Throughout my career, I was regularly the first and only woman in the room. As a junior law firm associate, I was often mistaken for an assistant and asked to fetch coffee during meetings. In the courtroom, I knew the jury would focus on my attire in a way that they did not for my male counterparts. When I first made it into the boardroom (as an advisor, not as a director), male directors would always turn to me—and not to anyone else—to apologize after letting a curse word slip or making an off-color remark. Even when, at long last, there was a second woman in the c-suite, we both knew instinctively that our interactions were observed in a way that those of “everyone else”—e.g., the men—were not. Should we sit together? Should we sit apart? It still amazes me how much energy I put into that question.
Several years ago—after spending two decades of my career in the boardroom as an advisor—I made it my goal to join a board as a Director. I knew I was in for a challenge, not only due to my gender, but also because my executive role as General Counsel was not the typical path to a director seat (in fact, the perceptions of “lawyers” may have been the larger hurdle!). My first step was reaching out to the CEO and directors of my own company, as I knew that most companies looking to fill a board seat will first go to their “well” of contacts. I also knew these were people who had seen me in action as a strategic business executive, so they could speak to my legal background as a strength. Ultimately, I earned my first board appointment through an introduction made by a female board member with whom I worked, who had been tapped by her network as a “known commodity” and who had put her name and reputation behind me.
She was not the first person to open a door for me—I have been very fortunate to have had some terrific mentors and supporters through the years. In turn, and as my own career has progressed, I have vowed to open doors for others whenever I can. For this reason, I was thrilled to learn about and join the Athena Alliance when I was referred to it by a female executive colleague. Athena Alliance is an organization that supports women in achieving leadership roles and board seats. Through my work with Athena Alliance, I have had the privilege of coaching other female executives through their own progression to a board seat. Most recently, I felt that I had come full circle as I utilized the Athena Alliance network in my role as chair of the Governance and Nominating committee, seeking to identity and nominate other female directors to my board.
The power of mentoring and being mentored, and supporting one another, and of making connections in a deep and meaningful way has always been inspiring to me. This is precisely why I was so pleased to take on the role of chair of FireEye Elevate, an organization launched in late 2019 with one primary objective: to “elevate” women in cyber to the c-suite and boardroom by preparing them for the responsibilities and challenges being faced by today’s executives. It is also why I am excited to announce that we are partnering with Athena Alliance to bring the benefits of membership to our FireEye Elevate community at an exclusive discount.
Through this new partnership, Elevate members will be eligible to gain access to a variety of Athena Alliance resources, including a curated Learning Library, mentorship, exclusive events and more. These resources are designed to provide members with the knowledge and support they need to secure board seats and advance their careers.
Our nation has made great strides towards achieving gender equality in the workplace, but we still have more to do. As the number of women in senior roles increases, it becomes easier to simply be viewed as a leader, and to be judged by the value we bring to our organizations. For this reason—and also because studies show that companies with more women leaders are more successful—I am a huge believer in the power and value of having a diverse group in both the c-suite and in the boardroom, and that’s just what we hope to advance with this new partnership.
Head over to our Elevate page for more details on the program, and be sure to register for my upcoming virtual meeting slated for July 22 with Athena Alliance founder Coco Brown where we will discuss the importance of women and cyber security leadership in the boardroom.