Editor, IFSEC Global

Author Bio ▼

James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, 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.
January 24, 2022

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The 2022 State of Physical Access Control Report

“Communication and creative collaboration underpin every success in risk management” – In conversation with New Zealand’s Jennie Vickers

Coming off the back of four highly successful years in her role as CEO of the New Zealand Defence Industry Association, Jennie Vickers was announced as IFSEC Global’s Security Influencer of the Year award recipient in November, at the prestigious Security and Fire Excellence Awards in London.

Despite a gaping 13-hour time difference to overcome, we sat down (virtually) with Jennie to hear her perspective on the security industry, talk through her proudest achievements, and understand why security is such a people-driven industry.

“It took me a while to process it and take it all in. I didn’t even know I’d been nominated but once I’d verified it wasn’t a scam, I was obviously thrilled and delighted!”

As we discussed her reaction to winning the inaugural IFSEC Global Security Influencer of the Year award, it’s easy to see why Jennie made the list in the first place. She stresses the importance of relationship building in the defence and security industries, and in particular why using connections to support others was such an integral part of her role as CEO of the New Zealand Defence Industry Association.

During the role she recently stepped down from after four years (consultancy with Fortinet NZ awaited), Jennie was responsible for supporting the defence industry in building connections and speaking to likeminded global experts to help develop the sector. Much of this relied upon events and face-to-face meetings to expose the sector to developing technologies and viewpoints from thought leaders. Enter a global pandemic to make that task a little more complicated…

“The win was made even more exciting off the back of a very challenging 12-18 months. As a result of the bans on large physical events, we worked extremely hard and pretty creatively to put on an online conference in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence, where we had 102 speakers over just four days. It was incredibly satisfying to see how industry engaged so enthusiastically with the variety of topics from academics and government experts that were on show.”

“So yes, this made the recognition from the IFSEC audience and judges all the more rewarding. My job is all about relationship building to support others, and being named in the IFSEC Global Top Influencers list connected me to a brand-new global community of security and risk professionals. Ultimately, we are all trying to keep people secure and safe, so conversing with each other will only help everyone.”

The judges on the panel were clearly impressed with the nomination for Jennie. Jason Brown, National Security Director Thales ANZ, commented: “As a judge on the 2021 IFSEC awards it was great to see Jennie take home the Global Security Influencer of the Year. I have seen Jennie networking, mentoring and bringing people together at events such as the Avalon Air Show with an energy and enthusiasm that was outstanding. Her capacity to engage to make things happen was one of her great characteristics identified in the award.”

“Threats are people driven, and that’s why it’s so important to have diversity in any security team, to be able to deal with different situations and individuals. Keeping people safe is what ultimately drives us as risk management professionals – why has your likely success in that field got anything to do with your gender, for instance?”

Internal relationship building and the convergence of IT and security

It’s not just action oriented collaborative external relationships that Jennie stresses the importance of. A major challenge for organisations in 2022, she argues, is ensuring the physical and cyber/IT security departments communicate and work in tandem with each other.

“It’s very difficult to have a holistic approach to risk management if the OT and IT departments aren’t aligned. Though it can sometimes suit people to keep the ‘status quo’, the C-suite needs to encourage a more converged approach, which should then ultimately be driven by the individual team members themselves.

Jennie continues: “If the two departments have differing risk strategies and work off different appetites, then it’s likely budgets may not be spent in the most efficient way. I think moving forward, in 2022 and beyond, we need to join up those organisational dots better, so the ‘bad guys’ can’t get access between the gaps.”

Jennie also highlights the challenges in ensuring board members engage with the risks from a cyber-level – an area that many may not have dealt with throughout their careers, and one that is often perceived as highly technical.

Part of being a risk management leader, whether you’re a CIO or CISO, includes being able to communicate threats to the rest of the board and ensure proportionate action is taken. Particularly in a cyber context, other board members can quickly become disengaged with technical jargon, which may undermine the conversation, explains Jennie.

“The challenge is this: how do we better protect directors by providing them with the appropriate knowledge, without overwhelming them?”

Embracing diversity and removing the ‘imposter syndrome’

In an industry which has traditionally attracted more men than women, security is beginning to understand the benefits of a more diverse and inclusive environment. As a leading industry figurehead, Jennie quickly highlights her dislike of attitudes that plant any seed of doubt in women’s heads that they don’t ‘belong’ in the sector.

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“This phrase that I often hear, ‘the imposter syndrome’ – I really hate it. You should never feel like an imposter, so we need to remove this idea from conversations. Such terms can be quite influential psychologically and act as a barrier for further development – never believe that you don’t have as much right to be in your position than anyone else.

“Threats are people driven, and that’s why it’s so important to have diversity in any security team, to be able to deal with different situations and individuals. Keeping people safe is what ultimately drives us as risk management professionals – why has your likely success in that field got anything to do with your gender, for instance?”

So, what would be Jennie’s advice to women thinking about joining the global security community – or for those already in it? Well, like for all professionals, always maintaining a willingness to learn is crucial to building a solid foundation to a career. She would also encourage everyone to build a diverse professional network to learn from – an area which Jennie very much leads by example in.

“I am comparatively new to the cyber side of the security community, but I am loving it. Intellectually challenging, constantly interesting, with fab people and so rewarding. What more could you ask? And finally, I would add it is never too late in your career to move into cyber. The rich tapestry that develops from business experience and your unique career path, will stand you in good stead.”

“Finally I’d also add to this – as a women, don’t be afraid to call people out if you feel like the patriarchy are trying to take advantage of your good manners and respect for experience, to shut you down. I’ve been in situations in board meetings where I wish I’d spoken up at the time, and I think that most people, called out respectfully, will go away and think more about their approach or how they think. Embrace those who are being supportive of diversity, and learn how to speak up and hold your own in the face of those who aren’t.”

As Jennie underlined throughout our talk – courageous communication and creative collaboration are key to any successful risk management team.

 

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