the above, pressure on the industry to increase its female factor is also coming from other sources. Globally, gender equality is trending big-time, and on the local front, it’s being backed by PSiRA’s commitment to promoting the empowerment of those historically disadvantaged through unfair discrimination in the industry.

Safety
Another reason for women’s traditional exclusion from the industry was their safety. It’s a concern now being addressed by cutting-edge technology and high-end training designed to enhance personal safety along with job performance.

Says Louisa Garland-Els, woman founder of Imperial Armour: “Protective clothing and equipment in line with global trends, is all about bullet-, stab- and blast-proof protective gear for guards.

“With women guards in mind – and I feel very strongly about women’s empowerment – we’ve designed special body armour for women, as well as curved ceramic plates to ensure maximum comfort. And something to note is that body armour is becoming a fashion statement, so not only can female guards be bullet-proof, but they can also wear our new pink range if they’re trend followers!”

And then there’s technology. High quality cameras, real-time incident monitoring and reporting systems, smart phones, GPS tracking, and reliable communication channels between control rooms, colleagues and emergency response, is all working to protects guards as well as clients and premises, as is training from entry to highly advanced levels.

The rest of the world
In a recent article, Women Daily Magazine wrote of a growing trend in the United States to employ female security guards. From a once-zero base, the country is notching up its numbers on the back of proven ability along with “new, valuable skills”, says the magazine. Unlike the “stereotypical-looking male guards who tend to draw attention to whoever is being protected”, women tend to be able to blend less conspicuously into their surroundings.

Ramiz Gaytmazov, Director of GESCO Security Services in Azerbaijan, was asked in an interview by the Azer News about his stance on employing female guards and the qualities they needed to possess.

Being smart, able to make the correct decisions in time, being able to work with their heads as well as their muscles and being physically fit topped his requirement list. Honesty and responsibility were also not negotiable, so no different from their male counterparts. They were also required to do the same training.

Where he did observe gender differences, he lauded them, saying that women could sometimes cope better with security work by being approachable and able to win favour.

What women bring to the table
In the words of the OSCE.org (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), a human rights-orientated, gender-sensitive approach in the daily activities of a country’s security sectors strengthens their overall effectiveness and responsiveness.

“When security providers pay attention to the needs and rights of both women and men, they become better professionals and, in turn, can better protect the entire community,” it states. The security sector must reflect the diversity of the community it serves and protects. International and national legal standards indicate that men and women should have equal access to employment within the police, armed forces and other similar organisations… and should not experience discrimination on any grounds.

Additionally, it is important to ensure that newly recruited men and women of all backgrounds remain in these institutions and that significant numbers of them are able to reach the highest positions.”

Women bring their own brand of sanity and compassion to the industry, and they can do the same the job as their male counterparts, maintain two prominent South African security industry figures, both female, both successful and both committed to doing their bit to end gender discrimination.

Nobuhle Ngcobo
Nobuhle Cynthia Ngcobo is the managing director of Thembanathi Security Safety and Cleaning Services, which provides physical guarding and cleaning services, alarm response and SASSETA training to every conceivable industry. She knows exactly what it’s like to start on the bottom rung of the security industry, having started her career as a security guard, and she will never forget leaving her home at 4am while her kids were still asleep and only getting back around 7pm at night.

“By adding more females to the security workforce we’ll be introducing new, valuable skills from which the whole industry can benefit,” she says.

While females have long been the go-to employee choice for her company’s cleaning division, the vision has changed, with the focus increasingly on growing the female component.

“I believe female security personnel can do any job that their male counterpart does,” says Miss Ngcobo. “And it’s not as if women are strangers to the guarding industry, it’s just they’ve tended to be employed as site controllers or in control room and surveillance rooms so far.”

That the industry offers more than just jobs to women is a bonus. “It’s never all in a day’s work,” she laughs. “Every day is different and brings its own challenges. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is when we activate a new site. This requires focus and energy to ensure that we start off well and that every guard posted there is well equipped and trained.”

For whatever the reasons, she says, the security industry has long been discriminatory and dominated by males. “Yet, security is for everybody and women are just as security-conscious and capable. And they bring a different perspective to daily operations as well as a motherly sense which is particularly well received by other staff.”

“I have so much hope for the country,” she continues. “I hope for corruption to end and for us all to be given equal and fair chances to do business, especially with the Government and within the industry. And I also hope that PSiRA as the industry regulator becomes more helpful for businesses. And of course, I hope for the industry to change and open up more for female employees and entrepreneurs.”

Annette van Rensburg
Owner of the Security Dogs and Dog Handler Training Centre, Annette van Rensburg has been in the industry since 1985, training security dogs and handlers, and hiring out security dogs. With her team of three female assistants, she runs a tight concern with plans to increase her numbers of lady dog trainers and kennel staff.

It’s an industry with so much potential for women, she believes, offering pockets of diversity and opportunity. She also thrives on the challenges. “When a new contract comes in, I get fully involved, going on the new site to install the dogs and erect the kennels. I meet my new customers and the guards that the dogs will be protecting.”

Of women guards, Mrs Van Rensburg says: “When I started in 1985, there were no woman working as security guards. Today it is becoming an equal opportunity job, and I’m so pleased about that. Not only can they do the same guarding job as a man but they bring a gentle side to the industry. I wholeheartedly support employing more women as security guards, and as lady dog handlers, too.”

Like Miss Ngcobo, Mrs Van Rensburg’s early days in the industry were tough. “The dogs always have to come first, so my husband had holidays on his own while I stayed behind to look after the dogs, and then I would get my turn.”

“The security industry is a growing industry on the back of the dangerous times in which we live. The important thing is for it to play fair, and to ensure that guards are decently paid and protected. I feel so privileged that we can offer guards security dogs to help them do their jobs in safety. Security dogs are proactive, so they can stop a crime from happening. No criminal wants to come to a factory and have a dog alert the guard to his presence before he’s even entered the premises.”

Last word
“We’re seeing a growing number of women being employed in the private security sector, not just in support or administrative positions, but also performing all levels of guarding duties and in senior executive positions,” says Tony Botes, National Administrator of the Security Association of South Africa (SASA). “SASA, in fact, recently appointed its first female National Chairperson, Marchél Coetzee of Omega Risk Solutions, which is another positive step in both our organisation and in the industry as a whole.”

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