After a highly respected and widely loved company director passed away, Rema Deo was promoted into his position. Stepping into his shoes as head of a regional technology area was a challenge, made even more difficult when her peers kept comparing her with the prior chief and expected her to fail. In this edition of our blog, Rema describes how she blazed her own trail, gained respect from her peers in her own right, and would go on to become an owner of her company.
How long have you been at 24By7Security, Inc. and what is your role?
Rema Deo: I have been with 24By7Security for more than six years. I am an owner of the company. My leadership role and responsibility at 24By7Security, Inc. encompass corporate strategy, financial management, human resources, procurement and vendor management, and marketing and communications. I also oversee security risk assessments, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance initiatives, Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance engagements, and other cybersecurity and compliance projects.
Has your role evolved since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and how so?
Rema Deo: The downtime we faced at the start of the pandemic forced us to reconsider our priorities. We used this time to refocus on building out the company’s credentials as well as our staff credentials. One of our most significant achievements at this time was becoming trained and approved as a PCI Qualified Security Assessor (PCI QSA) company, which we completed successfully in December 2020. This credential authorizes us to assess payment processors for compliance with the PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). In addition, we became certified as a Registered Provider Organization (RPO) to provide Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) readiness services to defense contractors. As Managing Partner, I led these initiatives for the company and am proud that we were able to invest our time so wisely.
How did you get started in the payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Rema Deo: My Master of Business Administration degree guided me to a career in the financial services industry where I worked in financial regulatory compliance and risk management technology for 25 years. When I decided I was ready for a career change, I chose to work for my own cybersecurity and compliance services firm. We were offering cybersecurity and compliance services - like security risk assessments and HIPAA, Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), and other industry compliance services - and the payments industry seemed a logical and timely next step. PCI DSS is an excellent, comprehensive security framework that any business can benefit from adopting.
Who has been your biggest role model in shaping your career path?
Rema Deo: I have had numerous mentors and role models throughout my career, starting with the first manager who mentored me during my MBA summer internship. I owe a great deal of gratitude to many inspiring champions. As to who had perhaps the greatest impact, that might be my manager for over 10 years – Hilda Kipper – who guided me, promoted me, and inspired me in various stages of my career. Not only was she a strong advocate for women in technology, but she also gave me valuable advice as I tackled different challenges related to management, leadership, communication, navigating corporate politics, and much more.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
Rema Deo: One of the accomplishments I am proudest of occurred as the result of an unusual situation. After a highly respected and widely loved director passed away, I was promoted into his position. Stepping into his shoes as head of a regional technology area was a challenge. It was made even more challenging as my team members (formerly my peers), and my new peers kept comparing me with the prior chief and expected me to fail. For me to blaze my own trail as the regional head, establish positive relationships with the team and my peers, and gain respect in my own right, was a significant accomplishment that helped me grow further within the organization.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that is the case?
Rema Deo: While I see our numbers growing, the percentage of women in technology management is still low. Women make up about 25% of the tech industry workforce, but just over 20% of tech leadership roles are held by women. Gender discrimination in male-dominated workplaces is still influential in discouraging women from technology roles. In addition, women continue to take on the lion’s share of childcare and household responsibilities, and therefore are likely to experience burnout more often than men. Much like the reasons mentioned in the well-known book “Lean In”, many women may not take the initiative to ask for promotions or raises, compared to men in the same position.
At my firm, we hire for talent and the right fit, and have no quotas or goals for diversity per se. We have never needed such goals or quotas because we have historically been very diverse, and interestingly, we have more women than men in the company, in both technical and non-technical areas. We are also a minority and woman-owned company, and I think our company is richer because of its diversity.
Many women in the tech industry have felt that their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Is ‘unconscious bias’ holding women back in the workplace and, if so, what can women do about it?
Rema Deo: I believe the best way to manage unconscious bias is through conscious and continuous training and reinforcement at all levels of the organization. Companies should have clear criteria for ensuring diversity in the recruiting, hiring, and promotion processes. Greater enforcement and accountability are also needed.
What do you see as the future for women in technology roles or the payments industry?
Rema Deo: With the increase in early childhood STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) programs being offered in elementary school, the expectation is that more girls will be attracted to technology disciplines, and therefore to technology careers. We have middle and high schools encouraging the formation of girls’ robotics teams with the aim of generating more career interest in STEM fields among young girls. And while it’s important that we begin early and continue this focus into college and then business, it is the progression to having more women in technology leadership positions that is essential. From young ages, women need mentorship to identify their aptitude for technology, and guidance to make the right choices and advance accordingly. Women looking to start or build careers in technology should aim for different types of certifications, which will enable them to enter more specialized technology fields, such as electronic payments, cybersecurity, information technology, system management, etc. With the skills gap in technology today, credentialed professional women have a very real advantage in filling those open positions.
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?
Rema Deo: One significant piece of advice that one of my mentors gave me was, “When you bring a problem to your boss, also bring a solution or a few alternate solutions.” It is your manager’s job to help you remove obstacles, but not to find solutions to your problems. I’ve tried to live by this mantra, and it has helped me to grow and thrive throughout my career.
What advice would you impart to other women about how to succeed in the payment industry or in a technology-based field in general? What advice would you give to your younger self?
Rema Deo: Certifications help increase credibility in the technology arena, including the payment industry. Certifications like the PCI Qualified Security Assessor (PCI QSA), Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), and many others can really help boost your career because they are recognized industry standards. Also, seek out mentors who you think will give you unbiased advice. If I had to give my younger self advice, I would have forced myself to network with others more, even if it took me out of my comfort zone. Building a strong professional network is essential to growth in business today.