Today, we had the pleasure of talking to Alexandra Hoffmann, the CEO of Crisis Ally and a mom of two. Alexandra has an LLB in Criminal Law from Paris University, France, an M.Sc. in Corporate Security from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. She shares her story, insights and expertise with Human Risks, talking about her experience as a woman working in security.
Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I managed security and crisis response in-house for 18 years in various global companies. I also served the French Intelligence Services for several years.
In late 2018, I decided to launch my own company, Crisis Ally, and focus on business resilience to break the silos among specialties we had created to make processes more efficient. Yet, my operational experience has shown that these silos are major business resilience inhibitors.
So, today, Crisis Ally helps Crisis Leaders and their Teams build the right capabilities to thrive through crises (without identifying every single risk an organization may face!).
On a more personal level, after spending many years living and traveling overseas, I now live in the South-West of France and have two children. I practice a lot of sports to work on my resilience!
I want to say to our readers that in the following questions, I only share my experience. I perfectly understand that not every woman/man has or even wants children. Everyone has a different story and path in life. I am sharing my answers below with candor based on my personal experience. The questions below are complex and would call for much more thorough answers and debates 🙂
That being said, I thank you very much for the opportunity to share my story and views and I sincerely hope it boosts more women to speak up and more decision-makers across the industry to challenge what they do and how they do it.
How would you describe your personal experiences working as a woman in security? Have you ever had any challenges stemming from being a woman working in a male-dominated field?
When I was an in-house resource, I never felt that being a woman was even a topic. Was I lucky to belong to open-minded teams or simply not paying attention (because I loved my job, was single, childless, and had the energy and time to be on-call 24/7), maybe a little bit of both?
Since I’ve had my own company, the “diversity” topic has been an important one to me. In 2022, for senior roles, I still see that our industry often relies on the same type of profiles in-house and as external consultants.
I believe this is a mistake. First, it is a matter of “cognitive diversity.” Diversity of thoughts is essential before, during, and after a disruptive event. Second, diversity is one way to stay relevant as this topic is top of mind for CEOs and Boards (and for good reasons!). If we pretend to serve organizations and their leadership, we might as well focus and deliver on what matters to them. So today, my company challenges the status quo by working with experts from very different backgrounds and growing a diverse network to learn and offer the best services to our clients constantly.
What are the main challenges and difficulties that women in security face nowadays? Do you have any advice on how to cope with them?
I can only speak for myself here. One difficulty I see is the unsustainable daily schedule the job requires in most instances. Recently, I shared this openly during a live webinar with the ISRM. As a mother of two young children who want to live a healthy life, if I were to look for a job today, I’d be scared to take on a new in-house role and jeopardize my health & family life (side note #1: it is proven that it is unhealthy to spend times on planes and eat at restaurants most days of the week). Don’t get me wrong, I still want to live a fulfilling professional life, travel, and have “my boots on the ground,” but not at all cost.
Today, most security/resilience teams are so small that they carry the world on their shoulders, literally. The in-house teams are currently meant to “welcome” certain profiles, female or male. I have seen countless male peers who spent more time in hotels than at home. I know of younger male security professionals who don’t even want that life today, especially post-COVID. At a macro level, socially, such a work schedule creates a huge disparity because it becomes hard for the stay-at-home parent to actually even work when you raise the kids almost by yourself.
In recent years, I see that a lot of young female professionals have been hired (I don’t have the statistics). This is excellent news!
As they go through life and may want to have a different lifestyle than counting hotel nights and country visits (in my past life, my peers and I would use Facebook to track each other down and have fun counting inbound and outbound flights and share fun stories at the security gates or other delayed flights hurdles!), I look forward to seeing how many of them will actually 1) last on the job and 2) take on more responsibilities, which today means more travel and on-call duties.
The best advice I would give women is what I am doing now, a bit late in my career, I’ll admit (!): speak up inside and outside your organization and have transparent conversations about this with your team and management. Our job is to plan and prepare for what might happen to our organizations. We need to do this for ourselves so we take more calculated risks and informed and unbiased decisions, and so does our leadership. We don’t act unconsciously, untangled in our own biases. We take responsibility, act consciously, and own our decisions.
As for the leadership teams: If not for yourself, then for the teams you lead, you have a responsibility to offer a work environment that allows for a balanced way of life. You have a responsibility to find ways to grow these teams instead of relying on teams of 2-3 people like I still see in organizations of tens of thousands of employees if you truly mean to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion. Finally, you have a responsibility to redefine what it means to be efficient and productive on the job.
What are the security-related roles that women perform most often? What type of jobs are they most likely to pursue and why?
I am unsure how to answer this question. I have seen women pursuing all kinds of security/resilience jobs at all levels, including as consultants. I have also seen women in analyst roles and operational roles. If the analysts may have to travel a bit less than the operational people, in my experience, they have to be on-call like every other team member because the rest of the team depends on their knowledge and insights.
How would you approach people set in their biases and concerns? How can they be educated or informed?
First, let’s agree to disagree. I typically approach people by asking questions to understand where they are coming from, and why they have this opinion/perspective.
I don’t own the truth. I own my truth today, which was different ten years ago and will probably be different again ten years from now. This is the reason why I don’t want to speak for other women. I share in all transparency what I experience/see/read/and hear. I have biases too, which need to be challenged.
Having open conversations is the key. Sharing statistics on what matters to the workforce is one way to go about it, but sharing personal stories is even more important. I speak from my heart and based on 20+ years of experience on the job when I say that I’d be scared to take on a new job today, not from statistics or research studies. I have had private conversations with men who admit to being scared of losing opportunities with the ongoing DEI initiatives. I can totally understand that.
We all need to inform and educate ourselves through genuine conversations. We won’t be able to satisfy everyone, but feeling heard and seen is already a huge step toward any DEI initiatives, whatever we are.
What can the industry gain from engaging more women?
As mentioned before, what the industry truly needs is more cognitive diversity, especially in rooms where decisions are being made, and problems are being solved. Recent studies show that employees across industries think the most work to be done is actually around cognitive diversity, which is defined as diversity in beliefs, values, opinions, world views, and styles of problem-solving. The benefits are clear and proven by now. People who bring different ideas and perspectives will see opportunities and threats that others may miss. It is also a critical component of innovation.
How do you see the role of women in security developing in the near future?
It all depends on how “safe” women feel to bring their differences to the workplace and these differences be respected and taken into consideration to grow and thrive inside and outside the workplace.
Hiring a diverse workforce is one thing. Truly “including” them so they can thrive, own their choices, and go up the ladder (if they choose to!) is a different ball game. I like to say that diversity and inclusion are twin sisters. We can’t invite one without inviting the other.
Thank you, Alexandra, for taking the time to answer our questions and we wish you further success.