The Power Of Women On The Protective Team
A web-search of Personal Protection Officers (executive protection) or using the public’s vernacular “Bodyguards” and you will typically see celebrities being surrounded by burly men dressed in black who are quick to block doting fans or over-eager paparazzi. An internet search of executive protection providers and training schools and you will also find an absence of imagery or discussion of females in the business. Even in the military or law enforcement, protection missions are typically carried out exclusively by men.
As a result of current culture, the media and stereotypes, for many years executive protection has been viewed as “man’s work,” and in some circles, it still is. Another factor, because of stereotypes and lack of knowledge, some VIPs exclusively prefer male PPOs. The reality, however, is that the PPO landscape is changing and we need to change with it. The uniqueness of certain jobs, the particular demands and the increasing awareness of what females can bring to a mission demand that the industry change and adapt.
Whether you are providing protection for a politician, celebrity, high net-worth family, royalty, or a guy with a big ego you need an adaptable, effective and fluid team to keep them safe. Your team is your life line. Each member works in a world of interdependencies where everyone’s’ strengths offset their weaknesses, where their skills and knowledge melt together creating mutual dependence……that means leveraging every team members’ strengths to maximize effectiveness to confront any rapidly evolving situation.
Fail to take even one of these steps and you open the door to losses and significant risk.
Many former law enforcement and military personnel who are exceedingly skilled in certain areas transition to executive protection. However, I would argue that executive protection is vastly unique from military or law enforcement operations in many ways. We don’t kick in doors, we don’t arrest people, we don’t interrogate people, we don’t chase bad guys on a highway. Executive Protection operators continuously use soft skills, protect reputations, avoid and in some cases escape from danger rather than confront.
In this profession, you must not only be able to shoot, fight, improvise, think on your feet and have physical stamina, but you need to have a bucket full of common sense, fluidity and knowledge of laws as well as compassion and empathy. Unlike what the media portrays, the truth is, if you do your job effectively, you’ll rarely have to shoot or fight.
Women offer the abilities, whether natural or developed, to handle such things as Time Management, Logistics, Planning for details such as weather, environment, food and medication needs, because we do it in our homes every day. We are often the ones tasked with planning an event with lots of details, delegating duties, planning for the transportation and knowing where all the players are at any given time. These are crucial skills for a PPO team.
Not all threats are created equal
Keeping a principal safe is so much more than just watching for villains with guns. You must be on the lookout for other threats that may not be human. For instance, if you are walking your principal to a stage there are many trip and fall hazards. Walking up a set of stairs; walking onto a dais is replete with extension cords, unstable stairs, uneven floors, and poor visibility which all pose potential threats. You must be able to anticipate not only the big and complex hazards but the small simple hazards as well. In reality, falls and medical issues are more common than a shooter coming after your VIP.
Women can blend in better
From a protection perspective; women have a key advantage over men, we blend in better.
As I mentioned above, some clients do prefer the burly male bodyguard types. But other VIPs have a different perspective. They want executive protection but they don’t want to broadcast that fact. They demand discretion.
Women PPOs can blend in to a point where civilians may think they are a nanny, a BFF or a personal assistant. I have done more jobs wearing a ball gown and “blending” with the crowd, than I have in a suit with an earpiece. Some situations call for covert softer appeal. These perceptions can have tremendous advantage. In addition to the tactical edge this allows, it diminishes the whole image of protection and lets the VIP move on with his or her life unimpeded. Moreover, if a bad guy cannot distinguish the armed security from the rest, they may think twice about an attack.
Women can enter certain places more easily.
This one is obvious and critically important: women can easily go to certain locations such as dressing rooms or bathrooms where for a man it might be awkward or bring unwanted attention. If the principal is a female, this clearly can matter from a security point of view. A few situations where having a woman on your team would be beneficial include situations such as a wardrobe malfunction. I keep simple tools with me when I work. The same things I carry in my everyday life. Things like safety pins, fashion tape, feminine products and a sewing kit. These tools have come in handy with a female VIP during a wardrobe malfunction. This can mitigate can embarrassing and potentially humiliating situation for the principal. Medical emergencies could also arise at any time. Having a female on the team would be helpful if a female principal or a male principal’s wife or daughter have an allergic reaction to food, suddenly falls ill or has any other medical emergency where she may retreat to a ladies’ room. It would be much more discreet to have a woman go with her and treat her rather than have a male ‘clear’ the ladies room in order to handle it.
Diversity of thought
Women have an entirely different set of concerns and thoughts when it comes to their safety.
Gentlemen, what comes to your mind when you see a shady looking guy approaching you at a gas station? Did you think, “I may get jumped”, “this guy wants money”, “how many of them are there”, or something to that effect? You probably didn’t think, “what if he tries to sexually assault me” or “what if he wants my jewelry’’, or “My baby’s in the car, I hope I don’t make him mad”.
Thinking of things from you principal’s perspective will help you help calm their fears and concerns regardless if they are male or female.
Women bring different perspectives than men to many situations in life, and executive protection is no different. Just as this diversity of outlooks makes for better decisions in business or government leadership, I think it also contributes to better executive protection teams as well.
It’s all about the team.
No matter what your gender, what’s critically important is to staff your team with the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and diversity. Having a woman on the team can bring so many advantages both tactical and practical. Having a diverse team can certainly help keep the client safe, happy, comfortable, and productive. It’s a balancing act between physical and psychological security that women and men approach in slightly different ways.
The role of women in personal protection is becoming more common, but not as fast as one would think. Women who wish to perform this work need a skill set that gives them equal footing with their male counterparts. If your skill sets were listed on a spreadsheet, you should not be able to determine which one is male and which is female. Aside from the physical skills related to the job, you need to have mental toughness and critical thinking skills.
As in any profession, some skills can be learned and trained. However, there are some skills and abilities you just can’t teach. When you find a teammate who possesses these skills and the desire to learn new ones for the good of the team, embrace them. You may just find they are one of your most valuable assets.
About the author: Tamara Shelley, a successful business woman, is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Framework Investigations, LLC and Framework Protective Services. She is a licensed Private Investigator and Personal Protection Officer. Based in Forney, Texas, Tamara is also an NRA certified Basic Pistol, Home Firearm Safety, Refuse-To-Be-a-Victim and First Steps Pistol instructor. Tamara holds an accreditation from the Texas Department of Public Safety to teach License-to-Carry (LTC) courses. Tamara is also a self-defense instructor and a longstanding student of Krav Maga; an Israeli Self Defense fighting system.