Inclusion & Belonging in the security sector: Satia Rai shares her journey
CEO of International Professional Security Association (IPSA) UK, Satia Rai, reveals how lessons learnt from her parents and early experiences in security had fed her desire to make a real impact in the security industry as a gay Sikh woman.
Family traditions inspired my path
My parents moved to the UK shortly after the partition of India and Pakistan. My mother worked four jobs, from 6 o’clock in the morning to 10 o’clock at night, just to make ends meet. We came from a traditional Indian family, where my parents’ salaries were handed to my grandparents who would give my father an allowance of just £20 a week for groceries.
Despite not speaking a word of English, my parents integrated into their local community and helped to build the first gurdwara in Bedford, a place for our community to gather and worship. Their story taught me to never give up and always help others, a lesson I’ve carried into the security industry where I fight for fairness and inclusion.
Pride in uniform
I never went to university, it just wasn’t possible for someone from my socio-economic background. Instead, I worked as a security officer for a DIY retail store. It was about 30 years ago when I first put on the security uniform and I felt an enormous surge of pride.
There was something empowering about taking on a role that was not just a job but a responsibility, a duty to protect and serve.
But as I looked around, I quickly realised the challenges I was up against. I felt like an outsider, with women and the LGBT community scarcely represented, and faces I saw were largely uniform in more ways than one.
A painful lesson
In my earlier days as a manager, I faced a disconcerting situation where a persistent client made inappropriate sexual advances. There was nobody I could report the incident to, and with no education or platforms to address harassment, I felt trapped. Being the only woman of colour on the team only amplified my isolation. I was torn between the pressure to serve the client and wanting to escape the situation. I could have reported the incident to my boss, but as he was a white man who resembled the perpetrator, I feared I wouldn’t be taken seriously. This experience was a painful lesson that highlighted the systemic issues within the industry at the time, fuelling my resolve to push for change.
Shaping a unified future
In the last four years, the security industry has seen remarkable change. People are sharing their stories, and I&B (Inclusion and Belonging) forums are now widespread, with the regulatory body the Security Industry Authority (SIA) aligning its strategies to support them.
Collaborative events focusing on I&B such as pride-led celebrations and International Women’s Day, have increased, fostering a united approach across the industry. I am proud to have taken a leading role in many of these events across the country. It was fantastic to be promoted to Head of Belonging for Securitas UK earlier this year, as Securitas UK is leading the EDI & Belonging industry change.
Another noticeable change in the industry is that I&B roles are being introduced and integrated at C-suite level, and training packages are reflecting this emphasis. Women are now stepping into leadership roles across all areas. Since I have become CEO of IPSA, we have been able to shine a light on diversity and inclusion for front-line workers. A recent survey sent to IPSA members has shown that the front line have felt security has become a more inclusive industry in recent years. These significant shifts mark an exciting era of inclusivity and collaboration in our field, turning words into action and shaping a more unified future.
Despite recent positive changes in the industry, problems persist. A stark example occurred when I attended a social event at a pub in London this year, only to face homophobic and racist slurs from a group of men. The venue’s lack of action and the Met Police’s dismissal due to lack of evidence left me feeling frustrated and isolated. But change is happening. Men are beginning to call out inappropriate behaviour and while offensive banter still exists, the tide is slowly turning. Change will require ongoing effort, education, and training, but we’re on the path to creating a safer and more inclusive environment.
Be part of the change
We want the security industry to be a home to all. If you are reading this and interested in joining the industry, consider applying for the government-funded Level 2 Professional Security Operative apprenticeship, accessible through IPSA member Mercury Training. This is a golden chance to kickstart a rewarding career, regardless of your background, and I invite you to become part of this exciting, evolving industry.
A vision of inclusivity
I am proud of IPSA’s mission to champion the front line because I envision a world where security is a professional career which is highly respected. I strive for an industry which appeals to everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality. An industry that mirrors the tolerance and diversity of the communities we serve and protect, and where culture and safe spaces are paramount. I want to foster an environment where everyone, no matter what their background is, can thrive and be their authentic self. Since embracing my authentic self, I’ve felt free and liberated, and I wish the same for all who join our growing industry.
CEO of International Professional Security Association (IPSA) UK & Head of Belonging for Securitas UK.