Inspired by the Global Chief Information Officer at one of the world’s largest global investment management companies – who was also a mother of three – Helena Shi realized that it was possible to balance motherhood and have a successful career. In fact, a week after giving birth to her baby, Helena completed her PCI QSA requalification and negotiated a work-from-home environment because her career was equally as important to her. In this edition of our blog, Helena describes the barriers for women in technology professions – particularly for those that have children – and how women can overcome to have both a career and a family.
How long have you been at Viking Cloud and what is your role?
Helena Shi: I joined the organization as an IT Security Consultant in July 2015 and achieved my PCI QSA certification in October 2015. My role today is that of a Senior IT Security Consultant. I engage with clients to provide information security consulting and assessment services, not only around PCI DSS, but also in other industry standards such as ISO 27001/27002, CIS Critical Security Controls and NIST, to name a few. As part of my role, I collaborate with clients from multiple industries, such as finance, government, education, retail, travel, and telecommunication, which exposes me to different and complex IT environments, which in turn enhances my experience.
Has your role evolved since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and how so?
Helena Shi: COVID-19 has changed the way I conduct my work. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I travelled often, at least once or twice a month, to meet and assist different clients. I loved doing that because I could meet with new people and learn about different cultures and client environments. I think conversations are easier when communicating face-to-face. But, since the pandemic, as with many other industries, onsite assessments and consulting have become virtual, which can present its own challenges.
How did you get started in the payments industry? What led you to that career choice?
Helena Shi: I initially started my career in information security around 2009. At that time, I worked as an IT Security & Control Champion in China and part of the Ford Mazda Automobile Co., Ltd. Being an IT Security & Control Champion, I conducted application and infrastructure control reviews and IT security audits for the company. That work experience opened new doors for me because, at that time, information security was a very new industry in China.
In 2012, I decided to go and study Information Security further at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia. Soon after, I achieved a Master’s degree in Computer and Information System Security Assurance.
Once I graduated, I started a role at an Australian bank in Queensland. I performed IT risk analysis and assessment and assisted with the internal IT audit. It was during this time that I first encountered PCI DSS. This experience made me realize the importance of system security in payment environments.
Not long after that, I started my career as a PCI QSA. I get a great deal of satisfaction when I help my client achieve PCI DSS compliance. It also helped me appreciate that I had a role to play in the larger scheme of things and in my new adopted home of Australia.
Who has been your biggest role model in shaping your career path?
Helena Shi: My biggest role model is one of my good friends. She is a mother of three children and is the Global Chief Information Officer at one of the world’s largest global investment management companies. We met each other way back when I started at the Ford Mazda Automobile Co., Ltd. in 2006, prior to me taking up a security role in that company. She was the Deputy IT Director who represented Ford in a joint venture. She returned to Australia at the end of 2008, and we remained in contact via email after that. She encouraged me to work as an IT Security & Control Champion at Ford Mazda and study abroad to gain a Master’s degree. When I first arrived in Australia, she provided me with a lot of help. She gave me advice in both work and life and encouraged me to believe in myself and reach for more. But, what makes me admire her most is that she is a mother of three but still achieved so much in her career. I know it is very hard – being a mother myself now – but she did it.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
Helena Shi: There are a lot of moments that make me proud. To pick one accomplishment that comes to mind, I would say it was one week after giving birth to my baby when I completed my PCI QSA requalification, which was coming due. I completed it on maternity leave because I didn’t want to let that qualification slide; it was important to me. And when my baby was six months old, I returned to work with my qualifications intact. I was very appreciative of my manager’s support and understanding. He provided me with local projects so that I did not need to travel much with a newborn around. I worked from home and had more flexible time to look after baby whilst working. Therefore, I could keep a good balance between being a new mum and working.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that is the case?
Helena Shi: From my point of view, there are three main reasons resulting in a lack of women in technology.
First, I think women take on too many roles and responsibilities within the family leaving them without enough time to spend on technology study or work. I would encourage sharing the responsibilities in a family around looking after children, doing housekeeping or cooking, etc., more equally, to enable women to also achieve the most they can.
Secondly, when women apply for a technical job, they might have some professional fears because they might feel they are not technical enough. But technology is not just about coding or engineering; there are tools, processes, procedures, people, and so on that make up any great technical solution. There are many different roles, and a lot of women have great skills, if only they trusted themselves on that score.
Finally, a lot of the technical jobs may involve working long hours, travel requirements, ongoing industry professional license maintenance/study, etc., which might put women off. It could be because this will mean they would have less time to spend with their children or families, which brings us back to point number one.
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?
Helena Shi: I personally know that there are some companies in the world, especially small and private companies, that request that female employees promise that they will not get pregnant in the first few years of their employment. I think there is a bias that, when women are pregnant or have children, they cannot do their job well. That shouldn’t be an impediment to their success. Women should be evaluated by what they do and achieve and not by what is perceived by others. A flexible work environment also helps knock down some barriers too. The pandemic has highlighted the importance and the necessity of remote work from home environments. This allows men and women to optimize their working hours and share their responsibilities in a family. Finally, women role models are very important. When more and more women can achieve success in their careers, it builds up the confidence in other women and changes any bias.
What do you see as the future for women in technology roles/payments industry?
Helena Shi: I believe the trend will be that more and more women will join in technology roles and the payments industry, and this is what I am seeing happening right now. We have a new female member who joined our team recently, and she is progressing to be a QSA herself. And my manager told me he would like to hire more female consultants in the future to balance the team because he feels a mix of views in security and compliance offers the best outcomes.
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?
Helena Shi: I have learnt not to force an outcome for anything that does not belong to me, letting everything happen naturally, and always with a grateful heart. In my life or work I used to care too much about the results (winning or losing). But when it’s all over and done with, I look back and think nothing is that important. “Man proposes, God disposes”. As long as I did my best, there is nothing I should be ashamed of.
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?
Helena Shi: When I decided to quit my job and study overseas in Australia, I was 30 years old. I would like to advise other women that it is never too late if you are willing to change. Trust yourself and do your best.