Women and security technology
I’m here at PSA-TEC in Westminster, Colo., where today I had a chance to catch up with Christine Lanning, president of systems integration firm IST.
Christine and her husband Andrew (CEO) founded IST, a PSA Security owner, in 1998. Here’s a story I wrote about the company a couple years ago. This year, Christine was honored as one of this year’s Women’s Security Council 2014 Women of the Year.
IST just finished moving its headquarters to a new facility that they own, (and saving 30 percent owning rather than leasing, thanks mostly to favorable conditions for an SBA loan.)
It was a year-long transition for IST to deal with permits and build out the new headquarters. “That meant we were without a demo or training space [in house] for a year,” she said.
Christine said they didn’t realize how much they missed having those capabilities in house, for business and training, of course, but also because she’s a techy.
I asked Christine why she got interested in technology.
Her interest started early. Technology was something that was promoted and valued in her home as a child, she said. “Our weekend jaunts were to Radio Shack where we’d get circuit boards to solder LED lights to.”
In high school Christine was the only girl in an elective electronics class.
Christine has an undergraduate degree in business and a Master’s degree in IT. At grad school in Hawaii, she was one of three women out of 50 students in the class.
Christine met Andrew when they were both working at an alarm company in Hawaii. They left that alarm company to start IST. Christine ran the business side, until as the company grew, it became clear that the company techs didn’t understand IT—a necessity for IST, which always did systems integration. “In 2004, I took over operations. I still ran administration and accounting, but I was really pushing that IT knowledge to the staff."
She’d sit the staff down for “lunch and learns" regularly. “I’d have discussions with the staff about IT: What does ARP mean? Trace RT? How do you ping a device? We had conversations about how to do things.”
And she’d go out in the field and teach techs to mount cameras, program devices in the field, patch systems, configure servers.
Is her teaching style different from a guy tech? Perhaps. She describes her approach as collaborative. She may be the boss, but “what I’ve found is that people really respond when you talk to them as a peer.”
As I’ve written many times in this space, there’s a dearth of women in the security industry, but only a small percentage of the women in security have either a technical role or work closely with technicians and engineers. That may be starting to change however. Women are beginning to be welcomed—even recruited—into those roles, at least among the smartest integrators.
While Christine and I were talking in the lobby of the Westin Westminster, we saw Bethany Taylor, who I learned from Christine, is the director of operations for Dakota Security. She oversees the engineering group at Dakota. And, after the interview I ran into Kirsten Klokis, who works for Northland Control Systems. Kirsten came to Northland out of college and is learning all aspects of the business, including spending time in the field with the technicians.
SIA is actively working to get young people interested in technical entry level jobs in the security industry. It's launching a security degree program at a community college in New Jersey next year. And, SIA, ISC West and the Women's Security Council are creating a scholarship for a woman to attend the college program. Here's that story. Asked where else the industry should look for women who may be interested in security, Christine Lanning suggested women with a military background.
"They have great training, understand structure, and are used to working in a male-dominated environment," she said.