From the Hood to Cyber :: Why It's a Career Every Resilient Leader Should Consider

Dr. Cheryl Cooper
Business Information Security Officer
Automatic Summary

Navigating Ambition as a Mother: A Tale of Self-Awareness, Boundaries and Non-Negotiables

Welcome to a journey of discovering the harmony between ambition and motherhood, a story of resilience, self-discovery and self-esteem. I'm Misha Frazier, an Air Force veteran, a mother of four, a wife of ten years, and a full-time entrepreneur. With each role comes its challenges, but despite them all, my mantra is: life is not easy, but it's not impossible. I'm navigating the dynamics of being a mother, a wife and a career woman. You too can enjoy this journey and let go of any guilt associated with trying to be a superwoman.

Recognizing the Challenge

Balancing the responsibilities of being a high-performing professional and a nurturing mother can feel like a tug of war. Burdens can pile up, making you alternate between feelings of triumph and overwhelm. From personal experience and working with various women from different walks of life, I understand there might be days where you would feel like a winner and other days when you feel daunted by the weight of motherhood and work. However, you are not alone, we all have those days.

Changing The Superwoman Narrative

The Superwoman cape can sometimes be a mantle of guilt, pressure or people-pleasing and it's important to question why and when we wear it. The key to handling these responsibilities without feeling guilty is to establish solid boundaries and non-negotiables.

Introducing Congruence

A crucial concept is congruence, which involves aligning what you need, feel and express honestly. For instance, the energy behind some of our decisions could reveal a pressure to multitask, often leading to dividing attention and not being able to dedicate 100% to either work or family. Hence, it's essential to say no to things you can't fully commit to, without feeling guilty.

Learning to Establish Boundaries and Non-Negotiables

Being firm about non-negotiables and enforcing boundaries are critical. Whether it's agreeing to attend only one event a week or deciding on work availability, these definitions help you create a healthy balance. Not honoring these boundaries might end in failure and exhaustion. This balance is a testament to effective leadership in all aspects of life: home, work, and self.

Questions for Reflection

So, are you feeling a bit overwhelmed with your responsibilities? Here are four questions to ask yourself:

  • What do I need to hear, know, or believe in this moment?
  • What action or decision can I take that's most congruent with my feelings?
  • What boundaries do I need to put in place to protect myself in moments like this?
  • Is this act, task, or decision a non-negotiable for me?

Video Transcription

Good morning, everyone. You know, we are virtual today. But I bet if I was in person in a conference room sitting around you, I could honestly say that you and I are really not that different.We may not look alike, we may not have the same credentials, but we do have one thing in common that one thing that binds us together, we see the value of stem and cybersecurity in the economy. And we understand the impact of technology on our lives. When I say technology, we understand this technology, how that impacts our lives. The career opportunities in technology are abounding today, but many of those jobs will be replaced by new technology and robots, robots that can do things easier, faster and more accurately. This new technology will need to be secured and protected. There are 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs globally and 700,000 of those jobs are in the United States alone. Did you know that in the cybersecurity field that women only make up 24% of the profession and minorities, they are only represented in the single digits as of 2023 women in technology related fields are only represented 27%. And as we look deeper into corporate America, we see that under representation of women starting at the junior manager level and up to senior executive lev levels, notably, compared to entry level rose, the higher up we go in the organization, we do not see the women at CSO the Chief security Officer, Cio, chief Information Officer or the Chief Information Security Officer.

As we see here in the slide that I'm showing you here for the cybersecurity engineer, whites make up 66% of the cybersecurity engineer population. And when we look at all the minority groups, his Asians blacks, African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos all represented only less than 10% and even more glaring when we look at native Americans and Alaska natives, cybersecurity engineers are represented less than 1%. And so based on those statistics, it's more than likely I would not be here with you today, but here I am with my phd and 30 years of experience in technology and cybersecurity feels. Yes. Yet here I am proud speaking to you today making a difference as an industry thought leader and as a mentor to marginalize and underrepresented young women, considering careers in the field. But I wasn't always this woman. I didn't always feel confident as I do today. I grew up in the hood of Kansas City where drugs and violence read rampant. It was almost if you lived in this area you were inevitable to fall prey to the streets. Drugs became a way of life for me. And even though I went into adulthood, you would think that I would get out and especially when I had my daughter. But, but I was deep into the bowels of the drug life of the street life until one day when I had enough, I deserved more.

My daughter deserved more. I enlisted into the United States Navy where I was then introduced to and that's how I got my start. So how did I beat the odds and get to stand here before you today? It is said that we all have defining moments, those moments in our life when we are faced with circumstances in which we must decide, I'm gonna share with you some of my stories today, the choices that were made and some powerful lessons that were learned on my way from the hood to cyber into corporate America growing up in that house on 32nd in Jackson Street, I made the decision that I was less than imagine for a moment.

Me as a five year old little girl dressed to the nines on an Easter Sunday morning. I was dressed just like my sister. Our mother did our hair that morning, but mine was short and kinky, my sister had long flowing locks that fell down her back. And as you can see here from the image, my sister was fair, very light skinned. Unlike me who was a, a darker shade of brown. After the Easter egg hunt, we ran over to our mother who was talking to other mothers who had gotten out of church and we stood beside my mother and as the other church mothers looked down, they said to my sister. Oh, isn't she beautiful? What, what was she is? Just the cutest little thing. I stood there waiting to hear the same compliment. And then I thought for a moment, well, maybe they don't see me. And so I, I took a few steps forward. I looked up and I smiled. I never heard that compliment. I never was told that I was pretty too. And at that very moment I knew what the world would be like for me with my short kinky hair and my darker complexion. This Dave was the first of many times that I was impacted by colorism. Colorism. Now you guys are probably saying, well, it must not be anything that's good because anything that ends in an ism that be good. And you're right.

Colorism is discrimination against individuals because of the shade of their skin. Colorism is a bias and prejudice against a person because of their complexion on that day. And years after that, I made the choice that I was not as good as the girls with light skin and nice hair. You see, I could not plus the brown paper bag test. You see, I was darker than the brown paper bag. And it was almost like a sentence of indi invisibility for girls like me or for girls who were darker than me under that veil of invisibility, I begin to shrink. And at that very moment, I placed a limit on my capabilities to become whatever I wanted to be. Because at five years old, I lost my confidence and I stopped believing in myself. But those feelings didn't change until much later when I realized that I was more than the darker skin color. And my kinky hair eventually I learned to play the game. I wore makeup to make my skin light lighter. I put in weed in my hair so that my hair would fall for down my back. I wore designer suits so I would like not look for or disadvantage. But I was always reminded by the Karens don't tress the boss. I would do everything I could to not draw attention to the differences in my appearance. This Hersey Bar here changed my life. Feeling unseen impacted me in so many ways.

I recall on a hot sweaty night because even today, I can feel the sweat roll down my back. My brothers and his friends wanted to go to the drive in theater. Of course, I wanted to go, but I didn't have any money and they said I would have to get in the trunk so that the attendant wouldn't see me when we drove through. So that's what I did. We got into the theater. I sat on the floor and started eating a Hersh, a Hershey candy bar one that looked just like this. I began to feel dizzy. I wasn't feel, feeling well. I began to see colors, rainbow of colors from the sight of eye to the tip of my fingers. I begin to see a rainbow of color. And then I begin to see animations, animations like Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. And then one of my brother's friends said he had put acid in my candy bar. It may not have been a big deal to him, but it was for me. I do not remember much after that evening, but I do remember how beautiful everything looked while under the influence of a all of the dull surroundings turned into beauty, beauty, beauty that I had been seeking all my life.

And for the first time in my life, but certainly not. The last I understood that being high might be the only way to see beauty in the world. The beauty and the peace were enchanting. I craved that feeling of peace and beauty. But those trips weren't always peaceful. Some were more like nightmares than dreams. And after about six months of some frequent scary acid trips where I wasn't even sure if I would return to reality. I have an experience that changed my mind about taking acid. I was laying across my mother's bed and I looked up at a picture of a marina that had boats in the marina that were swaying back and forth in the water. And I said, wow, isn't that beautiful? But then I saw a snake, a blue snake with a white head in the bed with me as I moaned and groaned and tried to get away. I couldn't get away from the snake and I jumped up out of bed. I grabbed my head and I said I can't take it. I can't take it. And just like that, the snake disappeared. The marina went silent. At that time, I made the choice. I would never take acid again. They call that a bad trip. That wasn't the end of drugs for me though. Eventually. However, after losing several friends, either to the graveyard or, or to a prison, I made the decision to enlist in the military, I needed to get off the streets and do something with my life.

My daughter and I deserve better. That was one of the best decisions I could have made because it was one or two years later that my husband that I married fell victim to the streets when he was shot and killed on a drug deal gone wrong. My time in the military and being a technologist was some of the best years of my life. But also when I was in the military, I was raped and tortured by a nonmilitary mem member, a civilian being raped is a terrible experience for any woman. And because it wasn't something I had went through before. I didn't even know what to expect. I was going crazy. I was using unhealthy ways in coping. I was too afraid to get help. I felt guilty that I allowed myself to get in this place. But later I got help many decades later, and I realized that what I was going through was PTSD. And now I'm diligent about my mental and physical well-being. I thought that the military had prepared me for my journey into corporate America. Trans, transitioning into the civilian life wasn't easy for me as I was still dealing with the PTSD. But my skills that I had learned as a woman and because there weren't many women in stem careers had prepared me. At least I had thought I wasn't prepared for the bias, the sexism and the classism that I would have to deal with in corporate America.

But one of the things that I did do in cracking that glass ceiling into where I am today with a Fortune Five, a Fortune 50 company as a business information security officer officer, I chose to be a lifelong learner to even the playing field in corporate America where I could not be denied.

I created. Also when I looked around in technology, I saw that when I would go to conferences, I didn't see me. I initially thought that that was something that black women said, but I later learned this is the woman's anthem. When we look around in corporate America, we don't see us, we don't see us as we move up into the organizational layers. The glass ladder, the broken rung, the glass cliff are real. And based on that and based on my successes in my career, I decided to create women and security mentors, an organization that reaches back to women who are seeking careers in cybersecurity and technology navigating through corporate America. I began moving up in the company, but not at the pace that satisfied me, I was often looked over, probably some of that was on me because I had not file, found my voice, but I got my voice now. So I would recommend when you do find your voice and you're in those rooms, make sure that you have an opinion so people can find you. I also from a very young age, when I was five years old, I had lost that confidence. I had stopped believing in myself when I was raped and had the ptsd, I lost my confidence. So when I entered into corporate America, this impacted my ability to move up the corporate ladder in navigating corporate America.

I found that hard work being visible, make your visible value, make your value visible and find your voice. We have about two minutes left. So I wanna share this the same information from lean in lean in dot org. Did a study doing here at the manager level where we begin to see less and less of women of color and when we get to the SVP and VP levels even more. So I wrote a book, my memoir on Hood to Hood, my Journey from the inner city of Kansas City and where I stand today as Doctor Cheryl Cooper, an Arthur, a speaker, a mentor, a mentor who is reaching back to those individuals, women and women of color and the re represented who seek careers in technology and cybersecurity.

My book can be found on Amazon. I could have let my past, I could have less. Let my past put me small. I could have chosen to stay addicted to drugs and succumb to the streets. I could have chosen to not leave the violent streets of Kansas City. I could have chosen to let my kinky hair and my darker skin keep me from contributing to the world. But I didn't, I chose to be a mentor. We have that power. You have that power to write your story. You have that power to influence someone else's life. It's never too late to get involved. Please choose to be an ally, a mentor, a leader in the world because this is when I began to catapult my career when I found an ally, a sponsor and a mentor. Thank you so much for your time today.