Womenflare Presents: Unfiltered
Susan Chiang will interview Kayla Prettitore about how she grew her career in Physical Security; starting out as an Administrative Assistant in Cranes and Rigging at Con Edison to now leading Cloudflare’s Global Physical Security Program.
Hello everyone and welcome to WomenFlare's first episode of Unfiltered. Before we get started, I'd like to tell you a little bit about WomenFlare, what to expect in the upcoming episodes of Unfiltered.
WomenFlare is an employee-led group here at Cloudflare.
Its mission is to inspire and elevate all who identify as women. Our program, Unfiltered, will cover topics such as career journeys and advancement stories, personal development strategies and tips, mentoring lessons learned, and more.
We're excited to be here and looking forward to having unfiltered conversations with you all.
So stay tuned for upcoming episodes. We'll be airing on Thursdays at 3 p.m pacific, 5 p.m central, and 6 p.m eastern.
All right, so hello. My name is Susan Chiang.
I lead a couple functions within the security organization and I'm thrilled to be interviewing Kayla today as part of our inaugural segment of Unfiltered for WomenFlare.
Before we get started, Kayla, do you want to introduce yourself and what you focus on at Cloudflare?
Sure. Thanks, Susan. I'm Kayla Predator.
I lead our global physical security program here at Cloudflare. Awesome.
And well, let's go all the way back to the beginning. What was your first job?
So my first job was I worked in our town pharmacy, working as an assistant to the pharmacist.
It was pretty exciting. I got to see all of our town members come in and get their prescriptions.
So it was my first job in high school. Sounds like a job requiring high discretion.
Yes. Started early on. So was your second job your corporate job or did you have a couple more before you got to your corporate job?
Yeah, I had a couple other jobs in there. I worked at CVS at one point as a pharmacist technician.
Thought that I was going to go into pharmacy, but decided after working in pharmacy for a while that it wasn't for me.
And then I worked at a retail store and went to start working at Con Edison pretty much right after right after high school.
Yeah, I'd love to hear more about your, I guess, the start of your corporate journey as an administrative assistant in cranes and rigging at Con Ed.
I guess I would love to learn a little bit more about that and maybe explain what Con Ed is for those that don't know.
And then how did you make the transition into physical security?
Yeah, sure. So Con Edison is a utility company in New York City, covers the five boroughs, Westchester and up and through Orange and Rockland counties in New York.
So a piece of critical infrastructure. And I started working there, yeah, right out of high school was working in the cranes and rigging department as an administrative assistant.
So worked a lot on safety, billing, vendor billing, managing schedules, time cards, things like this.
And then kind of, I guess, naturally made the transition into physical security.
I was working while working in cranes and rigging in that department.
I was very close to our emergency operations department in the yard that I worked out of and got a really cool experience to work on a bunch of different emergency jobs.
And from there kind of met my mentor, my previous boss, who really just was the director of corporate security at the time.
And she was kind of an inspiration to join physical security.
So when I had the opportunity to apply for a job in that group and interview there, I was really excited.
And once I got the job in there, it was just kind of went from there. It was, it was great.
So what about physical security that inspired you? Yeah, that's a good question.
I mean, I think I just love helping people. I love using technology as well.
So that was, that was a really cool thing about physical security is kind of melds the two worlds together, being able to help people, but also using technology to figure out cool solutions to problems that people are having.
And I love that you mentioned the word mentors.
I know you and I have talked extensively about how invaluable that's been in both of our careers.
As somebody who, who is both a mentor and a mentee now, what advice would you give to those that are seeking a mentor?
That's a great question. I think, you know, one of the, one of the things that I would recommend is figuring out what, what it is that you're passionate about, what it is that your, your goals are career wise.
And then, you know, as simple as looking on LinkedIn, figuring out who are, who are kind of the stars that, that stand out to you, whose career has inspired you and then reach out to those people, you know, whether it's through a direct message on LinkedIn or finding a mutual connection.
You know, I think we all go on LinkedIn and see how many mutual connections we have with people that we don't even know.
And using the, using that network, using that, you know, that bridge to kind of get you in touch with those people that inspire you and people that, you know, have careers that you're, you're proud of and one that you would like to have yourself.
And so what also stood out to me, as you mentioned that a director of corporate security took an interest and invested in you when you were starting out as an administrative assistant and probably associated entry roles.
So to flip that a little bit, what advice would you give to those who are interested in mentoring and, or are in a leadership position and have the ability to be a sponsor or mentor to those?
Yeah, I think one of the biggest things is and you and I talk about this a lot is communication, right?
Talking to people that you interact with, spending the time to have a real conversation with them.
You know, if you're partnering with different people on teams for cross -functional tasks or projects, taking the time to get to know people outside of just whatever work task you're working on and forming that personal bond and connection, you know, even if it's just five or 10 minutes extra out of your day, that goes a long way.
And then you find out, you know, what people are interested in.
And that's kind of how, how my connection started with my mentor was, you know, we, we talked about something, something else and found that we had a connection over something and, you know, found that my interest in physical security was pretty high and strong.
And when the opportunity came up in that group, you know, she had reached out to me and said that that was there.
And it, you know, had I not had that connection or that, you know, personal time with her may not have worked out like that.
I think just taking the time to get to know people and figure out what they're passionate about.
So it sounds like having a mentor help guide you as well as identify opportunities are a good fit from you, from understanding you as a person, as well as your interests.
What other advice would you give those wanting to transition to physical security, especially from a non -conventional path?
Yeah. I think, you know, if anything, if you're passionate about something, taking the time out of your day to focus on that passion and, and research it, read as much as you can about it.
I know one of the things that you and I both have in common is listening to podcasts.
So find, find a podcast, there's podcasts for everything, right? Find one that's, that interests you that is, there's a bunch out there that I can recommend and we'll, we'll post them somewhere where people can find them after this, but there's, there's a ton of resources out there for physical security, specifically, there's a ton of security groups that you can join and network with other people.
And I find networking with people and getting those intimate groups that that's where you're going to gain your, your best knowledge.
People that have experience in the industry that you can learn from kind of hands-on, maybe you can shadow someone.
That's really what's worked well for me. While I was in kind of those entry-level roles, I had a really great opportunity to shadow people that were in other roles, you know, more senior to me.
And I took every one of those opportunities that I could get.
And that really helped advance my, my knowledge in physical security, not just in the area that I was focusing on, but in other areas as well.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. And then what's also interesting is physical security and security overall tends to be a male -dominated industry, getting to the unfiltered part of the woman flair segment.
So I'm curious, how have you navigated that?
And maybe as you started out in the industry, and as well as how have you navigated that as you have risen essentially now to lead a global physical security function?
Yeah, it's tough. I think there's, you know, physical security is definitely one of those industries where it is predominantly dominated by, by a male workforce.
And especially in, in senior, more senior roles, right? I, you know, we, we're starting now to see a lot more women in physical security, but in more entry-level roles, I'm hoping that we can change that going forward.
That's something that I'm definitely passionate about and focused on, but I think throughout my career, what's really helped is having a mentor who was a woman who was a leader in, in corporate security and physical security.
That, that really helped drive me.
Seeing her passion for, for physical security, for helping people, for protecting, you know, our, our company and our company's assets.
That helps give me, you know, drive to kind of move forward every day when things were not as easy, you know, when there were challenges that we were facing, whether it was, you know, internally with different team members or externally working with other teams within the company, or even outsiders, you know, especially working with vendors gets pretty tough.
A lot of the vendor groups that you end up working with are even more so male dominated, I would say.
And yeah, it becomes an extremely difficult situation, you know, trying to explain to someone that you have the knowledge, you have the experience that's required to do the job.
I think what's helped me and what's, what's worked for me is being educated and, and having hands-on experience as much as I could get, shadowing others, gave me that power and that confidence to come into a situation and not let someone, you know, get the best of me.
So having confidence, I think is number one, because there's, there's always going to be a situation where, you know, you're, you might not be the expert on the, on the job or on the project.
But if you have confidence in yourself, and if you take the time to research whatever it is beforehand, you can go in there and do just as good a job, if not better than someone else.
So I think confidence is key.
And that's been kind of the thing for me. And that's helped me in other areas as well.
Yeah, we all greatly admire confidence. And it's a type of confidence that is enveloped in empathy as well.
So it's a very inclusive type of confidence.
I know we as a team have also talked about imposter syndrome. And I'm sure, and you've mentioned, you felt that at various points in your career as well.
So what would you advise to those who especially new to the industry, or are surrounded by those that don't look like them, or are coming from a non -conventional path and feel like they are the other, right?
Like, how would you, what would you advise to them about dealing with that sense of imposter syndrome?
I would say two things. So one, definitely reach out to other people that you trust in your group, in your network, whether it's someone in that same industry or in that same career path as you or not.
And finding an outside confidence booster to help give you that, you know, give you that push to say, you got this.
That's, I think that makes a huge difference.
Having someone else tell you, you can, you know, it's great to be able to tell yourself and have that personal confidence from within, but sometimes that's hard.
Sometimes we don't always have that. And we need an outside external push from someone to say, yeah, you know, you know what you're doing.
Go, go out there and go show them that you know what you're doing. So I think that's huge.
And then, you know, I think it always also comes back to making sure that you're, to maintain that confidence, making sure that you're educated on whatever the task at hand is, whatever the career or the, you know, current job or role that you're in, staying up and up and relevant on what's new in the world, having things that you can reference and go back to and show examples of why you know something to be true.
I think that's really helpful. Yes, definitely.
I know we both talked, you've talked about how we both love podcasts. What other ways of keeping up to date and relevant have you found helpful and useful?
That's a good question. I guess a couple different things, you know, reading up on there's, like I mentioned before, there's a bunch of different security networking groups that you can join.
So, and some of them are probably traditionally known as, you know, good old boys clubs, but they're starting to be more of a women's presence in them.
And so I'd say stick with it and join those groups, you know, like Aziz or SIA is another one.
Those are two great organizations that are starting to really have a younger, more vibrant, and more of a women's presence in them.
And so joining those groups and finding a network within those groups that you trust and feel comfortable with and learning from those people.
And then I think too, the other thing is doing your own kind of independent study and research.
So whether it's, you know, networking with other people that you do or don't know independently, finding out what's working for them, what tools and resources have they found to be useful?
And what have they already tried and maybe didn't work out?
So, you know, to avoid those and not waste your time on them.
We do that a lot, you know, benchmarking with other companies and other people that we trust and understanding what tools or technology they're using that's working well, that maybe we want to adapt for ourselves.
But also, you know, on the converse, figuring out what hasn't worked and what can we spare our time from?
It's been great to see you kind of turn that around, right? You speak about the benefits and health and importance of being, of receiving from those groups.
And it's been so great to see you take the leadership, not just within our company, but also externally and start to give back and foster and mentor those groups.
For example, I think you lead a Back to Better group across physical security and safety and workforce professionals.
Is it nationally or globally or?
Yeah, we're global now. So we've got a pretty large network that we've formed.
It's about, I think, 86 or seven members strong now across multiple countries and a whole wide variety of time zones.
But we're able to stay in touch via Slack and we have a weekly meeting.
We're now moving to bi-weekly because of summer and give everyone some rest.
But it's been a great, yeah, it's been a great resource. We are all trying to navigate this pandemic and this global crisis together.
It's really unprecedented.
No one knows what the right move to make is. And so we're all learning from each other and we're all helping each other out.
And it's been a really great experience.
I started it kind of just out of necessity, right? There really wasn't any other group that was talking about this and was focusing on how are we using security and safety to get people back to work when it's safe to do so.
And so I think that's another good tip that I'd love to share with everyone is sometimes what you need is not out there.
It doesn't exist and you have to create it for yourself.
And I think you'll find that a lot of other people out there are probably sitting in the same boat.
So for me, it was as simple as putting out a LinkedIn post and seeing who was interested and then word just spread kind of like wildfire.
People found it useful and it ended up kind of taking on a life of its own.
Yeah. For those interested, email Kayla and she'd be happy to add you to the growing community.
Yeah, we'd love to. And so since you touched on the COVID response and the situation and the environment we're in, so you've been working with our core BCT team and really been the core engine driving and leading Cloudflare's COVID response efforts in conjunction with our leadership.
What are some takeaways that you've had so far?
Yeah, it's been, it feels like we've been in this for a lot longer than we have.
It's a very difficult situation, I think, for everyone to navigate.
But yeah, there's already been some lessons learned that we've incorporated and have been using to move forward in this process.
I think one of the biggest things we learned very early on was communication.
Communication is key.
Keeping everyone up to date with what's going on. What is the company's response?
How are we keeping people safe? What is the process for people that do need help or in really difficult situations?
How do they reach out?
How do they get that help that they need? So communication, I think, and constant communication is key because the situation is constantly evolving, and you have to be able to keep up with that, and you have to be able to keep your employees and your teammates informed of what's going on and how your response is changing throughout the pandemic.
So that's definitely one. And I think the other big thing is, again, we don't have all the answers.
We don't know what's coming next either, which is the really tough part.
So being able to be flexible and stay flexible throughout the process.
What's working right now this week is not necessarily going to work next week because who knows what's around the corner.
So making sure that your plans are flexible and easily adaptable to change, I think, is a huge lesson that we've learned.
Some of the things that we started out doing in the beginning wouldn't work today.
And so having the ability to be flexible has certainly helped.
Mm-hmm. Yeah, that's interesting that you mentioned that.
And one thing that we've greatly admired is how you've evolved.
You and our core BCT team, as we call it, business continuity team, have evolved your approach to communications.
For example, one thing that you've done really well is contextualize it and customize it to different audiences, whether it's regional or even office or even situational, like working parents or living alone.
So I'd love to, if you want to, if you don't mind talking a little bit more about your takeaways from doing these different types of communications and how would you advise others doing that?
Because it can seem daunting too. It's easier to have one message.
What is it like to manage like 10 versions of the message?
Yeah, that is a huge advantage. I think that we have as a business continuity team is that we decided throughout the process that we were going to have this constant communication.
But again, we decided that we were going to try and adapt and change as best as we could throughout the pandemic.
And what we realized kind of in the middle was that while we were getting a message out, it wasn't coming across clearly to everyone in the same way.
And so we did have to adapt.
And what has worked really well is we're now communicating across multiple different channels.
Originally, first it was just, we were communicating via one global email to everyone.
And to your point, that message wasn't necessarily coming out clear in the same manner to every group.
We've got offices all over the world and the pandemic is progressing differently across those global offices.
And so we came up with another avenue to reach out to our teammates and to communicate what's going on to them.
And one of those ways is by hosting, we call them VCT office hours.
So we have a region specific office hour for each region. It's a half hour every week for each region.
And we kind of just take any questions that people have in regards to the communication that came out the prior week.
And so it's a great way to have a more personal connection and understand what people are going through.
And then you get great feedback and are able to take that feedback and use it going forward for your communication next week.
And the other thing that we've done is we have kind of this 24 seven chat room available for everyone to ask questions or solicit feedback from.
And that I think has also been another great avenue for us to communicate with people is, you know, people that have specific questions or just want to throw ideas out, you know, with anything that's on their mind, they're able to do it in that chat room.
And then the other thing we've done is we've created an internal wiki, a site where we are able to host all of our information.
So of course we can't communicate an email that's three to four pages long, no one's going to read it.
So what's worked out well is we throw in links there with additional information.
You know, if someone has a specific concern or there's a specific topic that's of interest to them, like you mentioned, our working parents, we've got a site just for them with all the information relevant to them and their needs.
And similarly for those that are staying home alone, you know, kind of quarantining solo, we've got some resources and information for them because everyone's situation is really unique and different and everyone's facing, you know, really different challenges.
They're not all the same. So I think having multiple paths of communication and figuring out who is your audience, you know, it's kind of like going back to school when we were in those English classes and they're like, you know, make sure you're writing to your audience.
It, you know, make sure you're communicating to all facets of your audience.
There's, you know, we have, we're really fortunate to have a really diverse workforce and we're, you know, we need to make sure that the way that we're communicating applies to everyone.
You just hit on a couple of points I'd love to ask more about.
I think one, you know, just to highlight your, you majored in public relations, right?
So A, non -conventional degrees can absolutely be successful and become leaders in security, but it's also been invaluable, especially now in your role as you develop the communication strategy, implement it, adapt it across to your point, a diverse audience.
And kind of on that note, I'd love to hear another example of a time when having a diverse team member, either yourself or someone else in a situation led to a better outcome.
Yeah. I mean, I've, I've been very fortunate to be able to work on a lot of cross-functional projects and tasks throughout my career, whether it's been at Cloudflare or in any of my other prior jobs.
And I think one of the things that has always been a positive takeaway from any of those cross -functional teams or just teams that have been part of in general is having that diversity of opinion, diversity of background.
It really is invaluable. I can't explain it enough.
You know, not one person has all the answers. And so when you bring people in who have different, you know, different opinions, different backgrounds, different experiences, they're able to bring a lot more to the table and you're, you're able to kind of challenge each other.
And from their challenge and through difficult times, you're, you see the best growth, at least in my experience.
And I think that's, it's such a huge advantage to, to having a diverse team with, you know, multiple backgrounds, multiple types of experience.
And as you mentioned, you know, my, my background is not conventional for physical security.
I, I haven't spent any time in, in law enforcement or, or military.
And that's, that's pretty rare for someone in a physical security role. But for me, it's, it's been kind of to my advantage.
I'm able to bring a different, you know, unique experience to physical security.
I look at it much more from a tech, you know, side of technology and process improvement, which is two big aspects of, you know, things that I'm passionate about.
And then also, like you mentioned, my, my experience in public relations, huge part of physical security is being able to communicate.
And that's, that's really been something that has been extremely valuable for me having that, that degree.
Mm-hmm. We are so much better for it.
And on that note, what would you advise the broader physical security industry to either start, start or stop doing so that it can attract and more importantly, retain more diverse professionals in the industry?
That's a really good question.
I think I, you, I know you've heard me say this a lot, but physical security is one of those industries that's been very slow to adapt to change, especially in the area of technology.
And so I think if you want to recruit and retain new top talent, you have to start looking at technology in a different way and start using technology to your advantage.
The technology systems that are out there for physical security have not changed in a long time.
They're all pretty much built on the same platform that they originated.
And, you know, most of them, if you look at them, they're, they look at, they look like they're a program from windows 95 and, and there's been a very slow change to take place in those systems.
So getting, getting folks in that are, you know, technology driven into the industry would be a huge advantage and focusing on a more diverse industry, you know, building a more diverse industry would be a huge way to, to recruit and, and keep top talent.
People are not going to want to come and work for an industry that's extremely male dominated or, you know, people with only one type of background or experience that we've been used to.
And it's going to take some courageous people to start focusing and wanting to work in the physical security industry to change that.
And I hope that more people will. And to your point earlier, we need more people in leadership roles to step up and be mentors and be able to guide those, especially those that, that may come from a conventional path or who are not the typical physical security person.
Well, thank you so much for having me and interviewing me.
This was a really great experience.
I loved our, our chat. I would have loved to keep going for another 30 minutes, but we, we always find time to chat about all sorts of topics.
So thank you, Kayla, for being our guest host or not our guest, being our guest and the person we're interviewing for this first session.
Thanks, Susan. Thanks everyone.