From Human Resources to IT Senior Program Manager, Lacey Johnson found her way to the payments industry purely randomly, by happy accident. Over time, she has been part of the diversification of her company’s Information Security department, which is now 40 percent women. In this edition of our blog, Lacey explains that while gender diversity and leadership has improved in recent years, there is still more to be done for true equality in the payments space.
How long have you been at Akamai Technologies and what is your role? What is a typical day like for you?
Lacey Johnson: I have been with Akamai Technologies for three years as an Information Security Senior Technical Program Manager Team Lead. I lead multiple security compliance projects and provide managerial oversight for our company’s corporate PCI compliance program. My typical day includes project team meetings with internal and external stakeholders, one-on-one meetings with team members and direct reports, monitoring resource capacity and productivity, and acting as an advisor and first escalation point for our corporate PCI compliance program.
How did you get started in the technology or payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Lacey Johnson: My first IT job was as a project administrator after discovering that my previous role in human resources wasn’t for me. There, I partnered with an experienced mentor, and we worked together on that company’s PCI compliance program. I learned so much during my first few years there, and I quickly became a knowledgeable resource on PCI compliance. I love working with people, so information security and compliance allows me to interact with people at all levels and departments across the company. Security and compliance touch nearly every aspect of a business. My initial project placement was purely random; I could have been placed in any program. By happy accident, I was assigned to PCI compliance, which I grew to really enjoy.
Who has been your biggest role model in shaping your career path?
Lacey Johnson: I have had several great role models in my career, but I’ll talk about my first project management mentor, Nancy Fletcher. Not only did she teach me the skills I needed to lead successful programs, but she taught me a lot about self-confidence and knowing your worth. One of the most useful lessons I’ve learned is knowing when to step into a conversation and steer it back in the right direction or stop a meeting that’s going nowhere. Nancy and I work for different organizations now, but I carry the lessons I’ve learned from her experience in my day-to-day work.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date? What has been your most significant learning opportunity or challenge?
Lacey Johnson: I have a couple of proud moments. One was being a major contributor to the 2019 PCI Special Interest Group. I’ve never been published before, so that was a very cool experience for me. Secondly, in 2020, despite it being an extremely challenging year, my team incorporated two, brand new, high-value products into our PCI compliance program and, as a result, increased the company’s earning potential within the retail sector. Most of the challenges I face are people-based. It takes time to understand another person’s viewpoint and concerns. It can also be difficult to communicate my own goals. I can be impatient, so being diplomatic isn’t always easy. Waiting years for a project to come to fruition can be difficult, too, but it makes it more satisfying to see the hard work pay off later.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that is the case?
Lacey Johnson: I’m grateful to work for an organization that truly values diversity. While it’s true that women are traditionally under-represented in technology, as of 2019, Akamai’s Information Security department is 40 percent women. Just as importantly, several of our leadership positions are held by women. Unfortunately, that’s not the case company wide. In other places I’ve worked, I’d say there are more women in Information Security than most might think, but other areas of tech such as engineering, data science, cloud, etc. are disappointingly lacking in gender diversity. In my experience, it’s really up to individual team leaders to commit to diversity in hiring and promotion and, most importantly, make the environment a safe space to stay and grow.
Many women in the tech industry have felt their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it?
Lacey Johnson: At Akamai, I’ve not felt that I’m treated differently because of my gender. However, out “in the wild,” absolutely. I’ve had a couple of upsetting experiences where vendors had more to say about how I look than what work I’m offering. I usually ignore those comments and keep talking strictly business. In this instance, after informing my leadership of this encounter, we chose not to engage with the vendor. If this were to happen again, I would like to address the comment in the moment, since I think it’s important to speak up right away.
What do you see – or hope to see - as the future for women in technology roles/payments industry?
Lacey Johnson: I’d love to see more women in leadership positions. I think a lot of organizations are doing a great job with diversifying their workforce, but there is more to be done at the leadership level. I’d also like to see organizations do more to make their teams a comfortable space for women (and anyone, really) to be – for example, avoiding unnecessarily gendered terminology like “IT guys” or using offensive and outdated business jargon.
Were you given any advice during your career that has stuck with you? As a result, do you have a personal mantra or a famous quote that you live by?
Lacey Johnson: As an intern, I was given the advice to meet with everyone in the office to learn more about what they do. At the time, I thought it was weird because I was working on a very specific project – why should I care what Jane in Some Other Department does? Now I see the real value in that advice and that building relationships is a key part of a leader’s job. I spend a lot of time having one-on-ones with people both inside and outside of my team, which gives me multiple perspectives that I wouldn’t otherwise have, thus enabling me to make better decisions. As for a quote I like to live by, it’s a silly one from The Office: “Would I rather be feared or loved? Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” I love this Michael Scott quote! My takeaway from it is simply, “lead with kindness.”
What advice would you impart to other women about how to succeed in the payment industry or in a technology-based field in general? Is there anything you wish you had known?
Lacey Johnson: Technical knowledge is great, but it can be learned. If you’re interviewing and don’t feel like you have the most experience, explain how you will attain that experience (such as finding a mentor or taking a class). It’s okay not to know things; the key is knowing how you’re going to find the answer. As you join the workforce or change career paths, you’ll find that most of the people in your organization occasionally suffer from “imposter syndrome” or have gaps in their knowledge about certain things – but they know where to find the information and apply it and that’s what matters.