Two B.C. women are hoping to bring more female energy to the bodyguard business.
Maple Ridge native Susan Lyster and Debbie Walker of Chilliwack have moved into the male-dominated world of the executive protection/close protection (EP/CP) business with their new Los Angeles-based company, the Soteria Protection Agency.
According to Lyster, based on conversations with others in the business and statistics from the California Association of Licensed Security Agencies, Guards & Associates (CALSAGA), there are 2,900 licensed security companies in the state. About 100 of these are female-owned. Out of the 100 companies that do the EP and CP work that Soteria is focusing on, only five per cent of those are owned by women.
As for actual boots on the ground and receivers in ears, Lyster says of the 30,000 people who are able to do EP and CP work in California, which she has called home for two decades, about two per cent are female.
The idea to start Soteria began with Lyster and a conversation with a woman who was working in the industry already.
“She thought this was a huge opportunity especially with Hollywood and the Time’s Up movement and the calling for gender parity and gender parity with the vendors people use,” said Lyster during a recent Zoom interview with Walker and Postmedia News.
Lyster, who had for decades been working in the travel industry, reached out to Walker, an entertainment business PR veteran living in Chilliwack, to talk about a marketing strategy that would get the word out to showbiz people that a female-owned security company looking to hire female agents was now part of the security landscape.
Walker, the owner of well-established Translucent Publicity, liked the idea so much she asked to partner with Lyster. Now, two years later, and many California licensing requirements met, the Soteria Protection Agency is ready to go.
Named Soteria after the Greek goddess who apparently was all about safety and salvation as well as deliverance and preservation, the company is aiming to have a 50-50 male-to-female workforce.
Lyster realizes that is optimistic and it’s going to take some time to “close that delta,” but the new business is planning a very proactive approach.
“What I like to call it is consciously recruiting,” said Lyster.
By hiring more women, the pair hope that more females will want to sign on for an elite security career.
“It’s about making sure the women know there are opportunities,” said Walker. “We’re going to push it. But we also know we have a high hill to climb.”
A high hill that includes overcoming the idea that you always need men the size of refrigerators to secure someone. Soteria is aiming for a more nuanced approach.
Leading Soteria in recruitment, assessing skills, assessing client needs and designing details is L.A.-based operations officer and veteran executive security agent Jon Conroy. Conroy explains that a lot of the women he has interacted with in the industry are former military, ex-police, former Secret Service, or have some sort of martial arts background.
“It is very intense to get into the industry. The reason for that is because you only have one chance. One mistake and you are done,” said Conroy, adding there are protection training schools.
A U.S. army veteran (he served in Iraq and was awarded the Purple Heart), Conroy has worked as an executive protection agent in the last decade for numerous high-net-worth people. No, he won’t spill the tea on those top-tier clients.
“I can be very frustrating I get it, people want to know more,” said Conroy. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but being vague is what we do. “
What Conroy would talk about was the benefits of having female agents on a team.
“To have female protection is extremely valuable for a company,” said Conroy in a recent phone interview. “It’s a very undervalued market so when they told me that is what they were looking for I said that is a great opportunity to create a niche that is not well-served in high-end security.”
Conroy says that when it comes to protecting a female, a female agent has a lot more access. While many places have embraced a more inclusive approach to taking a pee there are still times when a man is stopped at the door.
Children are also an area that Conroy says makes a female agent a big asset.
“The traditional response is if you see a female with children it’s mom, nanny, aunt,” said Conroy. “If you see kids with a 6-5, 280-pound man a lot of people are fair to assume that, ‘Hey, they got security who are these kids?’ Now, that is bringing attention to the children and the fact they could potentially be high-value.”
While it’s weird to refer to kids as high-value, Conroy warns that is just the way it is, and with billionaire class numbers rising and the gulf between them and the rest of the world widening, he says more concerns over safety arise.
Add to that desperation due to adverse affects of the COVID-19 pandemic and social media access, and Conroy says the risk of something happening to a ‘high-value’ person has gone up over three times since before COVID-19.
“It is really putting the spotlight on people. People know their movements, may know where they live,” said Lyster about social media. “They feel they know them better than they would have back in the day when there wasn’t social media, and they follow them more. You get a lot more people wanting access to these people. That’s not going to slow down.”
When talking about getting clients and keeping clients Conroy explains that people need to change how they think and realize that safety is a pre-emptive game.
“In the security world you’re proactive and most people are reactive,” said Conroy. “We’re trying to educate people that you don’t want to call us after something has happened, you want to call us before something happens.
“Our job isn’t to stop you from doing what you do but our job is to make you safe so you can do what you want to do,” added Conroy. “It’s not a cheap thing to obtain. I try to explain to people how much is a piece of mind worth to you.”
According to Lyster, one guard for a 10-hour day is US$1,000.
Right now, Soteria is getting the word out. The company is up-and-running in California and Walker hopes to soon have a Vancouver arm of the firm to serve the entertainment business she has been working with for years.
“I’ve been getting some interesting response for sure,” said Walker. “It makes sense because a lot of our clients will be from L.A. and come up for a shoot for a couple of weeks. We should be able to look after their needs at both ends.”