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Winning With Women Wednesdays – An Interview With Bonnie Butlin, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Security Partners’ Forum (SPF)

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An Interview With Bonnie Butlin, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Security Partners’ Forum (SPF)


Bonnie Butlin, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Security Partners’ Forum (SPF)

Bonnie Butlin is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Security Partners’ Forum (SPF), the first-of-its-kind agile network of security professionals, with a global footprint.  She is also the International Coordinator of the Women in Security & Resilience Alliance (WISECRA), a non-hierarchical “plug-and-play” construct that brings together various women in security and resilience associations / organizations from across the globe to network and share best practices.  Bonnie serves on a variety of boards and committees related to security, resilience, and defence including the Vimy Report Board, the Domestic Preparedness Advisory Committee, and the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME). Since 2013, Bonnie has been a recipient of six international awards and honors for her work including being named as a finalist for the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF) Women of Influence Awards (Private Solutions Provider Category), winner of the Professional Security Magazine’s Women in Security Awards -Security Manager/End User Category (2015), named to Vanguard Magazine’s People in Defence List (2015), recipient of CSO Magazine’s Compass Award (2015), inducted into the International Women in Homeland Security and Emergency Management Hall of Fame (2014), and was named to Security Magazine’s Most Influential in Security international list for 2013. She was the sole author of a commissioned study for the Federal Court of Canada on National Security and the Administration of Justice.  Bonnie’s educational background includes a Certificate in Corporate Security Executive Leadership from the Burrill Green Corporate Security Business School, a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from Carleton University and an undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of Calgary.

1. Bonnie, please share with us what your current position as the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Security Partners’ Forum entails?

I manage the day-to-day operations of the Security Partners’ Forum, the first-of-its-kind agile network of the security community with an international footprint on all seven continents. In addition to managing our operations, various platforms, and business lines, I provide strategic leadership for the organization, facilitate partnerships and collaborations, and monitor, analyze and research emerging strategic issues and trends.

2. What is the Security Partners’ Forum mission?

The SPF works to build capacity within the international security community, including but not limited to defence, intelligence, law enforcement, public safety, emergency management, disaster recovery, business continuity, fraud examination, physical security and cyber security. The SPF works with professional associations and security professionals globally to enhance resilience and build on hard-earned lessons learned and a global body of knowledge in a collaborative and highly efficient manner.

3. Saw that you are also the International Coordinator for the Women In Security & Resilience Alliance (WISECRA) how did that organization come about?

WISECRA developed from what was identified as a need to link women’s security and resilience-related organizations and expand their reach internationally, and a need to facilitate and accelerate mentorship and opportunities for women. The international network would allow women and their colleagues to share international best practices and lessons learned, without taking away from existing and much needed national-level and sub-national efforts. WISECRA does so without creating an umbrella group that would supersede existing groups or otherwise create a hierarchy of organizations. The WISECRA structure allows for rapid communication among women’s security organizations and professionals globally.

4. What was the hardest challenge you encountered in launching WISECRA?

Mapping the international landscape for women in security & resilience groups took considerable time and effort, and was immensely valuable. Once organizations were identified, the vision and synergistic nature of the network relative to existing national and sub-national groups were communicated and enhanced. The speed with which WISECRA has grown and its outstanding results – even in such a very short period of time – in my mind, speaks to the value of the platform and confirms the potential of the network.

5. What’s unusual about the organizations you currently advise or sit on the board for?

In addition to the SPF and WISECRA, I have been very fortunate to have been invited to serve on a number of committees, councils and boards within the defence, intelligence and security communities, such as the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME)/The Infrastructure Security Partnership (TISP) Public-Private Collaboration Committee (PPCC); the Domestic Preparedness Advisory Committee (formerly the DomPrep 40); and the Vimy Report Board.

Being able to work alongside such distinguished professionals has been tremendously beneficial for my own professional development and has deeply enhanced my contextualized understanding of issues and solution sets. Individually, these bodies are unique and specialized; in combination they have provided unparalleled depth to my work.

6. How do you overcome obstacles?

I believe strongly in the initiatives that I am involved with, and I am encouraged by the professionalism of the people that I work with, both at home and abroad. When you believe in the rightness, and even necessity, of what you are doing, and that the profession will be left better off for it, it is easier to sustain momentum even when faced by obstacles. Within the security and resilience domains, there is always a natural sense of urgency to our work, perhaps even more so in a global environment that is inter-connected and mobile, yet increasingly unstable.

7. More women than men earn college degrees, and increasingly, advanced degrees. Notably, they earn almost half of advanced business degrees. Yet, women only represent 16.9 percent of board of directors at Fortune 500 companies. Do you think the conversation around women and leadership is just about power? Why or Why not?

We need to redouble efforts to enable talented and motivated individuals to contribute effectively and in meaningful ways at all levels and across all disciplines and domains of security and resilience, within the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.

While there is much room for improvement, there is also much room for optimism – security and resilience professionals are motivated to work together in order to find solutions to urgent problems and threats, and this can be built upon.

8. What does it mean to you for women to be invited to the table and to have a “voice” in meetings? Why do you feel it is imperative to have women in the workplace?

Full participation by women is important in a number of ways. In my work it is important to go directly to the source and primary materials whenever possible and understand information and perspectives with the least filters as possible. Similarly, women need to be direct participants in conversations and deliberations, rather than more often than not being, effectively, represented (a type of filter in itself). Direct and robust expression of thoughts, ideas, and concepts benefits organizations and I believe the broader communities. Having a seat at the table is not only an opportunity to contribute directly, but provides a “weight of presence” to both the message and the messenger. Security and resilience professionals have had to push for a seat at the table in the C-suite, so in a sense, these communities may again have the potential to be a leader and make great strides in this respect.

9. If you are speaking to an audience of women students in the security & resilience domains, what three pieces of advice would you give them?

1. Persist – we will all be better off for it. I have to believe that hard work will pay off and have an effect over time, even when progress seems to move like molasses and plans have to be re-worked.

2. Believe – in your own potential and that of your colleagues.

3. Do not be too hard on yourself – work/life/family balance is more of an imperfect and shifting equilibrium than a simple ratio of your time. Be flexible enough to seize opportunities, enjoy the journey, and benefit from your own creative down-time.

10. In 2014, Sheryl Sandberg launched a campaign to ban the word “Bossy” to empower girls to lead. How can women manage the perceptions around assertiveness or being labeled “bossy”, particularly when they are often judged more harshly than men?

Stereotypes, sexism and harassment are still major challenges, and may even be resurging in some corners. Even seemingly small actions, such as the words we use, can minimize or even preclude the contributions of women and other colleagues. This is an extravagant waste of human talent at a time when we can ill-afford it and when solutions are critically needed. Every writer, journalist and communications professional knows all too well that words hold meaning and that their selection matters for the effect that they have. This holds true for how words affect women and how words affect the security profession.

11. Have you mentored women throughout your career? If so, what are three best tips you can give them for success? How important do you think it is for men to mentor women in the workplace? Has there been a woman who has influenced or mentored you in your professional career?

I would like to be a mentor and feel that I have now reached a stage in my career where I could have something to offer in terms of mentorship. I find that mentorship itself is a highly effective way to identify and raise talent for strategic effect within our communities and professions. Mentorship programs need broad support and participation among leaders and personnel throughout organizations in order to impart lessons-learned and transfer knowledge. I have benefited tremendously from the mentorship of both men and women across the defence, intelligence and security professions.

12. What do you think are the three most valuable skills needed by women in order to succeed in the Security & resilience domains?

I would say conviction, collaboration and optimism.


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