Inspirational Woman: Cathy Southwick | Chief Information Officer, Pure Storage

Cathy Southwick Cathy Southwick joined Pure Storage in 2018 as Chief Information Officer. In this role, she leads Pure’s global IT strategy and advances the company’s operations through the delivery of next-generation technology capabilities and systems.

Cathy is an accomplished leader with over 20 years of experience defining andexecuting forward-looking IT strategies. Prior to Pure, Cathy held leadership positions at AT&T, including Vice President, Technology Engineering and Vice President, Cloud Planning & Engineering. During her tenure at AT&T, Cathy led the planning and execution of IT strategies from the Core Network, IT application modernization, and the IT cloud.

Before joining AT&T, Cathy spent 11 years at Viking Freight System (now owned by FedEx) where she held escalating leadership positions in IT architecture and planning, software development, merger integration, strategic planning, human resources management, procurement, project/portfolio management, and process re-engineering.

Cathy holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Saint Mary's College and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’ve spent over 25 years working in the technology industry, and I’ve loved every moment. Technology has evolved so much over that time, becoming increasingly integral to every aspect of our lives, and it’s been fascinating to be at the forefront of technology innovation and  transformation.

My current role is CIO at Pure Storage, a company that, despite only being ten years old, has completely disrupted the data storage market. Data is more essential than ever for the success of a business, and my main focus as CIO is making sure we deliver the next-gen technology that empowers our customers to live the Modern Data Experience only Pure can create.

Before joining Pure, I held various leadership positions at AT&T where I gained extensive experience with IT innovation, network functions virtualization, IT transformation, application and cloud migrations, engineering, and cloud infrastructure. Spending such a long tenure at a company gave me deep insight into not only what it takes to build a successful tech team, but also how to play a crucial part in the running of a business.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes and no. I’m definitely goal-driven, which has its benefits as it’s always given me something clear to work toward. But I’ve also learned that adhering too strictly to a certain vision or plan for your career can hold you back--you risk getting tunnel-vision that shields you from other, potentially better, opportunities to diversify your career. If you spend too much time honing one specific set of skills, you may see other doors for career growth closed. You never know what opportunity might be right in front of you, especially in the technology industry, so I’ve learned to strike a balance between setting clear goals and looking for opportunities to try something new.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Like many of my peers, my career began at a time when it wasn’t common to have women in tech leadership roles. As a result, I didn’t have many role models, and on many occasions I’d be the only woman in a meeting. Early in my career, I’d feel the need to say something unique and valuable every time just to prove why I was in the room, but not any longer.  I now focus on the outcomes we’re trying to drive and how I can help amplify other voices in the room that may not feel like their voices are being heard.

Another challenge I’ve faced is learning to not over-manage people – something I readily admit to having done as I’ve risen up the leadership ranks. It takes time and experience to overcome, but I realised that management and leadership are not about getting involved in every granular detail of every project taking place on your team. Rather, being a leader is about removing roadblocks, focusing on the bigger picture, creating a vision and creating an environment in which your team can achieve greatness on their own.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

When I reflect on it, I would say my biggest sense of achievement comes from the different teams I’ve built and managed. Everyone brings something unique to a team and has their own way of looking at a problem, and I always strive to encourage my team members to take ownership and explore how their skillset can contribute to a collective goal. It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch individuals flourish when they’re empowered to make the decisions that lead not only to their own personal success, but also to that of the business.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the opportunity to lead some of the most successful technical challenges to enable a business, but in the end, it’s our people who deliver the results.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I’ve always had a genuine passion for technology, and no matter what role I’ve held, technology has always been at the core of my work. It may be a cliché, but you really do have to do something you love to be successful – it’s a motivator in itself. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have amazing mentors all throughout my career, both men and women.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Seek out a mentor! Whether it’s a woman or a man, finding someone who has a role you aspire to and asking for her/his mentorship is one of the best ways to learn and make the connections that can end up benefiting your career down the road. You cannot be afraid to ask for help or guidance. What’s the worst that could happen? If the person says no, you’re exactly where you were before you asked.

On the flipside of that, you have to learn to be the driver of your own career. That would be the advice I would give to my younger, more naïve self. Doing more takes courage, whether it be networking, speaking up in a meeting or learning something new - but it also pays off. It seems obvious, but a surprising amount of people go to work, doing the exact same thing, day in and day out, expecting that it will be enough to get them noticed. But in reality, if you’re just doing the work, and not sharing or helping others, you could easily be seen as just doing the bare minimum.  Real growth means stepping out of your comfort-zone and sometimes even having to take on new challenging work that you never dreamed you could accomplish..

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I think one of the biggest barriers is encouraging people into the tech industry in the first place. This issue extends beyond that of gender, but relates to a wider one around the lack of diversity in the industry. A lot of people have this idea that there’s a certain “type” of person who seeks out a career in tech, when in reality, the potential for diversity in this industry is endless--you don’t have to look, talk, or behave in any specific way to excel in this field.

One way to overcome this stereotypical idea involves placing a greater emphasis and appreciation on the wide variety of opportunities and routes into a tech career. The greater emphasis being placed on STEM education for example is great, but more must be done to encourage other types of “soft skills” and demonstrate how they can serve as a route into a successful technology career.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I’ve been fortunate to work in several companies in which there was a big focus on creating opportunities for women to excel, and the same can be said of Pure Storage. There’s such a big emphasis on fostering a culture of inclusivity and equality, encouraging mentorships to ensure everyone can reach their full potential.  We need to ensure that companies and employees are talking about the challenges and differences that exist in the workplace for their talent… education of the issues and finding creative ways to solve problems should be at the forefront.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Increasing and changing the pipelines for recruiting female talent at all stages of careers can be a game changer.  Additionally, being more supportive of one another is a topic that’s come up a lot among Pure’s Women’s Leadership. It’s common for women to be hesitant to vocalize support for their female peers because there’s a fear that if their colleague isn’t successful, then it will look bad on them as well. But we need to embrace the idea that we can bring one another up and boost our collective confidence in the workplace by being more vocally supportive of our female peers.

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many conversations around diversity and inclusion, and the idea came up that even if you’re in an environment that’s accepting of diversity, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll feel like you belong. In that sense, we need to try to go beyond just accepting our female peers and instead embrace and actively promote the unique ideas and perspectives they’re capable of bringing to the table.  Be the Change you want to see!

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are too many to list!  There are many organizations that are focused on helping women in tech.  I would encourage everyone to get engaged and involved… it could be with your company’s ERG, networking events (CIO roundtables), technology conferences, partnering with vendors and partners on their events, etc.  Do a search in your area on the internet or reach out to other women peers to find out what is available locally to you.

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