In the latest SECURE Perspectives, Dukes’ shares how she ended up in the security industry, access control trends and the importance of diversity.
SECURE Perspectives is a monthly column by the Security Industry Association (SIA) profiling women in the security industry. This column is part of SIA’s Women in Security Forum (WISF), an initiative to support the participation of women in the security field through programs, networking and professional growth events and thought leadership opportunities.
For this edition of SECURE Perspectives, SIA spoke with Kami Dukes of AMAG Technology. Earlier this year, Dukes was named to the inaugural SIA WISF Power 100 list, recognizing 100 women in the security industry who are role models for actively advancing diversity, inclusion, innovation and leadership in the community.
SIA: How did you get into the security industry?
Kami Dukes: Everyone always has such a unique story to tell when joining the security industry. Mine is no different. I set out 15 years ago to be a police officer and worked in juvenile corrections fresh out of college with my B.A. in criminal justice. I disrupted those plans while chasing the Rocky Mountains and began my career in security technology as a security design engineer for a federal defense contractor, LVW Electronics. I led the design, installation and commissioning of complex security systems, primarily in Japan and Korea, for the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps. With time and experience, I was recruited to the manufacturing side of the industry with AMAG Technology, where I was introduced to the private and corporate sector. This opened the door to a new set of challenges and opportunities, and I’ve been having fun ever since.
How does your organization serve the industry?
AMAG Technology is a dynamic, forward-thinking physical security solution provider that believes in empowering its customers to be successful in all areas of business and life. AMAG’s powerful, unified and open Symmetry platform expands beyond our solid foundation of access control to provide our customers with a full solution suite ranging from video to command and control, identity management, visitor management, mobile, analytics, audio and incident management. We work closely with integrators and consultants to provide end users with a full security solution.
What is your current position?
I came on-board with AMAG Technology in 2012 and have since dedicated my time and passion to the security consultant community as the director of business development for North America. Together, my team and I drive new enterprise opportunities through design, road-mapping, specifying and systems execution planning. We have a deep focus on the consultant community and enterprise end users. Our strategic vision, eagerness to forge new paths and relentless belief in possibilities brings true value to our customers and the security market.
What types of job functions do women fill in your company? Is there diversity of roles in your company, or do women gravitate toward certain job functions?
Women serve in positions that touch all aspects of the business globally. We are a sophisticated physical security solution provider with functions in product research and development, software engineering, product management, manufacturing, quality assurance and training, procurement and warehouse operations, customer relations, finance, IT, HR, marketing, sales and leadership. While there is always room for improvement with women representation in our business, AMAG Technology maintains deep-seeded philosophies in support of diversity, equity and inclusion. I am extremely proud of the women and the support they receive in our organization and trust that we always have an open door to all talent.
With more and more data that shows diversity makes a better workforce, what opportunities do you see for women in the security industry?
Diversity does indeed drive a better workforce. Conditioning the workforce to consider what diversity could bring to the table in everyday tasks, projects, discussions and actions can completely shift the dynamic of any outcome and will most often deliver an exceptional one. We are all riddled with innate biases that, no matter how hard we want to shake them, are part of how we are wired. Ensuring that diversity has broad representation and is well accepted and openly considered in the way we do day-to-day business should always be a priority in our industry.
There is a boundless capacity for success in the security industry for women. This industry provides such meaningful and purposeful work. No matter the role, the work output provides a strong element of serving and protecting people. I’ve served in maximum-security youth corrections, technical security design and engineering, project management and sales leadership. I have female colleagues serving in operations as security and law enforcement officers, as presidents and in the C-Suite, cyber and so many limitless roles. It is my hope that more females find the industry more attractive and join in on the fun, rewarding work. Women can succeed in all areas of the industry.
What impediments do you see for achieving this? What could remedy some of these impediments?
It is my belief that the No. 1 impediment to having more women join the security workforce is that the industry simply does not appeal to them. It is not accepted publicly as an attractive and sophisticated field of work. There is a longstanding perception and stereotype of what security looks like, and it is ingrained in our youth as they develop. There is also something to be said about the uniforms of officers. They paint an image in the child’s mind of what security looks like, and this is often an armed, male officer.
My young daughter, for example, tells her friends that her mom is “like a security officer” because even though we talk about my career in security technology sales a lot, that is still the image she envisions when she relates to the security industry. And while marketing departments across the industry have progressed effortlessly to challenge this image with greater diversity representation in their graphics, their work rarely spans outside the industry to hit the wider community and public, much less have the reach to influence the youth.
Additionally, college disciplines in criminal justice and security management are often not promoted in the public mainstream in similar regards to other career paths such as medical, finance, education and law professions, for example, which further removes the appeal to women. At the end of the day, women are more likely to see front-line, dangerous roles making up the industry. We need to do a better job showing full transparency into the security space and all the wonderful opportunities that exist for all people.
What do you see as important trends in the industry?
I’ve seen that more companies are interested in analytics and finding efficient ways to make their data work for them. Access control systems produce a lot of data, and organizations need to make better use of that data to improve their security programs. Adding business intelligence or analytics lets companies easily see who is going where and when. Having clean insight into this data easily allows companies to identify people displaying unusual behavior and helps security teams determine if further investigation is needed.
I’ve also noticed that physical security teams are starting to be part of the cyber and critical infrastructure conversation. Everyone needs to work together to prevent cyberattacks, and physical security plays an important role.
More specifically, what trends are you seeing in your company’s space of physical access control, identity management and integrated security?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were seeing organizations finally starting to deploy mobile solutions. But the pandemic catapulted the need, as organizations needed to pivot and secure hybrid workforces and then determine the work environment post-pandemic. Many organizations have shifted from large office spaces to more hoteling-like scenarios. Providing credentials and keeping them updated could be seen as challenging. That is why companies have started to shift towards using mobile devices for credential management. Permissions and administration can be done remotely, keeping the credentials up-to-date always. Cards are no longer needed, saving time (to obtain a card when lost or stolen) and money.
Organizations need open, integrated security solutions to secure their large enterprises — in other words, the total solution. The total solution involves effortlessly weaving multiple security technologies into various business systems and workplace cultures. Systems must be developed with open-architecture hardware and software, meaning multiple applications can communicate with any part of the system.
What are the top challenges your company has faced in the last year?
I’d like the market to finally understand that AMAG has a fully open solution driven by our progressive product practices. Other systems claim to be open yet only work with designated access control software. AMAG’s Symmetry solutions are all developed with an open API. This spans across both hardware and software. Not only does Symmetry integrate with complementary third-party technologies such as biometric readers, video management systems, etc., but it also operates with competing access control systems. This is perfect for large enterprise customers that acquire businesses and manage multiple access control systems. Delivering a total solution to our clients is what excites me most.
The supply chain shortage has also touched everyone; however, AMAG had the foresight to purchase a large number of components to keep our manufacturing facilities well stocked and in full operation through these challenging times. Our president was quick thinking and willing to invest heavily in an early solution. I am proud to say we are experiencing little to no delay while shipping products.
What are the biggest opportunities your company — and the industry — are seeing?
Access control systems produce so much data, and organizations are realizing they need to harness and use this data to enhance their security program. Analytics software, such as AMAG’s Symmetry Business Intelligence, flags anomalous behavior that would be missed with a regular access control system. We are seeing organizations take a serious interest in using data to improve insider threats and discover behaviors that may need further investigation.
What do you hope the SIA Women in Security Forum can achieve for the security industry?
I admire the professionalism, motivation and energy that I find in every interaction with the SIA Women in Security Forum. It also offers so many opportunities for education, scholarships and charitable experiences. My greatest hope is that it continues to captivate and influence others and grow its membership base with all people, not just women. To have members from all walks of life better understand the unique needs of women and mothers can really foster some incredible relationships and networking opportunities.
What is your best advice for women in the industry?
My best advice to offer is to know, trust and fully believe that you belong in the security space. Chances are the only one questioning that is you, no one else. Know your business and hone the education and skills it takes to fulfill your role. Be bold and lead with compassion and strength.
Who or what was the strongest influence in your career?
There are so many people that have influenced my career. Two pivotal experiences hugely shaped my drive and direction. The first is Bob Sanford, former president of LVW Electronics. He took a risk by hiring me in my young twenties. I was a broke snowboarder, so I couldn’t turn down the job, but I was nervous and confused when he hired me to be an “engineer” because I set out to be a police officer. He had contracts across the globe that needed to be filled. I had studied in Southeast Asia during a fellowship in college, and since I was so young, it would be quick for him to process my security clearance. He had enough faith in my adaptability that he sent me to a nearby Air Force base where he had a full-time team of security maintenance technicians on site.
I put on my hard hat, tool belt and boots. I reported there for months of hands-on experiences to learn the inner workings of nearly every application of physical security technology known until I was ready to be on my own. I vividly remember one particular moment when imposter syndrome was sinking in deep. He asked, “Can you move on?” I hesitated for a minute and answered, “Yes, sir.” I learned to own that engineering title and designed systems across the globe. I have so much gratitude for Bob.
Next was when Kathleen Byars and Laura Dewey came to me through a phenomenal program dedicated to high-achieving women, Corporate Women Unleashed. And while I can never find quite the right words to explain my experience, they collectively provided me with peace and balance on the inside, and that is the most powerful gift I’ve ever received.
How do you define success?
To me, there is not a hard definition of success in regard to an achievement or a milestone. I seek to find flow and harmony in meeting my needs as an individual, a mother, a wife and a highly impactful professional and staying true to my purpose in serving and protecting others. It is very rewarding to celebrate all the mini victories along the way.
What would you say to new upcoming women in the industry?
To any new upcoming women in the industry, I would first say, “Welcome, you are going to love this!” I would then suggest that they stay curious and be active in the industry associations. Finding mentors and sponsors are invaluable to both professional and personal development. A great starting point would be to join communities like the SIA Women in Security Forum and the RISE community, which has a tremendous Talent Inclusion Mentorship Education (TIME) program for which I am honored to serve as a mentor.
You have a session coming up at AcceleRISE with Ernie Ace Velayo on authentic leadership and excellence. Could you give us a little sneak peek of this conversation?
I am excited to share this session with Ernie and the AcceleRISE community so soon. It is going to be fun, raw and exceptionally transparent. Our goal is to help the community drive excellence in the workplace while both managing teams and people and, more importantly, managing up to leadership. Ernie and I will be sharing our real-word manager/employee relationship from both viewpoints, sharing the positive and negative aspects of demanding vs. demeaning leadership and leaving it all on the table for what we hope to be a highly engaging and interactive session. We can’t wait to see you all in Austin!
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