SpyCloud Embraces Equity in Tech on International Women’s Day

2023 International Womens Day

With March as Women’s History Month and this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #EmbraceEquity, we wanted to sit down with female leaders at SpyCloud to get their thoughts on how this theme relates to their careers in technology and cybersecurity and their impact on our own history as strong female leaders. With leadership positions held by females across the organization including in engineering, HR, revenue operations, customer success, finance, and marketing, SpyCloud continues to make strides in diverse gender representation in the industry. Everyday, our female leaders personify SpyCloud’s values of Focused, Grounded, Driven, Insightful, Inventive, and United.

Now, let’s hear from some of SpyCloud’s fearless female leaders as they share how they chose technology as a career path, what some of their proudest moments are, and advice they have for other women in the industry or interested in joining the industry:

Heather Smith

Chief Marketing Officer

Leah Burk

SVP, Global Revenue Operations

Chris Churchill

VP, People

Ana Lopez

Engineering Manager, Portals Team

Heather Noe

Engineering Manager, QA Team

Padma Suram

Engineering Manager, Data Team

Read through the Q&A, or click to go directly to the answers to the following questions:

What motivated you to pursue a career in tech and more specifically, cybersecurity?

Ana: I am a gamer and I wanted to build video games when I was a teenager. I subscribed to the Nintendo Power Magazine and they had an article about a college in Washington where they would teach you how to make video games and I was interested in pursuing that. While I didn’t go that route in my career, I ended up studying computer engineering in Puerto Rico where I’m from and have been in the field ever since.

Heather N.: I fell in love with computers the first time I ever worked with them. The infatuation just grew over time and the pay for tech helped me make my decision when choosing a focus in college. I’ve always been interested in the hacker community from all perspectives. Cybersecurity is interesting because it’s like playing chess; you have to anticipate the enemy’s every move. I enjoy that challenge because it’s interesting to see how we have to evolve as protectors as they evolve as attackers.

Leah: My journey into technology probably started a long time ago with my engineering degree from a highly technical university, but my motivation to go into cybersecurity was more recent. I was looking for my next role and had very specific criteria that I had laid out. For the first time in my career, I realized that I was picking the job and I didn’t have to take the job just because they wanted me. 

I wanted 1) a growing/winning small startup, 2) a product that is interesting and that I can understand its impact on the world, 3) an executive team that were renown experts in their field, and 4) have no or small revenue operations org, so I could build it. SpyCloud hit all four!  

Most have either been affected or have had someone in our lives who has been affected by cybercrime and it’s the absolute worst. It’s a helpless feeling when someone tricks you at a weak moment and causes pain to you and possibly your family, friends, and job. The targets for these criminals are often the most vulnerable. I love being a part of something to shine a light on dark web activity and disrupt cybercrime.

Chris: I have lived in Austin for 25 years and have seen the city’s progression to an American tech hub. While I have not always worked in tech, my first job in HR was at Hewlett-Packard and my years as an Army Officer were spent in the Signal Corps. While I have not always worked specifically for a cybersecurity company, because of my role in HR, my responsibilities were always security-adjacent.

When the VP of HR aka “People” role was open at SpyCloud, I was not actively seeking a new role, but after meeting with Jennifer Parker-Snider, our CFO, I was intrigued by the mission and direction of SpyCloud. I then met with the founders and this past year with SpyCloud has been one of the most rewarding in my career. I love working with a group of people who are singularly focused on beating the bad guys and keeping the internet safe for everyone.

Heather S.: I started my career at a company with various subsidiaries, working in a corporate marketing department that served many of them. Having the opportunity to work on projects with healthcare, manufacturing, and tech companies, I naturally leaned into tech. Why? For me, it was the pace of change. In tech, and now cybersecurity technology, nothing is static. The capabilities that customers demand requires fast product development and Marketing that matches. I find the often breakneck pace challenging and exciting. It requires me to learn new things all the time, and when I’m learning, I’m growing, and that cycle is what I aim to foster within my own team.

Padma: When I realized that I consistently stayed awake and was very engaged in my discrete mathematics and data structures/algorithms classes, even during hot summer afternoons in college, I knew I was on to something good.

My cousins who were doing brilliant things in computer engineering were also a great source of inspiration and I knew I just had to try working in tech myself.

What advice do you have for other women considering a career in technology?

Heather N.: Don’t fall victim to imposter syndrome, every person has it. Do the best you can to learn the variety of skills your job requires and don’t be afraid to ask the “obvious” questions.

Ana: There’s a lot of smart, intelligent people and complex problems you’re handling, so you need to be smart and have the ability to understand abstract concepts and pull things together. But you also need to be clever with how you work and take the concept of work smarter not harder to heart. In this industry, there are an infinite amount of things to do and learn and you can dedicate your entire life to this, but you have to understand how to prioritize your time and not get burned out. That will help you be successful.

Chris: I would love to see more women in cybersecurity in general and SpyCloud specifically! We are solving some genuinely important problems that affect everyone who uses an internet-connected device. Approximately 1/3 of SpyCloud’s employees are women. A more gender-balanced employee group would allow for more collaboration as we add more perspectives and experience to the problems we are trying to solve.

Heather S.: If you’re motivated by a mission, you can’t do much better than cybersecurity. Personally, I’m someone who is motivated by working on something much greater than my own contributions. Being in the fight against cybercrime with our customers and partners is what gets me through the tough times. Our mission is difficult, but so worthwhile.

Padma: Go on, apply for that role! Even if it feels intimidating, even if you feel like you check only some of the boxes, don’t sell yourself short.

Leah: Join us! It’s an exciting space with a need for new perspectives and a way to stay a step ahead of the world of cybercrime. Find and follow the leadership styles that you appreciate, even if it’s across multiple leaders, and speak up to those allies and representatives to help drive the necessary changes that pave the way for the next generation of women that are looking to lead in the industry. 

What have been some of your proudest accomplishments in cybersecurity?

Heather S.: I co-created an event series for a multi-billion dollar cloud technology company with two other women – one my boss, one my peer. We had help from other leaders and our teams of course, but at its core, this series was the product of the three of us. Over a few dozen conferences, workshops and retreats around the world, we engaged over 6,000 IT leaders and practitioners with our brand, our capabilities, products, and partners. Those 5 years were one of the most incredible times of my life, and a lot of that came down to the dynamic between the women leading the charge – the trust we had in each other. I’ve been cultivating that level of trust in my own team now at SpyCloud. When you know you have other women “in it” with you, giving their all…you can produce magic.

Padma: Being able to contribute to data teams across a variety of domains has been a highlight of my experience in tech overall, and I’m very grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.

Ana: Anytime we launch a product is a proud moment where I feel a sense of accomplishment. So often in tech people fail to deliver, projects can be canceled, companies can go away, people can sometimes just develop, develop, develop and never deliver anything. But when you’ve worked on a product for so long and deliver it to customers, I get so excited when I hear people are using it. Take our latest launch of Compass – we developed a product, delivered it to market, customers are using it, and we contributed to our mission in a positive way. We did that!

Leah: My proudest accomplishment is my one-of-a-kind career path from several types of manufacturing to several types of pricing roles to sales operations to revenue operations.

I’m proud to say within the last few years, I’ve built a fantastic revenue operations team from the ground up that teaches me more than I teach them, that laughs until our faces hurt as to not take ourselves too seriously, and that pulls together to solve the most complex initiatives. 

But, I’m most proud to say I didn’t do any of this alone. I had mentors, family members, bosses, coworkers, peers of all different backgrounds that partnered with me, advised me and listened to me. There are all types of people out there who understand how to embrace equity and those are the people you should seek out and share success with.

Heather N.: Some of my proudest achievements are building QA teams and processes through mentoring. I recently had a former direct report tell me I changed his life by bringing him out of his shell and giving him the confidence to express his opinion. I especially enjoy working with interns and helping them develop both soft and technical skills.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EmbraceEquity - what experiences have you had in your career that support that theme?

Ana: In engineering at SpyCloud, 50 percent of leadership is female, which is a big thing. My hope is that that can help with attracting more female engineers in the organization. For me, being promoted to the position of engineering manager and being recognized for my skills and talent, part of which are because I am a woman, I think that in a way it’s like we’re trying to embrace equity in this organization. On the flip side, I do like to recognize that the men in the engineering organization here don’t have a “bro culture,” which can be very strong in other tech companies, which speaks to the type of people that we hire and our culture that we maintain and uphold.

Leah: I haven’t always worked with teams where I felt the concept of embracing equity was understood, but early on in my career I was given this gift by the most unlikely of teams.

Starting my career straight out of college (Go Hokies!) as an R&D engineer on a manufacturing floor with the likes of a male-dominated team that had been working at a super large company, some of them for 20+ years. I was so green and unsure of my ability. I was assigned rotating 8-hour shifts with a highly skilled team that worked 24/7 technical support for a manufacturing plant in rural Texas. Though the overall manufacturing environment was not what I would call female-friendly, I found that I had my first support system in my career from a specific team of people, whom I so lovingly called “the crusty ol’ men”. They truly cared about partnering with me to get the job done and teaching me all they knew. They embraced the fact that it wasn’t a level playing field for me in that world, so they didn’t tolerate others treating me as one of the boys.  They appreciated and respected the skills I brought to the table and my unique perspective.   This defined what I saw as real leadership: A humble, yet experienced voice that was there when you asked for it, but stayed silent when it was your time to figure it out. A team that I didn’t expect to embrace our differences, a team I fully expected was going to reject me and treat me as an outsider –  didn’t do that at all. They seized the opportunity to speak up for me when I hadn’t realized I could speak for myself. 

I was lucky enough in my early career to have leaders in my life who didn’t ignore that I was a woman by treating me just like any other engineer, but who partnered with me to leverage my unique perspective for the success of the overall team. It seems like a lifetime ago, but now that it’s 20 years later I get to reuse their endearing retort when I would catch something they missed: “Just remember, I’ve got socks older than you.”

Heather S.: There’s a myth out there that women only apply for jobs they’re fully qualified for. LinkedIn pretty much debunked that myth, but did find that women tend not to apply for roles that are more senior than their current position. I fear rejection as much as anyone, but truth be told, I have not been fully qualified for every role I’ve pursued. I’ve been hired not having the full set of desired capabilities for the role. And I’ve been lucky to have been coached toward the needed capabilities and behaviors by a leader who recognized my potential. Equity for me has been receiving the opportunity to handle initiatives and projects I’ve never done before, and receiving the necessary help along the way to be successful.

The expectation that everyone comes into a role with 100% of the experience necessary is, frankly, insane. Hiring managers need to find people with potential, and invest time (and sometimes money) into getting them equipped for the role. I personally have hired people with 25-50% of the required skills but a great attitude and adaptability, and they’ve been some of the most objectively successful people I’ve had the pleasure to work with.

Chris: Having worked in Human Resources for more than 20 years, I have witnessed the evolution of equity first-hand. While there is still a pervasive struggle for equity in all facets of our personal and professional lives, I find that in recent years, women in power have begun to embrace the fact that being the only woman at the proverbial table serves no one. The difference in my professional experience today, is that most women recognize that all women are much more impactful when they support one another.

Heather N.: We still have a way to go toward fostering innovative and fulfilling career choices. We have made incremental improvements, but there are still inequities that continue to adversely affect us at every advancement. I appreciate that there are more diverse opportunities for women to find community and resources. We need to celebrate our wins while striving to excel as leaders in the technical fields. As a leader, I focus my efforts on building and promoting the various intellectual gifts of each member of my team.

SpyCloud continues to add female leadership at the top levels of the organization - why is it important to have a seat at the table?

Leah: Doesn’t everyone like to be heard and understood? I know I do. In order to create an environment of being heard, I feel like in any organization you want to see people who are similar to you in leadership positions. You want to feel represented though you may not want to be the leader. That representation allows the flow of expression that different perspectives are not just spoken as lip service, but promoted and prioritized. I want to know that someone who has walked in shoes similar to mine is helping to shape the culture and strategic initiatives for my company. 

Heather S.: Companies and teams perform better when there is diversity of perspective and diversity of experiences, and that necessitates both men and women being present, being heard, and having influence at all levels.

It’s a belief I’ve long held, but it’s born out in the data as well: according to McKinsey & Company, gender-diverse executive teams are more likely to experience above-average profitability than industry peers. According to Gartner, gender-diverse teams deliver a performance boost up to 50% higher than gender-homogeneous teams.

But it’s not all about the numbers. Diverse teams solve problems more effectively and better represent the customers they serve. And ultimately, it’s important for women to see themselves on a leadership team. It inspires confidence that their needs are being represented, and that they too can make it to the top, if that’s what they want. I recently read that more than two-thirds of women under 30 want to be senior leaders. That’s incredible, and we’ve got to continue to foster making those dreams a reality. It has to feel possible for young women to make it into these positions.

Cybersecurity is a male-dominated industry - what do you or think we at SpyCloud do to promote diversity and inclusion in the cybersecurity industry?

Heather S.: The first step in changing things is realizing there’s an issue. We’re experiencing similar challenges to other companies in this respect – that there is simply a dearth of female candidates for certain roles. With that said, our team goes the extra mile to actively recruit women, and we offer benefits that are, simply put, necessary to attract female candidates. We enjoy the flexibility to work remotely, which helps women balancing childcare and work, and is more beneficial to women with disabilities. We offer a dependent care FSA that results in savings for daycare, after school and summer program expenses, and an employee assistance program to help with emotional health, parenting and childcare questions, financial coaching, and much more.

But these are table stakes now. Personally, I address male/female dynamics when I get serious with female candidates in an interview process, ensuring they know SpyCloud is a safe space, where women are encouraged, invested in, promoted, and treated with respect. I don’t leave this up to chance – if a candidate is choosing between us and another company, I know that the way women are treated can be a difference maker.

Chris: SpyCloud has always made an effort to promote diversity and inclusion in our hiring and our recruiting team has made a concerted effort to source diverse candidates for our roles. We also offer Unconscious Bias in our training for hiring managers. In a competitive hiring landscape this is no easy feat, but our team is always focused on finding qualified candidates so that our hiring managers continue to add the best and brightest to our team.

Leah: Since changing the cultural landscape of any industry starts with hiring, I hire curious, capable people who show us they are excited about the cybersecurity industry and excited about our mission. I ask these questions to every single one of my candidates: “Why cybersecurity? Why SpyCloud?” If I only stuck with 100 years of experience as a criteria, we would perpetuate the domination of the industry and not allow for new perspectives. I would much rather invest in a new hire from another industry who is passionate, capable, and motivated to learn because people with these qualities create success all around them.

I think as time passes the first gen cybersecurity experts are excited to see the new diverse candidates that are curious and passionate about being in this space. They are coming in with new ways of thinking that will continue to drive innovation to continue to thwart the ever evolving world of cybercrime.

What advice would you give to your younger self about pursuing a career in cybersecurity?

Ana: Be courageous. Believe in yourself. It takes a lot of courage to be in a male-dominated environment. Throughout your career, you will still be confronted with certain limitations, but keep trying to break the mold. Believe in yourself that you are capable of many things, even though we as women tend to have a lot of self doubt.

Heather N.: Don’t be afraid to embrace the things that scare you. Strive to constantly set a higher standard but be kind to yourself when you fall.

Padma: My advice to my younger self would be to reach out to my peers more; I wish I had done it during the ups and downs of my tech career.

What message would you like to share with other women in the cybersecurity field?

Ana: We are very capable in this industry. I recognize that the tech industry rewards my son’s natural analytical abilities much better than they would my daughter’s nurturing traits, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for her in tech. I’m hoping that as we continue embracing equity, it won’t be as difficult to accept someone that has more like the traits of my daughter in the industry as well.

Padma: Participate in and build up your network in the field. Support and celebrate each other.

We’re always looking for inventive problem solvers who are passionate about building a safer internet together. Check out openings if you’re interested to #GrowwithSpyCloud and join us as we #EmbraceEquity.
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