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women in security

Women in Security: Milestone’s Odette Malkoun on kicking down barriers

As part of our exclusive series on leading ‘Women in Security’, we spoke to Odette Malkoun, Channel Business Manager at Milestone Systems to find out about her role – and ask her why men still dominate the security industry.

Q. Tell us a bit about your current role with Milestone. What is your day to day, month to month like?

A. I am the Channel Business Manager for Levant and Egypt at Milestone Systems, based out of Lebanon. My main role is to make it easy for partners to work with Milestone. For that, I travel approximately twice a month to visit my partners and discuss with them upcoming projects. I also regularly have meetings at our MEA headquarters in Dubai. When I’m in Lebanon, I’m either following up with my partners through emails and phone calls, or visiting my local partners and driving the business.

Q, How do the Levant markets compare to the rest of the Middle East?

A. The region is very receptive to open platform solutions and our community approach with local partners. In the Levant we are experiencing a high year-on-year growth when compared to the rest of the Middle East. The partner community is vibrant with partners like Axis Communications and Promise Technologies helping us promote the open platform.

On the other side, the Levant market is generally slower than the rest of the region. Deals take a longer time to close, so you need to be patient otherwise you won’t make it out here. Due to the current political and economic climate, it can be difficult to predict how well you will do next year, or even this year.

Paying for software is not a widely accepted concept here. People are not used to paying big sums of money for any kind of software – something they can’t touch – and therefore it can be harder to convince the end-user about the benefits of purchasing video management software.

Q. The security industry seems to be one of the last industries dominated by men – at least on the visibility side. What are your thoughts?

This is definitely true. I rarely meet women working in this industry or in the tech industry as a whole, but the few that I meet are – in my opinion – extraordinary women for whom I have a deep respect.

I really can’t think of any logical reason why women could not excel in this industry. I believe that one reason why we don’t find many women is the unconscious bias that men have regarding hiring women in technology.

In addition, a Stanford study in 2007 showed women are less likely to join a field where they are outnumbered and feel they don’t belong. This also caused a huge lack in numbers when it comes to women in technology.

I first felt this differentiation when I joined the American University of Beirut (AUB) to study Computer and Communication engineering, where the ratio of women versus men was around 25% to 75%.

Since more than half of the people working in this industry are engineers and technicians, you could clearly understand that less women are likely to apply for such jobs.

What challenges/barriers as a woman have you gone through to rise to your position?

I started in the industry six years ago when I joined my previous company as a pre-sales engineer. The move from pre-sales to sales was not an easy one. In an industry dominated by men, you need to always be strong and prove yourself.

Fortunately, I had great mentors who taught me a lot about business and the industry. I believe that my ability to keep an open mind and always learn from mistakes got me to where I am today.

In an area of the world where physical threats to women can be quite real, martial arts training has also helped me stay strong and confident. I have trained Jiu Jitsu, Judo and hold a three Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo. I guess you could say I am one of the most hard-hitting women in the industry.*

If you could change one thing about the industry today to increase female inclusion what would it be?

Probably the mentality around how a woman should behave and what types of work she should do. For example, I am travelling much more than most of the guys in the office.

My family is always expecting me to settle down and start a family and stop my travelling, but the truth is that I don’t plan to do any of that any time soon.

Pet hate about working in the industry?

The security industry is a very interesting one. However, it can be difficult for anyone outside the field to fully understand it. Customers might not know what they need, or might want things that cannot be done with the current technology available. Sometimes the solutions can be done but at huge costs, and therefore the whole project is cancelled due to a lack of budget. We aim to put expectations right.

Favourite thing?

One of the best things about working in this industry is that it spreads across all verticals so you get to meet people from all backgrounds; from law enforcement officers to shop owners in airports to flower shops. Each customer has his own set of needs which makes each project unique. So, you never get stuck in a routine where all projects look the same.

Another favourite thing is that because our product is an open platform, the solutions we provide are limitless. I just love success stories where our software was used for applications beyond traditional security purposes. For example, the fact that our NVR’s are used to protect the ancient sites of Petra in Jordan. In a collaboration between Milestone and partners Luminus Technology and VIVOTEK, technological advancement was brought back to Petra’s natural environment probably for the first time since the ancient city thrived two millennia ago.

What are your future plans/ambitions?

For now, I am very satisfied with my current position and wouldn’t mind advancing in my career within the organisation. I work with a really great team, which makes it hard to even consider job opportunities elsewhere.

Anything else you would like to add? 

For all the ladies out there: Be the kind of woman that wakes up with the sentence “Today I am going to conquer the world!”

* Malkoun was the first Lebanese female to win gold at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu jitsu championship.

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