Sherri Collis spent most of her career as the lone female in the conference room, occupying roles more regularly filled by men. She was overlooked for training opportunities. She was passed up for promotions. But these experiences only fueled her drive to achieve success. In this edition of our blog, Sherri explains that, contrary to popular belief, women do not need to have 100% of the qualifications to do the job and still be successful.
How long have you been at Online Business Systems and what is your role?
Sherri Collis: I have been at Online Business Systems for over seven years now, but because many on our team have worked together over the years for multiple different companies and have come to join our Online team, I have effectively been working with many of the same team members for about 17 years. It has been an incredible synergy. Currently, I am the Director of PCI services. I first started as a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) / Senior Information Security Consultant, which has grown into overseeing a team of over 30 QSA and Associate Qualified Security Assessor (AQSA) Consultants.
How did you get started in the technology or payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Sherri Collis: In one of my roles, I was a Contract Administrator for a large hardware/software company. As our data began populating our database with helpful information, I began to see the value of being able to analyze the data to improve departmental performance. And so, I asked my manager to send me to our corporate headquarters for Sybase database training. With no response, I asked a second time. It was poignant to me because – even though I had asked twice – I noticed he had overlooked my request and had approved men in the department for corporate training. It was a turning point in my career because it made me realize that, if I was going to be successful in my career, I needed to drive it. And this realization is what gave me the impetus to start my own business.
I was passionate about data, so I bought a database book and started at page one. This took me down a five-year road of learning technologies, and frankly, further increasing my knowledge that data was very powerful, and it needed to be protected. I went down the path of electronic forms, dynamic forms, data transformation, and data collection applications.
The next driver that led me to the payment industry happened when I went to work for a large data center / hosting company. My first manager at this company was awesome. On my first day, he gave me a manual for the core software we were using and told me to learn the system. On the second day, he gave me a list of peoples’ names and asked me to go see what they needed. I believe it was day two when I walked into my manager’s office, beside myself, nearly hyperventilating. In reviewing the system we were using, I was appalled to learn that I could see all of our customers’ credit card numbers. I also learned that anyone in the company could order anything they wanted and have it shipped to their home. This discovery drove me down the path of system and process changes, and I found my passion for data protection.
Who has been your biggest role model in shaping your career path?
Sherri Collis: For me, the title of ‘Biggest Role Model’ is a three-way tie: my mother, my aunt, and “Kramer.” My mother taught me the value of working hard and being responsible, and this was the foundation that brought me to where I am today. My aunt taught me that, in her life, she never found anything she wanted to do that she couldn’t. I also learned that to be true for me. Then there was Kramer. I was the only female on Kramer’s team of Operations Directors. From him, I learned everything is possible, though maybe not probable, or ideal. I became stronger, tremendously less sensitive, and learned so much about fundamental business operations. He taught me to “trust, but verify,” and to look at things from different perspectives. I found that working in a predominantly male industry, I could apply my unique common-sense approach to management using empathy, while leaning on my strength and determination.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that is the case?
Sherri Collis: I think I would have to be negligent not to notice the lack of females in technology. I believe so firmly that women can excel in technology as a career, that I gathered with some of the females on our team. Together, we created a presentation geared toward getting more women into conference rooms by helping them recognize their transferrable skills to enter the cybersecurity field. There are so many reasons why there is a lack of females in this space, and there are just as many articles and books out there that address this topic. One of the main drivers of this inequality is conditioned: it’s a combination of females’ lack of confidence, different upbringings, and different expectations of them. In our presentation, we focus on these thoughts and open dialogue to help women overcome their obstacles.
In your experience, does being a woman in your profession come with confidence challenges that you have to overcome, for instance doubting your own ability? How do you overcome it?
Sherri Collis: Most of my career has been spent in roles that are more regularly filled by men. I’ve been the lone female in conference rooms for a long time. People we were meeting with would ask the man beside me the question, and I would answer. I made a note of the situation, but I didn’t let it define me and my professional contributions.
Frankly, I believe women have to get out of their own way—I see us regularly holding ourselves back from true opportunity. I had a young lady ask me one day why all the men got to go present and attend all the conferences. I pondered the question then recognized the reason: it was only because we hadn’t stepped up. I promptly got a group of women together from our organization and we have started giving a talk geared toward women, “You CAN get there from here.” We discuss the steppingstones we used to get to where we are today, different roles in cybersecurity, and outline the transferrable skills they can use to enter a new and exciting field. We also discuss how to get a mentor and how to build a network. We share resources available to both women and men to help them obtain the knowledge needed to transfer to a different field.
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?
Sherri Collis: I think you have to determine how important something is to you, and then you have to pick and choose your response. When a previous manager wouldn’t even respond to my request for training, I determined that job wasn’t right for me, so I left and started my own business.
Another time, I noticed men were being promoted around me and felt I had been unfairly overlooked. So, I boldly questioned my boss and asked, “what was up with that?” In the conversation that followed, I learned he didn’t know I wanted to move up and thought I was happy where I was. This was another turning point for me. I realized the reason for this had been my own fault because I never told my manager what I wanted – I expected him to recognize the work I put in and select me for promotion. This is yet another prevalent difference between men and women in the workplace; men ask for promotions, raises, and other perks and women work really hard trying to show value with the hope of getting noticed and rewarded for hard work.
What do you see – or hope to see – as the future for women in technology roles/payments industry?
Sherri Collis: I hope to see women walk through the ‘door of technology’ and be confident in their choices. An article from Harvard Business Review, Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified, includes the statistic that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them—so I tried an experiment. I carefully selected men and women from our organization in different positions, levels, and personality types. I sent them this question:
“I’ve been trying to figure out why the following statement is true: men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. If you were giving advice to your daughter, your wife, or females in your life, what advice would you give to them to apply for that job, even though she has only 60% of the qualifications?”
The responses I received were pure gold. I thought I could use the collection of responses to contribute value to this blog post, but I overwhelmingly realized that a whitepaper or book would be more appropriate. My goal will be to incorporate some of this advice into our presentation geared towards women in tech, and more importantly, I will bring this forward as a discussion point within our organization. The women at Online have started coming together to discuss being female in a male-dominated industry. We recognize our strength is being open to new perspectives so that we can learn and grow. And, these responses will teach us what we CAN be doing versus what we ARE doing.
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?
Sherri Collis: I have two personal mantras that people hear me quoting from time-to-time. George Bernard Shaw is credited with saying: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I have sat through hours of meetings discussing the definition of words. At the time, I didn’t understand why defining words was so important, though I do today – we all communicate using different words and references across different cultures and generations. It is extremely difficult to make sure that what you are trying to convey is truly the message being received.
A second quote that has guided my life was a quote from Zig Zigler: “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.” The first quote taught me to make sure my message was clear and conveyed my point. The second quote relates to an experience when I felt my manager had challenged me beyond what I thought I was capable of. I didn’t think I was ready. I learned very quickly that I truly was more capable than I thought I was, and from that point on, I started taking larger risks.
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?
Sherri Collis: There are so many things I wish I would have known. I wish I would have known that I didn’t have to have 100% of the qualifications for a job to apply and that the 40% could be used as a learning opportunity. I wish I had known I needed to step up earlier, create the presentation, present the idea, and sell it.
A respected gentleman I work with gave this advice in my survey: “There is nothing wrong with only having 60% of the qualifications. Why would you want a job where you meet 100% of the qualifications? That would be boring. Been there, done that – what is the fun in that?”
Another respected gentleman I work with challenged and changed my question. He said he “couldn’t answer the question of why women don’t apply for jobs when they have only 60% of the qualifications, but he could opine on why women should be encouraged to apply for jobs where they don’t meet 100% of the requirements.”
I saw an illustration a few months ago. There was a target, and a person was standing there shooting arrows in the total opposite direction. So, I say to other women, determine what you want, and take steps toward it. Make sure that your target is continually in view as you aim and shoot your arrows. Step forward, take chances, and don’t be afraid to fail. Isn’t it better to have failed at something than never to have tried to start with?