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S1E9 – In this episode we talk to two members of the ICoCA Board of Directors, Jo Anthoine, Director of Risk and Welfare, GardaWorld and Michelle Quinn, Senior Vice President, Patriot Group International. Why did they choose careers in the private security sector? What has their experience been of the challenges and opportunities women face in a male-dominated industry. How and why do private security companies and the communities in which they operate, benefit by bringing more women into the workforce?



This podcast was originally published March 5, 2021

Hello, I’m Chris Galvin with the International Code of Conduct Association. Thanks for joining us for this first episode in our second podcast series on Future Security Trends Implications for Human Rights. Today, we’re going to be talking about human rights and the role of women in the private security workforce. And I’m delighted to be joined by two of ICoCA’s board members, both from the corporate pillar and both of whom are women. Jo Antoine is director of Risk and welfare for Gardaworld, a Canadian private security company, and Michelle Quinn is senior vice president of Patriot Group International in the US.

So, when people think about the private security sector, I suspect the image conjured up for most people is men with guns in military fatigues. But before we unpack whether this is an accurate portrayal and what it’s actually like to serve in the private security sector, I’d like to hear both of your stories about how you ended up in a career in the private security sector and why did you choose it? So who would like to begin? Joe?

Jo Antoine: Well, I’d like to say it was all sort of planned and well thought out, but I must admit I stumbled across it by accident. I’d been working for the office of the Deputy Prime Minister on various things, but also as a junior mediator on discrimination cases and sort of found that all quite interesting. But realized that a career in the civil service wasn’t necessarily for me and was looking for something a bit more fast paced and actually it was a recruitment agent that put me in touch with at the time it was Aegis Defence Services. I worked on the ops support team and I just found it fascinating, the whole, the industry, the fact that we were working with different cultures that hadn’t had much exposure to, the whole concept of working with ex-military, which was an institution I hadn’t had really any experience of and the job itself was, it was always very welfare focused. At the beginning it was very much sort of post-incident support and family liaison and just really loved it. So, I think as well at the early days it was very clear there was a lot of work to be done and I just thought I could. I hope this doesn’t sound egotistical, but, can really help here. This is something I would really like to help develop. That’s how I got into it, really.


Fantastic, thank you. And turning to you, Michelle. Now, your story is a little bit different because I understand that in your family there’s perhaps not a military background, but a background in the police. Can you can you tell us about that?

Michelle Quinn: Yes, absolutely. And thanks, Chris. I also want to thank you and the International Code of Conduct Association for hosting this podcast and for allowing Joe and I to speak, it’s a fun opportunity. I would say, in my mind I think I didn’t choose the sector probably as much as potentially the sector chose me. I do have I’m the only daughter of an army colonel, I have a husband who was a Marine Corps background and then police background at FBI level. So, I was very familiar with different elements and aspects of security and guns and weapons systems and ranges and all that kind of stuff. But I actually when I first entered this space, it was because particular company that I had joined had a rather large security contract, five task orders across five nations, all of them rather complex, armed security contracts supporting the US Department of State and was struggling in some ways to perform on some of those contracts. So that company actually brought me in as a business woman to do kind of business process re-engineering, look at the flows, ensure that we did a better job of vetting, screening, recruiting, training and deploying personnel without any gaps, without any empty billets across the task orders. That was kind of how I started, it just so happened that it was all this security work, but it was from a business lens that I was expected to address and kind of tackle those needs. But then to kind of echo Joe’s thoughts, it is an exciting space. It mirrors closely what you’ll see on the on the news each evening. So once you kind of start to work in this area to see that what you’ve spent your time on during the day in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in any high threat or austere or fragile region across the globe, is also the news that you’re going to see in the evening when you get home and it’s a very fulfilling it’s humbling and fulfilling to know you’ve had an opportunity to impact those spaces and hopefully assist stabilization efforts.


Now, I kind of kicked off by characterizing it as a very male dominated sector, is that accurate? I mean, how well represented are women in the sector and what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities faced by women who are wishing to pursue a career in the sector? Who wants to tackle that first? Michelle.

Michelle Quinn: So, I can’t disagree with you, Chris. I’d say at this moment in time, women are not heavily represented in the private security sector and, and, and probably because of the challenges that they might face. And that is true both in the United States and across the world. I see things potentially changing because we’re recognizing that women play a unique role and have a unique ability to stabilize the villages, the communities, the regions and the nations where they reside. Just some of the natural skills of a woman to kind of deescalate conflict, to nurture, to stabilize, to understand as sometimes as early indicators of violent extremism, as we say, women who know that a son might be headed to trouble or knows what a family member is engaged in, I think women are well equipped to engage in security and actually to impact national security across their nations.

Currently, they are not tremendously well represented. I have to say, I’m very privileged again and humbled at my company, at Patriot Group International. We have tremendous women, really keen intellects, incredible work ethics and very capable at what they do and all of the programs at PGI are actually led by women who do not have a prior military background, but have taken the time to learn all the skill sets, spend some time on ranges, know the personnel, understand the theaters, and then lead on those programs. So, I’m kind of lucky in that sense because I don’t think women are heavily represented in private security but my company they are and I think that that’s probably a potentially ahead for all of us.


And that’s at the senior management level. You saying?

Michelle Quinn: Yes, absolutely. All the senior vice presidents at Patriot Group, and we’re not a large company. Joe’s company, of course, is quite large. Patriot Group is not a huge company at this juncture but all of our security programs are led by women.


Wow. That’s really impressive. So, Joe, let’s look at GardaWorld then, because it is a large global company, your director of risk and welfare. So, what do you see in terms of representation, first of all, of women in the company and in the sector? Does it differ actually from region to region, country to country? And are those challenges and opportunities faced by women? Do they are they the same across the board or do they differ as well, depending on what level they’re serving and where they’re serving?

Jo Antoine: I mean, firstly, I would say it’s changed dramatically. I haven’t been in the industry as long as some, but I’ve been in the industry for a while and from when I first joined, I was one of a few women and we were all in junior positions and now there is strong female representation in management positions, senior management positions and within GardaWorld. And I know that that’s, that’s the case for many other companies as well.

I would say really when you see, I think a lack of representation is probably within the operations sector and that’s for a few reasons. One of them is often because the individuals working within operations and deployed positions specifically are ex-military and if you look at where you’re sourcing from, there are fewer women leaving the military and there’s a gap anyway. So, with private security, you’re not taking from the pool that exists today, you’re taking from ten years ago because to join, private security, they need to have had X number of years experience and operational tools, etcetera. So, I think maybe that will change in time, but I do think that that’s where there is a lack of representation, it’s sort of within certain sectors. I don’t think it’s necessarily regionally. I think it’s the functions, it’s the operations and I think one of the challenges is credibility. And that’s a ridiculous thing to say because why wouldn’t one be credible? And Michelle sort of touched on it. Then she spoke about her female colleagues having range experience and really sort of getting that gaining that credibility by really getting attaining the knowledge required to perform in an operational role. But one of the first questions that was asked to me when I was a bit younger, have you been out here? Have you been on the ground? And without that on the ground experience, I think, one lacks authenticity and credibility. And to get that, you have to be in a position to be able to get out and travel and there are just many factors that prevent women from being able to do that because I’ve got different responsibilities. Now, I haven’t had those thus far in my career that prevented me going out. And so, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel quite a lot and gain experience in our various regions, which has really helped. But I know that that’s not necessarily always feasible for people. So, I think that’s sometimes an obstacle. It’s not one that can’t be overcome for sure, but I think that that sometimes prevents people from seeing the potential that women have within operational roles in deployed roles.

And the other thing is also clients. You’re working with cultures where they’re not used to seeing females in certain roles and therefore – I don’t want to use the word convince – it’s just demonstrating that that’s the norm and that it’s absolutely something that will become commonplace. We just have to get behind our female workforce and be part of that change. But I think that there’s some resistance sometimes when you’re dealing with certain cultures that you could have a female performing that and they would be listened to in the same way.


So, I mean, do you get actual pushback from clients saying that they don’t want they don’t want women in operational roles and, under their contract?

Jo Antoine: I wouldn’t say it’s that explicit, no. And actually, some clients are fantastic, It’s almost the other way, you see really progressive. Sorry, actually sounds ridiculous, me saying progressive asking for women as though we’re in 1920. But I think a lot of them are asking where are our female representation is asking us to demonstrate it. But I think it’s more when you’re working with a certain culture and they are not used to having females work in management positions, in operational management positions. It’s having everybody agree that it will be a workable solution that we’re not going to get pushback. I think it’s just pushing past those sort of rather old-school ideas.


So, let’s kind of unpack this a little bit more. Michelle, you’ve already touched on this in terms of operationally the advantages of having women in the workforce and private security companies. But why should they employ and promote women? Especially when you think of the kind of complex and hostile environments that you’re operating in.

Michelle Quinn: So, I’d say first and all, I think that it’s smart business, right? The inclusion and the engagement of women is smart business. I also think that it presents an opportunity, especially when we and from my perspective, we as the United States, want to advance some of our most important values, right of democracy, human rights, equality, inclusion, engagement. So those are all words, unless we actually walk the walk with those statements and those beliefs that we say we have. I think that guard forces that include women are often more successful, more effective, more stable, and also more profitable.

So, I’ve seen, for example, across US embassy security contracts, where some of my employers have gotten their guard forces to up to 50% female, which is really quite a high number. Half your guard force is female, what’s the consequence of that? We have a more stable guard force, less attrition, fewer employees who decide they’re going to jump from the US embassy over to a gold or a mining or a banking contract for $0.50 an hour. They are loyal employees, they are dogged employees and determined often not always, but in some instances they are single mothers, so they are juggling an awful lot of things and they are extremely grateful and reward their employers with their with their loyalty and their commitment because if as a US security company, we can also demonstrate sometimes some of the special flexibility that might be required for a woman who needs to be at guard posts but also has a sick child, maybe we see the need to stand up a child care center or be understanding and build some flexibility into our guard schedule. We’ve done that.

The result is, as I mentioned, is that we have an extremely loyal guard force ready for training, anxious for new opportunities and responsibilities, ready to advance, lower levels of attrition, very serious about receipt of advanced training skills, not cynical about any of those things. And of course, when you have a stable guard force, right, that understands the mission, understands the culture, understands the leadership may be going in and out of a particular embassy, understands the neighborhood, so they bring all of those optics and understanding, you have a better you have a better guard force. And then, not to be cynical, but often, if you are spending less money on recruiting, on training, on replacement and on attrition, then you also have a more profitable guard force and a more profitable contract. So, that’s that is I don’t want to be too cynical. That is not the reason to engage women in private security and to build them into guard forces but it is one benefit for the companies that determine and resolve that they’ll make that commitment.


Well, that’s fascinating. And Joe, is that experience, does that kind of transfer to the to the Garda experience? Is it the same for a large global company?

Jo Antoine: Yes, I would definitely say so. I mean, I think diverse representation at any level, when we’re talking about particularly management, you don’t want a single type of person sitting in management. You want creativity, you want innovation. And I think, having equal gender representation, which is sort of the goal, helps achieve that. When we’re talking about management, we’re talking about delivery, Michelle’s has been talking about that, there are many reasons why you do it. And we’re working with local communities and they are made up of men and women. And therefore, there are lots of benefits of well, of having women on your teams because they receive better often by local communities, you can communicate better, there are many of those benefits as well as practical ones. We often have female clients and they are looking for female security as well. One, because they feel more comfortable often, but also because they go places where males can’t go; so, in order to perform the role, you have to be female. So, it makes complete sense for us to be investing in recruitment of more female operators in particular, I think.


Fantastic. Now, you are, as I mentioned, both on the board of ICoCA, our ICoCA’s mission is to promote responsible private security in complex environments. So, can you tell us a bit about some of the human rights issues and risks faced, particularly by women where private security providers are operating and how the companies you work for ensure that women’s rights are protected?

Michelle Quinn: At the end of the day, of course, women’s rights are human rights. And it’s one of the reasons that – I know I’ll speak for Joe also for both Garda and Patriot Group and a number of the many other private security contractors who are members of ICoCA and committed to the International Code of Conduct. For all of us, we recognize that it is critical to demonstrate daily in our ongoing operations, also in our leadership and through our affiliation with ICoCA that we are committed to transparent, ethical, compliant, and seamless provision of security services, that these are issues that matter critically, especially in a lot of the theaters where we operate.
So, at the end of the day, when we talk about security, we talk about human rights and we also talk about – not to be too corny – but we’re talking about advancing the human condition. So, every year here in the US, we have the World Bank and they produce an annual report on fragile nations, fragile states. And each year one of their beginning premises is that nations across the globe cannot be stable, cannot become developing growing, thriving societies, if they don’t have three things, generally speaking, they need stable and honest governments. Two, they need infrastructure, good roads, clean water, things like that for their people. And three, they need security. And we know that to be true and we know that when women are engaged in security and provision of security, that we can achieve those outcomes to stabilize fragile nations, to assist nations in growing and thriving and to advance the human condition.


And Joe, in terms of human rights that are particularly faced by women, especially in your role, risk and welfare. One question I would have in that role is do you see more cases, grievance cases coming up related to the treatment of women, whether that’s in employees of the company itself or the communities where you’re operating?

Jo Antoine: No, I wouldn’t say we do have more mean, but that’s because I think the majority of the people that work for us that are deployed in sort of the more – I would say the risk exposure, it’s a mainly male workforce. And I understand that obviously with human rights, we’re talking about our community as well.

But sort of bringing it back to what you were saying, one of the human rights areas that we’ve talked about extensively with ICoCA is probably the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse and I do think it’s something that’s key. It’s been a huge focus for the company, not because of any particular reason within the company, but just because, I think that there’s generally been a huge focus on it recently over the last couple of years and that’s been good. It’s meant that we’ve been able to really review in-house provisions. We’ve got in place what education we’ve got for our workforce, ensuring that that that prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse is weaved into everything that we do. So, I would say that’s probably a key area. It’s one that gets a lot of press as well and understandably, I think another area probably is also right to an education, which is something that we, we are aware isn’t necessarily the case in a lot of the locations that we work in.

I think the way that we’ve tackled it mean from PSEA, we’ve really focused our policies on that so that we ensure that our personnel are educated so that they uphold our morals and they adhere to our policies and that they also support the female members of the community that they’re working within. On the education piece, you can’t change the way a country conducts itself. You’ve got to work with communities, not against them. But what we do try and do is we have CSR programs. And so, one of our major themes is education and so we invest in education, at the moment we’re helping refurbish school in Basra. And also, we work with the Seed Foundation in Kurdistan, they promote social education, economic development and humanitarian assistance in Iraqi Kurdistan and they’re actually particularly working at the moment with mental health support for women and girls who they have to support because there’s sort of high incidence of violence and discrimination they’ve experienced. I would say there too, I mean, there are two of many areas, but there are two that sort of sprung to mind immediately, and they’re ones that I know the company is spending time, effort and money on addressing.


Well, you’ve teed me up for a little plug and this was not planned beforehand, I can assure everybody. But because ICoCA has been working on the PSEA guidance and actually we’re going to be bringing out working on now kind of online training modules for private security companies, for our members on PSEA, which would hopefully be launching in the end of March. But, that’s that’s one issue, what else do you think the association should be doing to promote the rights of women amongst its member companies?

Michelle Quinn: So have to say it’s been a privilege to be able to learn more about the work of ICoCA and to support at a board level, because I do think already you do so much. This week, Jamie is working and others are working on comments that will go to the United Nations working group on mercenaries. I’m either part of or just watching with just delight all of the efforts where your thought leadership is engaged. ICoCA has remained kind of a clarion call and just an unwavering advocate and leader on these issues that Joe had mentioned, not just issues of professional conduct and transparency and, execution of security contracts, but within that human trafficking in the supply chain, sex trafficking, child militias. ICoCA presents a zero-tolerance standard and expectation on all of those issues and so it’s one of the great things that the association already does to promote the rights of women among its member companies.

I’d say beyond that, it is both a challenge – and it’s Joe’s challenge at Garda and my challenge at Patriot Group – is just to continue to include and engage women and even, with an understanding of specific theaters, risks, cultures, to find ways to include women. And I think that at the end of the day, when we do that is often one of the most effective ways and successful ways that we can actually stabilize and support and assist other nations. Because when you create a female police academy in Bosnia or a female police academy in Haiti, things that, for example, the United States has actually done, when you add to a guard force and add women on that guard force in addition to the work that they’re doing and the paychecks and the success at their work, they are also mirroring and modeling behaviors for their sons and for their daughters.

And so, we don’t want to goes to what Joe wisely said about education. Of course, there’s formal education and training, but this is subtle but very critical, their sons are watching, their daughters are watching, and in some instances, this new role that a woman takes on might present quite a different change in her culture. She’s now a policewoman in Bosnia. But her sons are watching, her daughters are watching, that is shaping their views of what women can do and can’t be. And at some point, that also, I think even in the most traditional of cultures that haven’t often included women in these roles, I think that at some point that encourages us toward a tipping point, right? Where it is really no longer an odd thing, but it’s an inclusive and it’s a smart thing and more nations are doing it. So, ICoCA already know kind of supports this. Our member companies work toward these things. A lot of the efforts I just mentioned have been executed and performed by ICoCA member companies. And to me it may not be a fast answer, but it is a good news story.


And it’s a continual journey. I think we can all vouch for that. But Joe, do you have some final thoughts on this?

Jo Antoine: I absolutely agree with everything Michel just said and I would say that from women’s rights to be considered and met at every level, it needs to come from the top. And we all know that culture is set by the top of an organization. And therefore, I would encourage like to encourage its members to be transparent about their representation. Part of the SG reporting now has been for companies to be transparent about their diversity at senior levels. And perhaps that’s what we should be doing because it’s getting one’s house in order first, right? That’s, I think, the most important thing and then it all flows down from there. So, perhaps that would be something we could be encouraging them to do.


Well, you are both incredible assets on the ICoCA board, we need more women on boards, and thanks to you both for this really enlightening conversation and looking forward to working with you both and all the member companies in promoting women’s rights in the work that we do. But for today, Thanks so much.



The views and opinions presented in this article belong solely to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the stance of the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA).