In this edition of Women in Tech, we are thrilled to introduce Kate Fitzpatrick, the Regional Security Director EMEA at World Travel Protection.
Kate’s diverse career in security spans roles with the British Government, providing security for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and working in challenging environments such as Afghanistan and Nigeria.
Today, she shares her insights on developing a broad range of skills, navigating different cultures, and the importance of preparation in risk management. As a female leader in the male-dominated tech industry, Kate also discusses the need for greater representation and inclusivity, as well as advice for women pursuing careers in security or tech.
Join us as we delve into Kate’s fascinating journey and her perspectives on breaking barriers in the tech world.
Hi Kate, great to have you here with us today. You have had an incredibly diverse career in security, from working with the British Government to setting up security for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Can you talk to us about your career and how you developed such a broad range of skills and experiences?
My career has taken me to some incredible countries while they were experiencing extraordinary situations. Being forced out of your comfort zone and put in challenging situations helps you develop your toolkit.
Working in Afghanistan, in particular, was life-changing. No one day was ever the same and I made friends for life. While it was challenging from a security point of view, I’ve always enjoyed testing myself and being in completely different environments.
Afghanistan taught me the value of working in a close-knit team and how we all bring different skills and experiences to the table.
I also learnt invaluable lessons in how to be respected as a woman leader. I’ve always ensured that I act respectfully towards people who have different ways of doing things. It is not my place to tell people what is right or wrong, but rather to do the best I can professionally.
Working in Nigeria was different again, and of course I wasn’t based in the ‘Green Zone’, which did make one feel less protected. This meant that we had to be on guard at all times to ensure the safety of visiting dignitaries. To do this, it was essential that I’d built successful relationships with local leaders, who trusted me and who I could also trust and rely on. Never underestimate the importance of personal relationships.
You have worked in several countries across the world, including Afghanistan and Nigeria. How has your experience working in different cultures and regions shaped your perspective on security and risk management?
Preparation is key. If you’re visiting a country with a very different culture to your own, it’s important to do your homework. Before I visit a new destination, I spend time ensuring that I have a full understanding of its social, economic and cultural history and background, as well as its current situation.
It’s also necessary to know the nitty gritty of how business is actually conducted. How do you greet people at the start of a meeting? What clothing is acceptable and respectful, and what actions could cause discomfort or embarrassment? It’s important to know the answers to these questions from the get-go.
Obviously being a woman, as well as from a western culture, is a double whammy, as these are fundamentally male dominated working environments. For me, it was important that I was accepted. If this meant going above and beyond, to work harder, in order to prove my knowledge and experience, then this is what I would do. I respected their culture and over time, we would meet in the middle and respect grew on both sides.
You have provided security advice and support to clients from a range of industries. What are some of the common misconceptions or mistakes that companies make when it comes to their security measures, and how can they better protect themselves and their employees?
Before Covid, companies were perhaps a little blasé about business travel. Travelling teams were waved off with little fanfare but now we’ve seen a big change in how companies view their responsibilities. I think Covid scared organisations and opened their eyes as to how quickly situations could change for the worst. If you can’t locate your team on the ground, then you are in trouble.
Also, many destinations have changed in the last few years and travellers cannot assume that just because they visited a destination countless times in the past, it will be the same as they remember. The turmoil caused by the pandemic and the subsequent economic downtime means new risk assessments need to be conducted on previously ‘safe’ destinations.
However, it’s reassuring to see that the majority of organisations have taken this on board and are providing additional support to travelling staff, and importantly ensuring that emergency support is in place should they need it. Using a travel assistance company, like World Travel Protection, ensures access to the most up-to-date travel information on risk as well as a global support system of highly qualified medical and security professionals. Travelling staff can also be pin-pointed at any given moment if they are exposed to risk and their safety is prioritised.
As a female leader in the male-dominated tech industry, what do you think needs to change in order to make the industry more inclusive and welcoming for women?
I feel very fortunate to work for World Travel Protection as it has a history of senior women holding top leadership positions. It’s important that there are more and more women in senior leadership in tech as you “can’t be what you can’t see”.
Organisations need to do more to break down any barriers that are stopping women from reaching their full potential, but certainly in my organisation I feel it’s very welcoming and inclusive in its approach to staff. My advice to a woman in tech is that if you feel you’re being overlooked for stretch assignments, then take your talent elsewhere.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in your field, and how have you overcome them?
When I’ve worked in male-dominated societies, like Afghanistan, obviously there’s been some pushback from local leaders. However, I’ve always remained respectful and shown through my actions and dedication that I deserved to be there and let my work do the talking. I did feel that I often had to work twice as hard, but once I’d won over their respect, I’ve always managed to enjoy a good working relationship with local male colleagues.
Women are underrepresented in the tech industry, especially in leadership roles. What advice would you give to young women interested in pursuing a career in security or tech, and how can the industry work to encourage more women to join and thrive in this field?
Go for it! The industry is changing, and women’s skills, talents and insights are valued more highly than ever. I always say you need to be authentic and confident in your skills. Don’t feel you need to compete; you are good enough.
Certainly, in my career, there have been many instances where it’s been a benefit to be a woman. In some security incidents, for example, the people involved will request to speak to a woman. In a team, it’s important to have diverse skill sets and representation of all groups is essential.
What advice would you give to women who are just starting their careers in the security industry?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Be yourself, know your worth and know that you have a voice. There will be hurdles and you might come across sexism, but see the bigger picture, be professional and above all be confident in the skills that you bring to the table.
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