Courtney Liebowitz—now the Director of Governance, Information, Security, and Data Loss Prevention at Freddie Mac—didn’t have much experience with information security when she first joined the federal mortgage lender as a consultant in 2013.
Since starting at Freddie Mac, Courtney’s hard work and thirst for continual learning have led her to take on several new challenges, including her most recent promotion to director. We sat down to ask her what other key lessons shaped her path into leadership, and what advice she has for other women looking to follow in her footsteps.
Finding Her Stride as a Leader
As a consultant, Courtney taught herself the ins and outs of information security and quickly proved her mettle at Freddie Mac—her success didn’t go unnoticed, and she was hired full-time as a manager in 2018.
One of the things Courtney has appreciated most about Freddie Mac is how supportive the company is of her desire to learn and stretch herself.
“If you want to learn something new, or go to a different division, people support that, and there’s a lot of opportunity,” she explains. For Courtney, that opportunity has meant increasing responsibilities through promotions to senior manager, and most recently, director.
Leadership is something Courtney has taken to organically. “It’s in my nature to take on extra stuff, to fix things,” she says. But she attributes her development as a leader in large part to the support she’s received from Freddie Mac.
“I’ve had a lot of training experiences throughout my tenure at Freddie Mac. They’re absolutely supportive, and very much promote women in technology,” she says.
One of the most formative experiences Courtney has had at the company was a six-months-long executive leadership training for women in information security. “It was fantastic,” she says, noting how the training opened her eyes to some of the barriers women in the workforce face.
“Prior to the training, prior to seeing the data,” she explains, “it wasn’t something I was particularly aware of because I have never been made to feel that way—dismissed, or too assertive—at Freddie. Not at Freddie, not one time.”
Understanding the challenges that do exist has made her grateful for the environment she finds herself in at the company. In addition to the training she’s received, she has a great example to look up to in Betty Elliott, Freddie Mac’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). “My CISO is a very strong female lead. She's amazing,” she says.
Paying It Forward: 3 Tips for Other Women in Leadership
Courtney’s self-taught approach, coupled with the support she’s received from Freddie Mac, has led her to a fulfilling leadership role in information security.
Now, she wants to pay that forward to other women in the field.
“The most fulfilling part of my job is watching someone that I’m coaching, or mentoring come into their own,” Courtney says.
She shared three tips for excelling as a leader:
- Trust your gut. If you are considering taking on new opportunities, even ones you might not feel entirely prepared for, go with your gut. “Use your best judgment,” she says. “Your gut’s not going to lie to you.”
- Put others at ease whenever you can. Courtney shares an example of how she was able to encourage a mentee who was scared about delivering a presentation: “I told her, ‘I’ll be in the meeting with you. If you stop talking, I will start.’ And she’s been presenting extremely well ever since.”
- Know when to compromise—and when to walk away. “[In a workplace,] you have different personalities. Sometimes, you can work together to come up with a compromise. Other times, you may have to agree to disagree and walk away. But if you're just constantly battling, you'll never get anywhere.”
Learn more about our amazing sponsors, partners, and diversity and inclusion award winners! Also, check out some of our speakers' inspiring work and initiatives.
From everyone here at PowerToFly we want to extend a BIG thank you to everyone who tuned into last week's Diversity Reboot: Returning to the Workforce. In case you missed a talk or you'd like to revisit one of our great conversations, don't worry, all of the fireside chats and panels will be available to watch for free on PowerToFly soon.
We were thrilled to present talks on such important subjects as the future of flexible work, returning to work after being a caregiver, combatting ageism, practicing work-life integration and fighting for major policy changes such as universal parental leave and affordable child care.
We want to extend a HUGE thanks to our amazing sponsors Freddie Mac, Johnson & Johnson and Smartsheet who made this summit possible as well as the support of our speakers and partners such as TheLi.st, New Power Media, Vote Mama and Path Forward.
Please take a moment to support these leaders, whether by buying their books, donating to their organizations, or just visiting their sites to learn more about how to get involved with them in the future.
Freddie Mac makes home possible for millions of families and individuals by providing mortgage capital to lenders. Since our creation by Congress in 1970, we've made housing more accessible and affordable for homebuyers and renters in communities nationwide. We are building a better housing finance system for homebuyers, renters, lenders and taxpayers.
Our Work Drives Our Mission
From supporting the stability of the housing market to promoting housing affordability, everyone at Freddie Mac helps lead the industry forward. And that's the best part of working here — knowing that the work we do makes home possible for homebuyers and renters across the U.S. We call it being home to more.
Come back to the workforce stronger and more prepared to take on the world's most critical health challenges.
The Johnson & Johnson Re-Ignite program is a paid returnship for experienced professionals ready to return to work after a career break of two years or longer. Get back to your career alongside others who have been where you are, who understand and appreciate nontraditional career journeys, unique skills, and life experiences like yours. Guided by mentors and feedback from those who have successfully completed the program, Re-Ignite also includes:
- Comprehensive onboarding and industry-specific skills training
- Projects based on your goals
- Building confidence and fluency in key workplace tools through on-the-job learning
- A network of support for the next phase of your career journey and beyond
- Consideration for a full-time role at Johnson & Johnson after completing the program
We believe pausing your career to pursue something else important shouldn't stand in the way of your next breakthrough—it should enhance it.
Re-Ignite is for people rejoining the workforce after:
- Military service
- Starting or raising a family
- Caring for a family member
- Teaching· Community service
- Political office
- Entrepreneurial ventures
- Volunteer work· Continuing education
- Or many other professional or personal pursuits
In 2005, Smartsheet was founded on the idea that teams and millions of people worldwide deserve a better way to deliver their very best work. Today, the company delivers a leading cloud-based platform for work execution, empowering organizations to plan, capture, track, automate, and report on work at scale, resulting in more efficient processes and better business outcomes.
Smartsheet went public on the New York Stock Exchange in April 2018 and currently enables collaboration, better decision making, and accelerated innovation for over 76,000 domain-based customers in 190 countries, including 96 of the Fortune 100.
Smartsheet is a passionate team of 1500+ employees spanning offices in Seattle, Boston, London, Edinburgh and Sydney.
TransTech is an incubator for LGBTQ Talent with a focus on economically empowering the T, transgender people, in our community. TransTech is a co-working, co-learning community dedicated to empowering trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer people and allies with practical, career-ready skills.
TheLi.st is a global community of high impact women in media, technology, and entrepreneurship who are devoted to helping each other unlock new opportunities, achieve greater visibility, and succeed to even higher heights. We are an inclusive community, welcoming all who identify with womanhood (trans, cis, non-binary).
At the intersection of content and community, New Power Media curates powerful conversations, panels and conferences to connect brands and corporations to thought-leaders, media and influencers who are lighting the way for a new dynamic of power. With a focus on championing diversity, celebrating women and elevating next generation leadership, New Power Media can help you tell your brand story, strengthen your thought-leadership, and reach new audiences with authenticity.
The Vote Mama Foundation was founded to overcome the structural and cultural hurdles that mothers face while running for office and that legislators face while fighting for family-friendly legislation.We are working to ensure that all parents and children in the United States have access to safe, affordable childcare and that candidates running in all 50 states can use their campaign funds for childcare..Founded by former Congressional candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley, The Vote Mama Foundation belongs to a group of organizations dedicated to making our country a better place for moms and kids.
We believe the success of our mission can be best measured not by the number of moms who win their elections, but also by the normalization of moms and young women in positions of leadership and power. Our kids need to see - running for office is just what mamas do.
Path Forward is a nonprofit organization on a mission to empower people to restart their careers after time spent focused on caregiving. We fulfill this mission by working with companies to create and run mid-career internships — also known as "returnships" — that give professionals a jump start back to their careers, while giving companies access to a diverse, untapped talent force. Since 2016, we've worked with more than 80 companies to create return to work programs, including Walmart, Netflix, Apple, SAP, NBCUniversal, Verizon, PayPal, Intuit, and others. More than 80% of the participants in our programs have been hired by the companies where they completed their returnships.
Having an inclusive culture with diversity of thinking is essential to business performance. The only way to 'shift the dial' on tough gender and commercial targets is to build more inclusive cultures where everyone is engaged and can reach their potential. That's why Talking Talent exists: enabling leaders, individuals and organizations to succeed by unlocking the full power and potential from within - delivering coaching programs and consultancy that ignite companywide behavioral shifts.
We are a team of motivated innovators with a shared passion for helping clients and talent achieve their goals. Our core mission is to deliver high-quality, impactful results to our partners — and includes 110% dedication to having fun and providing convenience.
Since 2012, S.H.E. Summit has been a leadership platform and community advancing diversity, inclusion and social impact in the workplace and the world--through a leadership framework guided by whole-life purpose, inclusion and wellbeing that our future of work needs. We believe transforming culture and creating a better future starts with transforming people and unlocking the potential of their whole, authentic-being. We are award-winning for creating exceptional content, inspiring learning experiences and an unparalleled network and community in order to activate inclusive leaders so we can work towards equity for all. S.H.E. Summit is founded and led by Claudia Chan, a 20+ year social-entrepreneur, bestselling author and creator of the HOW WE RISE Whole-Life Leadership method. Learn more about Claudia Chan.
Claudia Chan talk reminds us that we will never achieve true equity in business and society without a more "whole-being" approach to leadership. She would love to stay in touch with you and share free #WholeLifeLeadership resources and send our community a 20% discount code to S.H.E. Summit Conference Membership and How We Rise "Whole-Life Leadership" Certificate Program. Sign up here http://bit.ly/claudia connect
The Jane Club is curated community platform that offers live gatherings and social connection that is educational, inspirational and transformative.
Honor all work. Come as you are. Show up. Be of service.
From the first incubator space where we tested coworking with onsite, full-time childcare, to our expanding digital community of 500+ Janes from all across the country and around the world, these have been our guiding principles.
Get $20, or 40%, off your first month of membership using code WORKFORCE20.
Mission: A community of women 45+ navigating the present and future of work together in this digital worldTogether, we inform, learn and connect.
Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities is an initiative designed to accelerate the representation and leadership of women in tech through the development of inclusive tech hubs across the United States.
YWCA has been at the forefront of the most critical social movements for more than 160 years — from women's empowerment and civil rights, to affordable housing and pay equity, to violence prevention and health care.
Our mission: winning high-quality paid family and medical leave for everyone.
Today 9to5 is one of the largest, most respected national membership organizations of working women in the U.S., dedicated to putting working women's issues on the public agenda.
iRelaunch, the pioneering company in the career reentry space, produces the iRelaunch Return to Work Conferences, iRelaunch Employer Events, and works with over 100 global companies on return to work initiatives of all kinds, through which thousands of relaunchers have resumed careers after career breaks of one to over 20 years.
Commsor integrates with all the tools you already use, tying your community data together and enabling you to unlock insights, measure impact, and build a community-led company.
We were founded on the belief that the best organizations are the ones that treat people fairly. Our origin story is based on a shared vision: to reimagine the way the world works for the benefit of employees and the betterment of all. Using technology to empower, data to inform, and our expertise to inspire, we are leading the way in workplace fairness.
Divinely Powered is a full-service leadership development and executive coaching firm, dedicated to serving the world's leading organizations in the private, public and non-profit sectors. Our goal is to advance leadership and maximize human potential.
Speaker Spotlight: DEI Book Club Picks!
by Christine Michel Carter
by Claudia Chan
by Ann Shoket
by Dr. Sheryl Ziegler
By Kathryn Sollman
By Alice Li
Thank you to all of our wonderful, amazing speakers! And thank you again for supporting Diversity Reboot 2021 and PowerToFly!
Freddie Mac is changing the housing market in the US. Want to learn more about how? Then just watch our recent panel discussion and audience Q&A with women leaders and allies from Freddie Mac.
Speakers from Freddie Mac included:
- Brandon Rush – Business Tech.: Investments & Capital Markets
- Sandy Sweeney – Business Resiliency
- Any Oettinger – ETX
- Erika Thompson – Risk
- Melissa Chiari - IT Transformation & Maclean Area
Learn more about Freddie Mac, including their open roles, on their page on PowerToFly.
She’s Paving the Way for Women in Cybersecurity: How She Went from First-Generation College Student to IT Leader
A Conversation with Freddie Mac's Stephanie Johnson
When Stephanie Johnson, currently an Information Security Manager at Freddie Mac, was just starting her career as an IT professional, she found herself sitting in her car one night after work asking herself, "Why am I not being heard? Should I adjust my tone? Posture? What I'm saying?"
She wanted to make an impact and knew she could do better.
So she challenged herself to rethink her meeting approach. No longer would she sit back and wait for someone else to speak first. She decided she'd enter her next meeting as a confident subject matter expert.
And it worked.
"I put on a black suit and heels, and I came into the meeting and sat at the front of the table so I could see everyone. I sat up straight, I kept the meeting on track, and I was respectful of others but I took control. From that moment forward, I was always heard," says Stephanie.
Designing her path
Stephanie had to create her own approach and career path for her entire life. Growing up in a small midwestern town with a single mother who didn't have a large income, college didn't seem like a realistic goal for many in Stephanie's family. But she believed that education was the key to changing her life, so she found a way to make college work.
"I knew there was a better way to live. And I knew I was going to be the first
person to change the picture for my family. I wanted others to follow in my footsteps," says Stephanie.
Stephanie started off at a two-year college, where she graduated with an associate's degree in computer science. (She picked that major after doing research into the most lucrative and fastest-growing fields of study—talk about prescience.) That helped her land a job as a data analyst with the City of Pine Bluff finance department; the money she earned there allowed her to go back to college at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and complete her bachelor's.
"There were times I wanted to give up because it was hard. I carried pictures of my family,
and every time I looked at those photos, I knew I had to stay the course. I told myself, 'If you
don't do this, nobody will.' My mom was the oldest of 12 and none of her siblings went to
college. My older siblings didn't go. Now, about 70% of people in my family have…graduate[d] college," says Stephanie proudly.
While still in college, Stephanie started an internship at the Pentagon as a UNIX system administrator. "That was the role that got my hands under the hood," she remembers. Her strong work ethic and ability to provide top-notch customer service through technical issue resolution led to her receiving a full-time job offer at the Pentagon. She stayed for several years and completed her degree before leaving government work because she felt her career path was becoming stagnant, she says. She wanted to grow and learn new things.
Before landing at Freddie Mac, Stephanie held IT positions in several different sectors, including government, telecommunications, consulting, and finance. After 9/11, she was inspired to transition from pure IT into information security and cybersecurity, and data privacy.
All of her career choices were motivated by one thing: challenging herself to keep learning and growing, and by so doing, creating a path for other women (and especially women of color) to do the same.
Paving the way for women
"When I first started in my career, there was a common belief that women should be submissive," remembers Stephanie. Luckily, that stereotype has changed, but women still aren't anywhere near parity in representation or pay in the cybersecurity industry or the tech industry at large.
"I feel I have a responsibility to pave the way for minority women in IT. If I could wave a
magic wand and create the perfect job, I would be a beacon for recruiting at colleges to bring
more women into this space. There's work to be done. I am an advocate and an avenue for that work. I want to change the trajectory," says Stephanie.
Her contributions to solving that problem include mentoring women. Through lunches, phone calls, and long advice sessions, Stephanie passes on her tried-and-true pieces of advice: "I tell them they need to learn to own their craft and their brand. If they don't do that, they won't be heard. They can be assertive without being aggressive."
By mentoring younger women on her team and those from her past positions, Stephanie has been able to pay homage to two mentors of hers who made differences in her IT career: Ed and Brian, two of her past bosses who offered Stephanie a helping hand from the get-go.
Though she's had success in cybersecurity and proven that women can take on important technical and leadership roles in the field, she'll never say it was easy. "Just by being a woman, you don't always get opportunities to move up. People can see strong women as intimidating. You become a threat. There's still a lot of room for change in this space – and I'm at the front of it," says Stephanie.
Finding her fit
After years of impressive experience across IT and cybersecurity roles, Stephanie accepted a job in cyber risk management at Freddie Mac because it fulfilled her desire to keep learning and growing professionally while providing her a meaningful mission, a strong organizational commitment to diversity and inclusion, and truly open channels between upper management and employees.
"At Freddie Mac, I get to go to work and know everything I'm doing is helping make home possible for someone in the U.S. Our work matters. That is what excites me," explains Stephanie.
Our What Women Want report found that the majority of women (72%) are dissatisfied with the level of diversity and sense of inclusion and belonging in their company. That's not the case for Stephanie, who accepted the role at Freddie Mac because of their strong corporate commitment to diversity and inclusion: "I was really impressed with the company's Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) program. Once I got here, I realized the program is always getting better and better. They're always working on making this place more inclusive and I'm so proud to be part of an organization so focused on inclusion."
Freddie Mac's I&D initiatives include investing in women leaders. Stephanie is a member of the Rising Leaders employee resource group and has been nominated by her company for several leadership training programs, which have contributed to her upward mobility at work and increased confidence in her management and leadership skills.
Those leadership skills have resulted in Stephanie leading a change in Freddie Mac's cyber risk assessment program. She developed a risk-based, customized approach incorporating customer input that resulted in increased efficiency while also decreasing the backlog of tasks. "I expected there to be more resistance to change, but leadership has been really on board for changes. That's one of my favorite parts of working here," explains Stephanie.
That openness is extended on an individual basis, too—one of Stephanie's favorite moments at Freddie Mac was when she connected with Jacqui Welch, Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Diversity Officer, outside of work, and was encouraged by Jacqui to follow up and have a one-on-one meeting. Jacqui's team made the meeting happen and Stephanie was surprised by how Jacqui truly wanted to understand Stephanie's perspective and ideas for the company.
Overall, Stephanie has found the role and company that's right for her—one that values her ideas, supports her identities, and believes in investing in women in tech.
If a role like that sounds right for you, too, check out Freddie Mac's open positions or leave a question for Stephanie in the comments!