There is a troublesome misconception that women who try to get into STEM fields will be faced with discrimination and glass ceilings. This is not universally true and not what I’ve experienced. I believe strongly that women can succeed just as well, if not better than their male counterparts. It all comes down to performing well in your role and ensuring that you are constantly learning and growing. This assumption that women in a technical field can’t get ahead has started to fade. Organizations are embracing women more than ever before. And this is why it bothers me when see young women buy into this myth and doubt the impact they can make in these industries as a result, when in fact, these careers can be very open and welcoming to them.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dena Bauckman, VP of Product Management at Zix, an leader in email security.
Dena Bauckman joined Zix in October 2005 and serves as Vice President of Product Management within the Office of the CTO. Dena has more than 20 years of experience in product management/marketing of security, cloud and networking technology. Prior to her role at Zix, she spent 8 years at Sterling Commerce, an ecommerce company, where she was Director of Product Marketing for the secure managed file transfer solutions. She also worked at Texas Instruments, Soft*Switch, and Hewlett Packard. Dena earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Dallas and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from California State University East Bay. She has had her Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification since 2007.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I went to college, I thought I wanted to be an electrical engineer. My older sister was an electrical engineer and I thought the world of her, so I figured that I wanted to be just like her.
When I started college, the first engineering class I took was a combination of drafting (preparing technical drawings) and computer science. I instantly fell in love with the computer science side of it, and over the course of that class, I ended up changing my major to obtain a degree in computer science.
Quite often, people receive a degree in one field, but end up doing something different. I feel lucky to have been able to take my degree and use it to build my entire career. The computer industry has certainly morphed and changed over the years, but it’s a field I find very exciting, fun, and proud to be a part of.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I have been with Zix for 14 years so there are a lot of stories I could talk about. One story that comes to mind is both interesting and a good example of our success.
Over 10 years ago, we had an initiative to make our email encryption solution easy to use on mobile devices. At the time, most of our competitors were sending encrypted email by putting them into an HTML file and attaching them to a plaintext email so that the user could open the encrypted attachment in their browser. We had this technology but also had a cloud-based secure portal that could be used to deliver encrypted emails to users. Most of our competitors tried to make their encrypted HTML technology mobile-friendly but had failed. As we looked at how to make our encrypted HTML technology easier and better, we realized the technology did not lend itself to ease-of-use on mobile devices, so we changed direction and focused on making the secure portal mobile-ready. At the time this was a risk because the world was still not convinced that cloud was the right approach — in fact “cloud” was not even a term at that time. Our approach worked because companies that needed email encryption capabilities also needed it to be easy for the customers and partners receiving the encrypted emails.
A more recent story has to do with our integration of two product platforms, following Zix’s acquisition earlier this year of a company called AppRiver, which provides cloud-enabled security and productivity services.
Bringing together two development organizations and getting them to work together can be a challenge and yet both teams have done an incredible job. The integration project was initially scoped against a timeline of multiple years. I challenged the teams to come up with a plan to complete the project by the end of March 2020, barely a year from the time of the acquisition.
With a lot of collaboration, brainstorming and debate, the teams have been able to put together a plan that will allow us to complete the development by the end of March and launch a fully integrated product suite in April. It’s interesting how, when you take a creative team of people like we have and really challenge them, they often will step up and meet the challenge in ways that will surprise you.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In college, when I decided that I wanted to pursue a computer science degree, I was a lot more interested in the technical systems programming side rather than the business programming side. Looking back, it’s funny to me that at the time, I thought that meant there was no need to take any business classes!
When I started my first job, instead of landing a programming job, I secured a role at Hewlett-Packard in a technical marketing position. Almost immediately, I realized that I had made a big mistake and that those business classes would have come in handy.
The experience taught me that while it’s good to narrow in on your interests, you shouldn’t be so focused on specializing that you lose sight of the bigger picture.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Zix is a leader in email encryption and we are one of the few vendors who are known for making it easy. This has been the focus of the company for many years and is one of the main reasons why we stand out.
When I first started working at Zix, I don’t think the company realized just how powerful the technology we had really was, as far as being able to make encryption so easy. When we designed the technology, it was simply because the architecture technically made sense. It turned out, however, that the architecture was in fact unique and very different to what anyone else was doing and it had the power to make email encryption easy. It was at that point that we decided to make simplicity and ease-of-use a theme and focus for everything we did across the product. It taught me that when you identify those real technical advantages, you need to then think about how you extrapolate them more broadly across your product portfolio.
Additionally, along with the acquisition of AppRiver came its “Phenomenal Care” philosophy — an approach to customer service that’s centered on providing an all-around positive experience. Phenomenal Care is part of AppRiver’s DNA and is what the company culture is built on. It’s another reason why we stand out amongst the competition today, and it reinforces one of our key values and differentiators: making things easy for our customers.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Since the acquisition of AppRiver, we have been working on integrating all our products and this is an area that’s very exciting to me. I am amazed and impressed with how the development and product teams on both sides of the company have stepped up and are working together closely to make this happen on an aggressive schedule.
The integrated products will help our customers by offering them enhanced technology that combines the best of both companies. They’ll see immediate benefits through better features and better ease-of-use, to ultimately meet their own security and compliance objectives.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
While I can’t say I’m fully satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM, I do see progress.
As young women start to think about what to study in college or pursue as a career, I think many feel overwhelmed by how much is out there. They might perceive areas like cybersecurity, computer science or engineering to be hard to grasp or difficult to get into, but I want young women to know that these careers are viable options for them and can be extremely satisfying in the long term.
I encourage young women to take a hard look at STEM degrees and careers and try not to feel intimidated by them. There is a huge and diverse range of technology jobs and roles on the market today, and I think young women should explore to see if there are matches with their interests and personality.
Don’t forget that we live in the era of Google — you can self-teach yourself nearly any topic. Start educating yourself, and you may find that these fields aren’t as intimidating as they may seem.
I also recommend finding a mentor — someone you can trust to steer you in the right direction and give you practical advice for entering and managing a career in the STEM.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
Because there aren’t many women in the technology field, you will inevitably encounter people who assume that you are not technical or technically skilled. I run into this occasionally. For instance, I’ve joined meetings with the sales team, where the customer assumed that I was a non-technical person, and then was surprised when the sales team turned to me to provide answers to their technical questions.
I believe the most important way to address this issue is simply to get more women involved in the technology industry. When more women embrace science and technology, they will have stronger representation, and that will ultimately change the way people naturally perceive women in STEM.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
There is a troublesome misconception that women who try to get into STEM fields will be faced with discrimination and glass ceilings. This is not universally true and not what I’ve experienced. I believe strongly that women can succeed just as well, if not better than their male counterparts. It all comes down to performing well in your role and ensuring that you are constantly learning and growing.
This assumption that women in a technical field can’t get ahead has started to fade. Organizations are embracing women more than ever before. And this is why it bothers me when see young women buy into this myth and doubt the impact they can make in these industries as a result, when in fact, these careers can be very open and welcoming to them.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Learn to delegate — this is difficult for all first-time managers. Often people that are good at their jobs are promoted into management positions but have a hard time giving up control and contributions to their team. It often seems easier to just do it yourself than to teach someone else how to do it. But this is not the way to be a strong leader. You must be able to delegate responsibility so that you can focus on the role of coaching and managing the team. When I first got into management, I was the expert in my product area and letting someone else take over was difficult. I had to force myself to prioritize my new management responsibilities above previous product responsibilities and trust the person I hired into the role, even though I knew they would do things differently than how I had done them.
- Enjoy the good debate — to add value and grow in your career you must learn to express your opinion in a positive way. This does not mean argue or be overly aggressive but rather, learn to articulate what you think. I have found in my career that by always thinking in terms of what is best for the business, you can have constructive debates with teammates that people will appreciate. My favorite story from my career was a debate I got into with my boss while sitting at an airport gate waiting for my flight. I was so focused on what my boss what saying and how to convince him of my point of view that I completely missed my flight, even though I was sitting right at the gate. I was able to convince my boss that my approach was the right approach, which made missing my flight worth it.
- Learn about how the business works — although no one can be an expert in all areas, I do think it is important to understand the roles of the different departments within your organization and how they function. This knowledge will enable you to know what departments you can leverage to address issues you run into in your job. It can also help you better understand how your team impacts the business, so you can find ways to improve the function of your department. At Zix, we do this by making sure that all functional areas understand what we are planning in the roadmap. This allows the other functional areas to let us know how our planning will impact their department, enabling us to work directly with them to ensure a successful launch of all products.
- Constantly coach your team — people cannot grow and learn if they do not understand their perceived strengths and weaknesses. Often people can and will change their behavior if they understand there is a negative perception of what they are doing. By giving people constant and immediate feedback, both positive and negative, you keep them motivated and growing. The most challenging part is when you have to work with a member of your team that may not have the skills or capabilities to do the job they are in. This has happened to me more than once in my career and although it is difficult to have the tough conversations needed in these situations, you must remember that a weak team member impacts that entire team. As a leader you should do what you can to coach the person but if it is not a good fit you have to do what is best for the team and the company.
- Constantly be learning — constantly learning is how you can continue to add value to the business and keep your job interesting. An example from my own career is when I was working in product marketing on a managed file transfer solution in the early 2000s. Security had become a big buzz word in the industry and our product used encryption to secure the file transfers but we were not advertising this as a feature. I decided to learn everything I could about encryption, how it worked and its benefits, and then repackaged our solution as a secure file transfer solution. This started my career in security but also help generate new revenue streams for the company.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I don’t believe that leadership advice for females should necessarily be any different than for their male counterparts. My advice to anyone — male or female — is to be yourself and to be open to others.
For example, employees often want immediate feedback on their work. Even if that feedback is negative or somewhat critical, I’ve found that they would rather have feedback immediately, rather than be kept in the dark. As a leader, you need to be able to deliver potentially difficult feedback in a constructive manner and make it clear that the objective is to help them improve and grow.
Considering many women have a natural tendency to attune emotionally to others and act as natural caregivers, it’s possible they may even have a slight advantage in this area.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Similarly, my advice to females when it comes to managing a large team can also apply to males. You need to be able to delegate and empower your employees to work independently. You simply cannot be an effective leader if you are bogged down by the day-to-day details. You have to be able to look at the bigger picture to think and act strategically, while mobilizing your team for support.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have had countless great managers and mentors throughout my career who have helped me get to where I am today. In most cases, these were managers that pushed me, supported me, and gave me direct feedback on what I was doing well and what I could improve on.
Someone that immediately comes to mind is my current boss at Zix, Kelly Haggerty. He is wonderful at coaching me, giving me constructive feedback, and challenging me. My boss prior to Kelly, Nigel Johnson, empowered me in the same way. He gave me full control of product management which really helped me to elevate my position in the company and drove my perception as a leader of the product team.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I enjoy talking with children and young women about careers in STEM. I coordinated several women from software development and quality assurance to meet with a girl scout group about the different opportunities in STEM. We each talked about our roles in the company to help the group understand what some of the different roles in STEM look like.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Working in cybersecurity, I worry a lot about how people can be tricked and manipulated without even knowing it. If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most good to the most people, I’d like to do it around authentication of information. This means making sure that people always know the true source of the information they are getting. It could be a simple as making sure they know the true source of emails they receive, to making sure they know the true source of information they see on social media. As we come into a new election year, I think this is a critical issue for everyone. Hackers, attackers and nation states are constantly trying to manipulate people. Through both education and technology, we can help protect ourselves from being taken advantage of.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Be realistic but optimistic about yourself and the world around you.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
One person I would have loved to have met and had a chance to talk to was Steve Jobs. I have always been amazed at how he took technologies that already existed and turned them in to transformational technologies that changed the world.
Since Steve Jobs is no longer with us, another person that I would love to be able to talk to over breakfast or lunch is Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. Satya Nadella has been one of the few technology leaders that has been able to take a large, aging technology company and turn it into a new technology leader. Microsoft’s move to the cloud has been truly impressive and I would love to be able to talk to Satya about the journey he has taken the company on and how the vision of moving to the cloud came about.