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!
Branwyn Baughman, recruiter at Lockheed Martin, shares an exclusive take on the most important tips to keep in mind when preparing for an interview.
Take a look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as some top-notch tips that Branwyn outlines on how you can make your application stand out.
To learn more about Lockheed Martin and their open roles, click here.
6 Tips for Companies & 5 Tips for Individuals from Indeed's Group VP of ESG, LaFawn Davis
Earlier this month, LaFawn Davis, Indeed's Group Vice President of Environmental, Social, & Governance, joined us as part of our Diversity Reboot Summit to talk about the 'shecession' experienced by many women, and especially women of color, as a result of COVID-19.
LaFawn shared some great tips for companies and individuals looking to be part of "the great rehiring." If you're looking to find a new role, or to ensure that you help bring back diverse talent displaced by COVID, check out her advice below, and catch her complete talk here or by clicking the video above!
Q: What would your advice be to companies that are looking to step up their diverse hiring in 2021?
My advice: Good intentions are no longer good enough. Nobody wants to hear what you meant to do, wish you could have do, intended to do. Nobody wants to hear that you can't find Black Women or any other dimension of diversity. We're obviously out here.
My squad and I have a saying "Impact over intentions." So, if 2020 was the year of good diversity and inclusion intentions, let's make 2021 the year of actions and impact.
So, now that we got that out of the way. If you're looking to step up your diverse hiring. Stop and get your house in order. Because you shouldn't just want to hire a diverse workforce, you should want to grow and keep them too. So there are 5 things, ready?
1. Focus on long-term systemic change.
There's a lot of momentum — and need — for change right now. It's not just about a message of support or donating to a cause one time. Take a look at your own systems. How do you hire and grow employees? Do your succession planning, talent reviews, recruiting and other processes have built-in biases? Is equality part of your core values? Are you actively working toward change? Recognize that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Above all, hold yourself accountable for the way things are, then work to improve.
2. Take a close look at your data.
Share it internally to be transparent with employees of where you are now. When possible, share it externally to be visible and accountable (I'm happy to announce that Indeed will be releasing its own diversity data this summer). Use it as a baseline for comparison against what you hope to achieve.
3. Change behavior.
Focus on behavioral changes throughout the company with an emphasis on coaching, training, and having crucial conversations with managers. Leaders and managers set an example for the entire workforce. If employees see the behavior of managers or leaders in a negative light, a true sense of belonging is difficult to achieve.
4. Representation matters.
If leadership roles are perceived as exclusive to many members of the workforce, then a broader sense of belonging will continue to elude many employees. People in leadership roles should reflect the diversity of a company's workforce. Observing someone "like me" in a leadership role helps attract and retain talent and motivates workers to pursue roles with greater responsibility.
5. Create Policies And Procedures Reflective Of The Entire Workforce.
As you work through new or existing policies and procedures, be aware of barriers experienced by different populations. Take, for example, the case of caregivers. More scheduling flexibility for calls can go a long way for employees who share their home workspace with others and must tend to family responsibilities while working remotely.
Q: Do you have advice for individuals that are looking for new career opportunities, especially women of color who might have lost their previous jobs during the pandemic?
Adaptability has always been an important part of an individual's career progression - even before COVID-19, it is especially important now.
It is important to show a potential new employer how your abilities adapt to a new role or a new industry. Focus on skills more than just experiences because skills can be applied in so many different ways. So… I'll give you 6 things for this one.
1. Perform a professional audit. Taking some time to understand your qualities, qualifications and values can help focus your career transition and narrow down your career path options if you haven't already. Doing so can also help you understand how you might position yourself during the job search.
2. Identify your hard and soft skills. Soft skills are often the most transferable, so identifying them early can help you understand the ways you might bring value to a new role or industry. Taking inventory of your hard skills will help you identify if there are certain industries that might be easier to transition into.
3. Highlight your biggest career wins. Communicating the impact you've made throughout your career can help employers quickly understand the value you'll bring to their organization, even if you come from another role or industry.
4. Utilize online job search to your advantage. Pay close attention to the requirements and duties of jobs so you can evaluate whether the career would align with your skills, interests and values.
5. You just need to meet "most" of the qualifications. Try to focus on positions for which you meet at least 60% of the qualifications with your transferable skills. Meeting 60% of the qualifications isn't a hard rule, but it's a good general guideline to help you determine whether it's worth applying for.
6. Get a sense of the company. Before interviews, do some research to learn how inclusive a company is. Peruse the organization's core values, its social media accounts, and any recent statements in support of marginalized groups. Pay attention to the interviewers themselves. Is the panel diverse or are you likely to be an early "diversity hire"? If the interviewers seem to be emphasizing "cultural fit," ask what that means. Basically, be an active participant in the hiring process. You are also interviewing the company, as much as they are interviewing you.
Stephanie Acker, director of inside sales at Commvault, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as her own career journey.
To kick things off, Stephanie mentioned the three things that make a great inside sales professional: an independent work ethic, the ability to learn and execute on their own, and an awareness of what keeps them motivated.
Over her 12-year career at Commvault, Stephanie's greatest motivation has been helping customers to find solutions and catapult them to success. In both her past role as a sales representative and her current director position, Stephanie remains committed to ensuring her team understands what motivates them to sell and setting them up for success.
The biggest surprise during her career at Commvault was becoming the director of inside sales. Stephanie shared that she loves working for a company that listens to new ideas, thinks outside of the box, and tries new things.
Don't miss her take on what moves a candidate forward in the interview process! For example, Stephanie loves when the interviewee gets into "the zone"—showing their selling technique. She also shares her favorite interview questions.
As Stephanie says, stop thinking and apply today!
To learn more about Commvault and their open roles, click here.
When you think about strong female leadership, what comes to mind? For Tatiana L., a global client partner in Miami, it's about more than having an executive seat, being a mother, or making dreams come true. "Good leadership is about being open, flexible, and able to understand different perspectives," she says. "It's about fostering collaboration, bringing people together, and empowering them to connect."
Tatiana L. is a global client partner based in Miami.
Tatiana is part of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group and helped plan Women's Leadership Day, an annual global community summit. While the highly-anticipated event takes place over just one day, its massive impact is felt over the course of the entire year.
Amy W. is an operations lead based in London.
"Women's Leadership Day is more than an event. It's energy, and it's a movement," Amy W., an operations lead in London, says. "Moments like this can completely change the perception of women in technology."
From choosing the content and programming for the event to making it accessible for women around the globe, we went behind the scenes with seven members of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group to learn more about how women are empowered—and are empowering one another— in their career journeys at the Facebook company.
Behind the scenes with Women@
Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager based in Singapore, speaking onstage at 2019 Women@ Leadership Day in APAC.
"I've always been passionate about empowering women, but I didn't know how I could do it at work. My first Women@ experience changed how I felt at Facebook," Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager in Singapore, remembers. "From then on, I wanted to help other women feel heard, valued, and confident."
Planning the global event, which brings together women from more than 20 countries, calls for close collaboration across multiple teams, regions, and timezones. Members of Women@ also partner with other Facebook Resource Groups, such as the Pride@ Resource Group, Latin@ Facebook Resource Group, Desis@ Facebook Resource Group and Black@ Resource Group, to ensure all women at Facebook are represented and feel included.
Vivian V. is a program manager based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Across regions and communities, we each bring unique differences and powerful stories. When one of us moves forward, we have the opportunity to bring all of us forward," Vivian V., a program manager in the San Francisco Bay Area explains. "While planning the summit, we meet weekly to talk about what women in different regions are experiencing. From the event theme and content to planning speaker sessions and fine-tuning details, we each have items to own. Two months before the summit, we meet daily to share updates and make sure nothing slips through the cracks."
"Just like me, women in APAC look forward to Women's Leadership Day all year long," Amanda says. Planning something that's deeply meaningful to so many people can feel like a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it's uplifting. I appreciate that we have the opportunity to talk about our individual and shared challenges, and we map out ways we can build community while empowering leadership for women across the globe."
Empowering confidence, equality, and leadership through storytelling
Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, and Amanda M. collaborate with women across the globe to plan Women@ programming and events.
Women's Leadership Day encourages women to talk about challenges like experiencing imposter syndrome, breaking through barriers, and how to manage work/life flexibility. "Storytelling is a huge part of the event," Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, explains.
Vivian says, "I've been at Facebook for nearly two years and help plan these events, and honestly, I never really understood imposter syndrome before I got here. Working with the Women@ community and hearing from our speakers—who are talented, brilliant superstars—I've seen firsthand how it affects them too."
Michelle C. is a client partner based in London.
Michelle C., a client partner in London, says that the summit's speaker sessions, which feature people from inside and outside of Facebook, are a highlight of every event. "We had a speaker from Tel Aviv who talked about the importance of balance in her personal life and how she co-parents with her husband. She shared specific things she's done, like adding her husband to the WhatsApp chat groups for mothers she's in and reminding her daughter's school that her husband is also available when their child feels sick. Her message was that we'll never be equal in the workplace until we're equal at home, and it really struck a chord."
Paris says that in APAC, Eva Chen's talk about facing challenges amidst the coronavirus pandemic and how she's raising her daughter was a top-rated session because it was so relatable. "From talking about her daughter's love for dinosaurs—a "boy" thing—and raising kids to fully be themselves to opening up about what it was like to grow up with immigrant parents from China and Vietnam, Eva inspired us with her authenticity and openness. Her struggle to feel supported while working in fashion and tech, rather than medicine, is something a lot of people in APAC understand."
"Every woman has a unique story," Michelle says. "Hearing from others is inspiring, validating, and truly eye-opening. It reminds us that we're not alone."
A memorable and lasting impact
It's no surprise that with the tremendous amount of planning and careful consideration that goes into the summit, its full impact is impossible to measure.
"It meant so much to me when people shared such positive feedback about Women's Leadership Day," Paris says. "We heard that some attendees felt inspired for days and weeks."
Kira G. is an agency partner based in Berlin.
Kira G., an agency partner in Berlin, has witnessed how the summit's programming can inspire action, even helping people push past a career plateau. "We might reach a point in our careers when we think, "I can't do this anymore, I'm not moving forward'," she says. "Women's Leadership Day gives us fresh perspectives, shows us new approaches, and starts important conversations. This can unlock new paths for growth and help us move forward."
Impact is felt in other Facebook groups, communities, and across teams too, inspiring interest and allyship. Amanda explains, "I felt so proud when a male VP from the Sales team came to us after hearing about what people talked about at Women's Leadership Day. He told us he wanted to learn more because it's everyone's responsibility to be an ally."
Empowering the community throughout the year
While Amanda describes Women's Leadership Day as a "bump in energy and inspiration" and "an injection of adrenaline", Vivian says that the real magic is what happens afterwards—and takes place all year long.
"When we think about Women's Leadership Day, our focus is on making sure that the powerful messages we hear and experience serve us throughout the entire year. We ask ourselves questions like, "How can we sprinkle these themes into our programming throughout the month or quarter? How do these ideas fit with our Women@ initiatives?" Going through something awesome together is just the beginning. Our work takes place year-round and we're constantly building on it to do more."
Paris agrees: "There's no shortage of amazing stories from our Women@ community throughout the year. Women's Leadership Day is just one channel for those stories, and I love how it stays top of mind with people and empowers them to do more good. When we come together, we can do anything we dream of."
"We're building a sisterhood and a community," Tatiana beams. "It feels so good to know there's always someone there to support you."
Learn more about Facebook's Employee Resource Groups, including Women@ here.