Women in Security: Joey Rao-Russell

Industry pro sees bright future for women in security
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Monday, December 9, 2019

Coming from a family with many members involved in law enforcement, Joey Rao-Russell, president and CEO, Kimberlite Corporation Sonitrol got into the security industry by accident. She was working as a probation officer when she was recruited by Kimberlite to revamp their credit and collections policy.

“I had no idea what Kimberlite was,” Rao-Russell admitted, “but after two interviews and a tour of the main building, I remember finding out it was a security company. This was 18 years ago and my family didn’t think very highly of alarm companies at the time. There was still a lot of false alarms and other challenges, so I was very
torn.”

Unfortunately, like all industries, mostly the bad guys are talked about, and the good guys are rarely heard of, so she called her uncle for advice. In her mind, Rao-Russell had the impression of “signing little old ladies up to 10-year contracts … that’s what was advertised, right?” she asked. Her uncle steered her in the right direction. After finding out she was speaking with a Sonitrol dealer, her uncle advised that “they’re the good guys” and “if you’re going to work for a security company, work for them.” So, here she is, 18 years later, still with Kimberlite/Sonitrol.

As life would have it, the job was originally supposed to be temporary; they were paying her to come in, fix the policy and that was it, but the company proved to be sticky. “Over my 18 years, I’ve worked in every department,” Rao-Russell said. “I helped with admin functions; I took over customer service, then I took over our service department and managed our service and install technical department,” Rao-Russell accounted for. “I became our fire engineer for a little while, then I started engineering most of our large integrated systems; I went into sales and opened up new branches; I became VP, regional manager, COO and then I became CEO in 2012.”

Rao-Russell considers herself quite lucky in the fact that Kimberlite’s first president was a woman, Barbara Briggs, though she only worked with her for a short time. “It was lovely because I got to come up in a company that nobody saw me as ‘just a female;’ nobody said I couldn’t do things,” she said. In fact, it was actually a bit more shocking as she worked out in the field. “When I was doing engineering and sales, and I was competing against other people, I’m going to be honest, here, there were many times I got called ‘girly’ and I got asked if I knew what I was doing,” she said. “It was ‘lovely’ when I had to take a male counterpart and explain to him what he needed to explain because they [other industry professionals] didn’t want to listen to me.”

She predicted in the next 10-15 years, the industry is going to see what will seem like an explosion of women in the industry, partly due to the fact that roles will begin to open up. “My predecessor retired; if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had this position, not because I’m not qualified, but that’s one of the challenges in our industry – people don’t retire,” Rao-Russell said. Because of this she encouraged women to chase every opportunity, educate themselves and find subject-matter experts, ask them questions and then listen.
 
One of the reasons women are fantastic leaders, according to Rao-Russell, is because they tend to be nurturers and try to build consensus. “You’re not going to find them [women] having a testosterone match, typically … but when we [women] want to stand our ground, we can be seen as demanding or witchy.” Rao-Russell compared herself to her husband, who is in a leadership position as well. “He’s seen as decisive; I’m seen as witchy,” she said. “He is a strong leader; I am unyielding.” She hopes this will encourage women to be curious and most of all, not afraid. “Be fearless because you’re never going to get the job you didn’t apply for,” she said. “If you feel you deserve more recognition, you’re never going to get it unless you ask for it. If you want to know something, you’re never going to know unless you ask.”

Rao-Russell also challenged that the security industry is not nearly as misogynistic as people think. “Do I think there’s bad stewards and bad companies that I personally wouldn’t work for?” she asked, answering with “absolutely,” while noting that she thinks they’re more the
minority.

An attribute Rao-Russell is particularly proud of about the security industry is that “we’re a bit of a family,” she said, “however, because we are a family imagine how intimidating it can be to anyone who’s coming into our industry.” She encouraged all to think about this: “You walk into an industry event – a gala, ESX, an ISC, etc. – and you don’t know anybody. You see everyone asking about each other’s kids and grandkids, reminiscing over the past 20 years and showing pictures to everyone.” In this scenario, it’s easy to see how intimidating it can be for new comers; Rao-Russell advised to invite them [the new people] in, introduce them and make them feel welcome.

Ultimately, she hopes one day, instead of noticing that she’s the only woman in a room, or that there are only four women in a room out of say 500, “people won’t notice that we [women] are present; they’ll only notice when we’re not.”