Managing Editor, IFSEC Insider

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James Moore is the Managing Editor of IFSEC Insider, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry.James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Insider, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
February 1, 2022


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IFSEC Interviews

“Why can’t we change the face of physical security?” – ASIS’ Letitia Emeana on diversifying the security culture

IFSEC Global sits down with Letitia Emeana, Global Security Capability Manager at Unilever, and the ASIS International UK Chapter Chair & Board Director. We discuss the dynamism of the physical security sector, why growing your global network as a security professional is so important and diversifying the industry.

IFSEC Global (IG): Letitia, let’s kick off with why you joined ASIS in the first place. You now hold the preeminent position of the UK Chapter Chair – what is it about ASIS that means so much to you, and why would you encourage other security professionals to get involved?

Letitia Emeana, ASIS UK Chapter Chair

Letitia Emeana (LE): ASIS at its core is a global security exchange of peer networking, partnerships and forward-thinking initiatives, and that really still holds true today. When I first joined the industry, my line manager advised me to join an association as soon as I could. At the time, there were a few options in the UK, but ASIS really stood out for me as I wanted to travel and develop a global network, and its truly an international organisation. As a young female entering the security industry at the time, it was also very warm and welcoming – an organisational trait that I continue to emphasise today.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for a security or risk management professional to develop a network. For me, as I started to move into management roles, I’ve always felt pressure to be the person who ‘has the answer’. We work in a space where people want solutions to threats and problems immediately, and if you don’t have the answer, you’ve got to be able to find the answer quickly.

I know, through my connections I’ve made at ASIS, that someone in my network will have faced a similar problem before and will be there to bounce ideas around with. We all make mistakes, but the most important thing is that you’ve done your best to gather as much information and intelligence on that particular problem that is available to you at the time, so you can justify any decisions made.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ answers in security – every situation is different. But ASIS has allowed me to build a unique network that I wouldn’t have otherwise had, and there’s learnings to be taken from every conversation. That’s why I’d encourage professionals to join and get involved in an association.

Letitia was kind enough to be our first ever podcast guest! Listen to the full conversation on the IFSEC Global Security in Focus podcast, below!

IG: What’s changed since you first entered the industry in terms of physical security and risk management? And what have been your biggest learnings?

LE: Security is so dynamic – everyone has a different set of perspectives and challenges. Because cyber risk has developed so quickly and alarmed executives with the ‘unknown’, physical security can be undermined a little and take a bit of a ‘backseat’. It’s important that we don’t allow this to happen – we have as much to offer in this domain as the cyber and IT teams.

IG: What do you mean by this exactly? We speak a lot about the ‘convergence’ of physical and cyber at the converged security centre at IFSEC – is more collaboration required?

LE: Exactly – there needs to be more crossover. Take the insider threat as a prime example. It’s often viewed as sitting in the IT world, because of the common techniques involved, but organisations sometimes fail to see the crossover part of this being a ‘human’ threat as well. To counteract the insider threat, someone can spot changes in behaviour from a risk management perspective, which is where the physical security department’s strengths lie.

The communication element as well is crucial – we can work closely with HR and facilities processes to spot changing attitudes – are there more screening questions we need to be doing in interviews, for instance? Do we need to restrict access to server rooms?

And yes, you speak about the convergence side – this is the next step. We’ve recently set up a collaborative risk committee at Unilever to do just this – get everyone (IT, HR, Physical Security) talking on a regular basis. One thing that I’ve noticed recently is how internal teams are crossing over so much more now – facilities, health and safety, security are all becoming intertwined with each other. It’s more about risk management – Covid has been an obvious example.


IG: Yes, that’s certainly a trend we’re picking up on. It’s one of the benefits of having IFSEC run alongside shows in health and safety, facilities, fire and intelligent buildings we believe. Do you think the digital transformation of the sector has contributed to this?

LE: Absolutely. We’ve got this big issue with smart technologies coming out of the Internet of Things (IoT), and the security vulnerabilities this creates. It’s a global issue.

Take facial recognition for example. It’s a real challenge getting the message out to global teams that the data stored in facial recognition systems – however they’re being used – is managed very carefully and appropriately. As soon as someone is in our CCTV field of view they come under an organisation’s processes and controls, and therefore information needs properly protecting behind an access-controlled system.

Security can lend significant value to other teams in explaining these ‘knock-on’ effects of technology, but it’s definitely a challenge.

IG: You’ve obviously got a busy full-time role at Unilever, so, just going back to ASIS here, what motivated you to go step further and become the UK Chapter Chair?

LE: I’ll be honest and say I was surprised when I was approached to consider applying for the role. I had to challenge my own stereotypes. It’s been a difficult journey at times to get where I am, and because of that I’ve set up and help run a lot of women in security groups, but I never expected to be ASIS UK Chapter Chair.

I looked at those who have been in this role before and really admire them and their experience and expertise, but I realised this was an incredible opportunity for a woman to lead the chapter, and demonstrate that it is possible and that this security community is for everyone. As long as you can talk and speak passionately about security, why does it matter? I’ve never really had a female mentor, and yes I am busy, but the short answer is that I wanted to show that it was possible.

We don’t have to follow the traditional way of doing things – being a senior female figure in a global role will hopefully show the strength that diversity can bring to a role and the culture of an organisation. Diversity is and will be so important to this industry going forwards – it brings additional ways of thinking to the table. Security now involves so much more than simply challenging suspicious people – we need to bring a customer service and business element to our approach to risk.

What we’re doing is to help and protect 99% of the population, but why can’t we do that in a more fun and welcoming way? Skills can be learned, so let’s encourage different profiles into the industry alongside the traditional and diversify it for a better place.

IG: Absolutely. And finally, what are the plans and goals for the role of ASIS going forwards?

LE: Crucially, the members need to recognise that this is their association. The board operates in what we perceive to be the best way for our members, but we are here to listen.

Fundamentally, we will continue to provide great education and networking opportunities. Events are key to this and we will continue to provide a diverse range of speaking and educational platforms covering traditional threats, current challenges and future issues that may lie ahead.

We will also continue to help people succeed at certification and in particular help young professionals see what paths are open to them and support them in getting where they want to be. We can also help those transitioning from roles in the public forces to the private physical security sector and help develop the next CSOs of the future.

Finally, we’re focusing more than ever on partnering with other industry associations on diversity and inclusion initiatives. We are not competing on these topics – they should bring us together. Working together to bring about change is ultimately for the good of the wider industry.

ASIS will have a presence at IFSEC International this year, taking place between 17-19 May 2022 at London’s ExCeL. Secure your place and meet the team by registering for your free ticket, by following the link below!

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