(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Megan is the Global Director of Product Security at Rockwell Automation – the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and information technology. Its brands include Allen-Bradley, Rockwell Automation and Rockwell Software.
What makes you do what you do?
I have always found security fascinating, particularly now with attacks to critical infrastructures and their industrial controls systems. These attacks have stretched our usual ways of thinking about security concepts in entirely new directions. Working at the forefront of defending these systems as the Director of Product Security for the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and information is probably the most exciting and rewarding place I could be right now.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Like many security professionals, my career started in government, critical infrastructure protection and response planning. Actually, I was recruited from the government. I had never made a conscious decision to move out of government, but the opportunity came around to be closer to the owners and operators I was trying to help defend. So I made the leap into the private sector and worked my way up from development of response plans to leading that team, then to security for research projects and now into my role at Rockwell Automation.
Why did you take on this role especially since perhaps this is a stretch or challenge position for you, since you are not the usual demographic?
I could not have designed a role more aligned with where I wanted to take my career next. I think it is pretty neat that I am a female in this role because you do not typically think of security professionals as females. That being said, some of the brightest security professionals I know, are female. On top of this, we are trying to help defend industrial control systems in heavy-duty operations that incorporate science and engineering.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one how did that work?
I have had several mentors. Since the beginning of my career, I would observe people in their interactions with others. I would measure their effectiveness as well as their ability to connect with others. These were the people I sought out to be my mentors. I still learned from everyone I have worked closely with, even if it helped identify behaviors I wanted to avoid.
How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
I have never been afraid to approach people, so making initial connection was not an issue. The main challenge was getting very busy people to make time for you. I found they would make time for me if I offered to support some of their work or be involved in a project they were leading. I encourage people to seek many mentors and cycle through them, so you are always getting more exposure and continuously learning. The really good mentors are the ones you actively check in with regularly.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep and growth and support your talent?
I look for self-starters – those with curious minds that are quick studies. When you combine that with someone who can make authentic connections with others, you have got someone that is boundless.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously support diversity because it’s a necessity. I feel as a culture all of us maintain an unconscious bias to a degree and that is what we want to rise above.
While I am diverse in some ways, I am not in others and because of that I try to practice keeping it front of mind. I look for ways to bring in diverse perspectives. I like to give others platforms to speak and provide input when they may not have the loudest voices in the room.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders have authentic connection with others, are steady-handed decision makers, and show integrity. They give people their own programs to run, let them carve out what is theirs to lead, and they let them lead. They provide roles that people can respect and, in turn, they also respect those roles. Leaders teach basic blocking and tackling, how to keep the main thing the main thing, and how to have visibility with others in leadership so they help plan your next career advancement. They are capable of making decisions (hopefully data-driven decisions) and invite debate. They can stand their ground when defending their teams but are also open to changing their minds as situations evolve.
Advice for others?
I really want people to speak up when they have something to contribute. When I left my last company at my going away lunch, someone piped up and said, “I am going to miss that Megan would say what we are all thinking in a meeting. We are all better because of that.” Keep in mind, being the person that is brave and speaks up will make all the difference.
If you’d like to get in touch with Megan Samford, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/megan-samford-13282814/
To learn more about Rockwell Automation, visit www.rockwellautomation.com