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More than Meets the Eye: Women Process Servers & Private Detectives

  • February 25, 2019
  • by Stephanie Irvine
  • Articles

women process servers and PIs

In an industry that has been historically dominated by men, each year, more women are paving their own path to success and becoming key figures in the civil process service and private investigations world. Increasingly, women find that becoming a civil process server or private investigator is not only lucrative, but rewarding as well.

To learn more about why women are joining the ranks alongside men in the private investigations and process serving world, we took a closer look at the whys, what happens, risks, and rewards of being a female detective and process server.

Women in the Industry

The exact number of female process servers and private investigators isn’t a published demographic, but anyone in the industry can attest that it has been a male-dominated field — and that the tide is changing. A 2012 article from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Quarterly cites that although it’s not a statistic they track, “Industry sources suggest that there are about 15,000 to 20,000 process servers in the United States, working both full and part-time.”

Process Server Torri Schafer, owner of Torri's Legal Services, explained that “There definitely was an upswing in female process servers and female-owned companies, over the last 30 years, originally there were 4-5, and now there’s at least if not more than 100 female-owned companies (that are part of the national association).”

In North Carolina, Ruth Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Professional Services, Inc., echoed that women are continuing to join the ranks alongside men in the industry by becoming process servers, private investigators, and business owners: “I really do think that more women are coming into it and being business owners. They want to own their company and have a voice. I think we will see more women in this industry. I believe there is a special place for us. There are things that we can do a little bit differently.”

It’s happening all across the country. In Iowa, Private Investigator Amanda Clement, owner of Clement Investigations has also noticed a trend in more women joining the process serving and private investigations industries: “I’ve noticed that there has been a steady rise of women joining this industry. Some are able to use it as a side job so they can be involved more at home but have more freedom financially.”

How Women are Finding their Place

Clearly, this industry has offered more than a paycheck to both private investigators and process servers alike. However, how women got into the industry is a different story. From the women we interviewed, their stories are all different.

Torri Schaffer got into the industry by chance and started her own company after a divorce. “That’s how I fell into this business. I had no idea what a process server was 30 years ago.”

For private investigator and owner of Harris Investigations, Michele Harris explained that she worked her way up. In December 1985, she started as the secretary for another investigator. Then in December 2005, she started her own company. When asked if throughout her time she has seen more women join the private investigation and process serving industries, she says that with regard to PIs, there are “not as many [women] as I would think in the investigation [business], but yes as [process] servers.”

For California private investigator Christina Duran of Amatrix Investigations, it was personal. “When I was 19, my dad was killed by four Ventura police. Losing him gave me a passion to become someone who helps others [...] I am a certified human trafficking investigator, and I work with several civil organization to help find answers. I love what we do.”

Each person has her own story as to how she got into the business. Some grand, some simple — but at the end of the day, they’re all enjoying their work.

Challenges in the Industry

For Private Investigators, data compiled from the US Census Bureau and published on DataUSA, shows the field is nearly evenly distributed with approximately 53% of the workforce taken by men. While the private investigations industry has been good to her, Christina Duran feels that there are some pitfalls to being a woman in a male-dominated field.

Duran explained, “I’ve been working in the industry since ‘98, [and] women have always been underestimated. I’ve even found paid less, too. It’s definitely not a secret woman are not expected to be detectives.” The Census Bureau statistics back up her claims, too, with the average salary for a male in private investigations is $68,356 while a female doing the same job makes a mere $54,325.

Clement went on to explain that the pitfalls almost become positives. “As women in any profession we’re almost always underestimated. [...] In my opinion it’s good that they underestimate me because they would never suspect my purse has a hidden camera in it and is catching footage of a cheating spouse, or an individual who claims they are limited in motion for work but are out and about doing the things they aren’t supposed to.”

Although the old cliche that women are from Venus and men are from Mars indicates a huge departure in feelings and attitudes, the challenges, to some, are not a result of gender.

While Reynolds believes there are certain advantages to being a woman, she acknowledges that the challenges are universal. “We are all human beings. We either want to do it right or we don’t.” She explained that all process servers, no matter who they are, face similar challenges: “Laws, stigmas about process servers. People not following the rules are making it harder for those who are. I’d like to see more laws implemented to assist us - getting into gated communities and things like that.”

For Reynolds, there is a solution, however: “Training is the key - and knowledge - and informing legislators and officials of what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. There’s a place for everyone, sherriffs, constables, and process servers.”

Like Reynolds, Crystal Batson of CMB Private Investigations, gender simply isn’t part of the equation when it comes to disadvantages: “I think my line of work is unique and challenging of its own with or without being a woman.”

Adantages to being a Woman in the Industry

Perhaps it is the cultural shift of women truly finding and claiming their place in America’s workforce, or it’s the realization within the industry that women can be successful that has caused the uptick in female process servers.

When Reynolds was asked if there were certain advantages to being a woman in the industry, the answer came quickly to her: “Oh yes, people will come to the door for us, whereas sometimes they will not come for a male. We’re living in some strange times. Times are changing fast. There’s a lot of fear in this country right now. I’m 70 years old with platinum hair, and I think I look less threatening than most people. People seem to respond to us better.”

Today, there is even a Facebook group dedicated to women in the industry called Women Detectives and Process Servers. No matter how you slice it, women are working in private investigations and process serving — and they’re good at it.

Schaffer went on to explain that “People don’t think of a professional woman being a process server. People have the image of these big guys, and today, my superstar is a 50-year-old Asian woman - because the perception that women don’t serve papers, particularly many years ago, has changed. Absolutely, the element of surprise makes them more successful.”

Clement affirmed that being a woman does have its perks in the field: “An advantage I’d say women have is that people talk to us. We are someone’s sister or mother, and we’re physically less domineering. We’re able to emit a vulnerability that usually tends to open up those that wouldn’t normally talk because they feel at ease with us.”

Reynolds commented on how women sometimes approach the job a bit differently, which helps them get the job done: “Most women seem to have a soft hand. They want to do it right. They are sympathetic. They want to get the job done. They want to be there if someone is upset. We advise them that we’re not attorneys, but if we can answer questions or point something out on the documents, we will do that. We’re not just serving papers. Women have a kindness about them. And I think that helps everyone.”

PIs and Process Servers: A Rewarding Career

Most often, we hear that being on the job is unexpectedly rewarding: simply the satisfaction of completing a job is enough to satisfy both new process servers and PIs and veterans alike. The women we spoke with all shared this sentiment.

Schafer, owner of Torri's Legal Services, explained that “I love working with my clients. I’m a very hands-on owner, so I talk to most of my clients, and I really enjoy the rewards of getting the job done.” She continued to explain that not only is the business personally rewarding, but that it has also been one she can count on to pay the bills. While telling her story, she emphasized that “This is a good business and it has provided for my family — and it has [provided] my staff.”

And Torri Schafer is not alone. Kimberly Hamilton, Private Investigator and Owner of Female Agents, Inc., wrote of her experiences as a private investigator last year for our sister publication, PInow: “To me, this profession is much more than that paycheck; it is a way of helping people transition out of uncertainty and finding some answers when life isn’t going as planned.”

It’s that ability to help people and get the job done that has kept women in the business — and likely what has helped catapult their success.

Women and Industry Success

As the process serving and private investigations industry changes each year, women are finding themselves not only a part of the industry, but leaders within it. Because of the element of surprise, many process servers and private investigators are able to get the job done in an inconspicuous manner. And perhaps due to their dogged determination to persevere in a male-dominated field, they are excelling.

In North Carolina, NCAPPS was formed by a conglomeration of men and women but led by Ruth Reynolds and Alice Penny. Today, the NCAPPS board is entirely comprised of women, with Ruth Reynolds at the helm as President. Of the association, she said, “The association (NCAPPS) is coming back from somewhat of a lull, and I’m hoping we’re going to have more input from people, and more training and education. I think that will make people better at their job.”

And it’s not just hopes that are propelling the industry. These women are hard at work. Reynolds explained how she’s worked hard to affect legislation in her state, which previously didn’t allow for process servers to effectuate service: “There was a time when there were very few process servers because of the laws in North Carolina. Alice Penny (process server in Raleigh) and I managed to get some rules changed so that after it came to the sheriff it could come to us. I can see some change coming down the road. There’s a [new] bill coming.”

In November 2018, Torri Schaffer became the President of her region’s civil process serving association, Mid Atlantic Association of Professional Process. Alongside her as Vice President is another woman, Lisa Garton, of Priority Process.

How Schaffer got there is no doubt in part to her determination, grit, and passion for the job. “At this point in my life, I am not taking [anything] from anybody. But I have to say, it took me awhile to get that way.”

There’s no doubt that the future has great things in store for women in both the civil process serving and private investigations fields. While the times are changing, it’s clear they’re changing for the better in the civil process service and private investigations industries.

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