South Africa’s security industry is male-dominated, with a small percentage of women making up the lower positions. Caitlin Oelofsen argues that women have the skill-set and knowledge to be able to provide multi-perspective solutions.
With four private security personnel for every police officer, South Africa boasts one of the largest and arguably the fastest growing industries globally.
The private security sector is, however, a male-dominated industry. Many South African security companies were founded post-Apartheid by ex-military personnel with valuable conflict experience. This means that most of the existing security solutions and interventions in South Africa have been pioneered by men, and therefore, they reflect a male’s perspective of the world.
While the conflict experience and rare skillsets harboured by these founders came with apparent advantages, there are also notable disadvantages to single-perspective solutions that are designed for the whole of society.
These disadvantages can include the reinforcement of stereotypes such as that women are victims who are incapable of taking their safety into their own hands, and this can result in the disregard of female-founded safety solutions and initiatives.
Considering the shocking crime statistics being reported, which are a direct result of the extreme violence that South African women are exposed to daily, it is essential that we also hear from women regarding their personal safety and safety initiatives so that we can begin to change the narrative and implement more multi-perspective solutions.
Women’s current role in the industry
The Private Security Regulatory Industry records some 813 059 female security officers operating in South Africa, of which 225 074 are operating in the Western Cape.
Despite the seemingly large number, the percentage of South Africa’s female guarding force is only estimated to be 10–11 percent, and the percentage of women in leadership and management roles within the private security industry is much less.
It is important to note that there are women within the private security industry who not only hold management positions but are also actively involved in the development of safety initiatives and are doing so successfully.
During a conversation, I shared with a female CEO of one of Cape Town’s private security firms it became clear that although it can be challenging to rise within the industry, it is not because you are a woman but rather because it is a mature market with plenty of successful competitors. She expressed that, like any other industry in our democratic society, it is a free market and therefore, the opportunity is available if you want it and are willing to work for it.
Growth creates opportunity
The purpose of this piece is not to talk about a lack of opportunity faced by women in the industry but rather to highlight a new and interesting one that could benefit all parties involved.
The private security sector is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the global economy because its services are essential in countries like South Africa, where the government is unable to provide the personnel required to protect its civilians.
Amid South Africa’s private security industry’s growth, an opportunity for more women to rise to middle-management and higher management positions within the industry emerges.
Many of the women who make up the 10–11 percent of South Africa’s female guarding force hold lower-ranking positions within the industry, such as public safety officers and junior controllers. Their working experiences within these roles have equipped them with invaluable knowledge and insights into how criminals operate within our society which could be instrumental in developing new safety solutions and initiatives that tackle crime from a new perspective.
Women’s growing interest in public safety
Women’s keenness to participate in the national efforts being made to fight crime in South Africa is also evident in the public security sector.
It was reported recently that almost half of the Western Cape’s new Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (Leap) officers are women and they are teaming up with female-led neighborhood watches in areas like Delft to tackle crime.
During a recent interview with a cohort of Female Security personnel in Cape Town, it became apparent that women actively seeking out jobs within the industry and those who do secure jobs hold their positions for up to 10 years. Their longevity alone indicates passion and commitment. These women are determined to make a difference in our society.
The numbers don’t lie
Based on the speaking notes delivered by Police Minister General Bheki Cele at the release of the Quarter One Crime Statistics 2021 hosted in Gauteng, 2 294 more murders took place between April 2021 and June 2021 than the previous year as well as 4201 more cases of rape than the previous year.
While the steep increase in crime statistics can partly be attributed to the fact that there was a nationwide lockdown during this quarter last year, it is still evident that despite the rapid growth of the private security industry and the National Police force’s efforts to tackle crime, both the public and private security sector still face a long and challenging road ahead on their mission to mitigate crime in South Africa.
A solution hidden in plain sight
There are many companies and organisations working hard to develop new and effective solutions to tackle the increase in crime. Some of these solutions involve collaboration between existing companies as well as crime specialists. While these are notable efforts, I would like to suggest that in parallel to reaching out to others in the industry to develop new strategies, it would also be worthwhile reaching within.
What I am suggesting is for companies to identify the potential hidden in plain sight and equip these women with the right tools and training to utilise their passion and experience to enable them to contribute to the development of new safety initiatives.
With the rate at which the industry is growing, the number of seats at the table naturally increases. Equipping more female employees with the training and skills required to progress to middle management or higher management positions within the industry could lead to groundbreaking multi-perspective safety solutions whilst strengthening company culture and boosting employee morale.
– Caitlin Oelofsen is the founder of Feminine Enhanced Modern Inventions (FEM-I), a tech-start up on a mission to redefine safety for women across South Africa.
To receive Opinions Weekly, sign up for the newsletter here.
*Want to respond to the columnist? Send your letter or article to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and town or province. You are welcome to also send a profile picture. We encourage a diversity of voices and views in our readers’ submissions and reserve the right not to publish any and all submissions received.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.