Dana Simberkoff talks mentorship and advocacy in tech

Trailblazer Dana Simberkoff discusses her thoughts on mentorship, advocating for women and overcoming the barriers of working in male-dominated industries

As the Chief Risk, Privacy, and Information Security Officer at AvePoint, Dana Simberkoff is responsible for the company’s privacy, data protection, and security programmes. She manages a global team of subject matter experts, that provide executive-level consulting, research, and analytical support on current and upcoming industry trends, technology, standards and best practices.

We caught up with Dana to find out more about her fascinating role, as well as her thoughts on mentorship and becoming an inspirational trailblazer. 

Hi Dana, please tell us what influenced you to pursue a career in tech.

I attended Suffolk University Law School after college, where I worked for a criminal defence attorney and always thought I’d practice law. When the opportunity to work at a software company emerged, I had no idea it would lead to the cybersecurity career I’ve built. 

I really got started in cybersecurity when the software company was tapped to work on privacy programmes for our corporate and public sector customers, in addition to operations security projects for our US Department of Defense customers.  

What inspired you to join the Women@ mentorship programme? 

Being a mentor is one of the most fulfilling parts of my life, which includes mentoring those on my team and those within my broader network. I’ve found it’s very important for women to have peers and mentors to help support, promote, and inspire them. I’ve had many such mentors within my family, throughout my education, and later in my professional life. I’ve also served on the Women Leading Privacy Advisory Board for the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) where I supported programmes tailored towards continued education, networking and career growth.  

How do you champion other women in the industry? Why is this important to you? 

I’m passionate about advocating for women in male-dominated industries and have demonstrated dedication to supporting women in security by leading a team made up of 50% women. On top of advancing AvePoint’s security technology and strategy, I strive to pave the way for women in the field by increasing accessibility and opportunities within the company, and the sector as a whole.  

My mother is a social worker and has a master’s degree in economics, but this really started with my grandmother who was one of the youngest female attorneys to graduate from Albany Law School, and worked and travelled the world into her 80s. I take pride in helping others realise their career goals and believe it is important in this industry that we support one another. 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry? 

I have been extremely fortunate throughout my own professional life and personal life to have friends, family, mentors and managers who have always believed in me and my ability to achieve anything I aspire to do. They expect nothing but the best from me – constantly supporting me to achieve any goal. I realise that I am quite fortunate in that respect. I understand, from hearing stories from others, that this is not always the case for women in the workforce.  

Certainly, my own grandmother, mother and many of their peers had to overcome some obstacles and societal expectations to achieve what they did. Early on in my technology career, I recall attending tradeshows (in the late 90’s) where the feeling of having a level playing field was not ubiquitous amongst my female technology colleagues and I. While no one doubted or ever questioned my competence or ability to do my job, we were also surrounded by other vendors who had hired women models to stand in their booths and to pitch their products. While I had never worked for a company like this, the contrast was clear. 

The idea of pitch-women has been around for a long time, but it has now been many years since those models have graced the halls of the conferences, which I now attend. I know that many women still face those challenges today. In fact, I was once invited to present at a technology seminar in Saudi Arabia. However, I was told that to do so, I would need to stand in a separate room from the men and walk behind them in public. I declined that invitation. I do not fault any women for agreeing to speak in those circumstances, in fact, it probably takes trailblazers, willing to do so to change hearts and minds.  

I prefer to blaze my trail like those that did so before me, by always expecting and calling for an equal playing field as my peers who are men and working as hard as them to achieve anything that I aspire to. With this, I always seek to work with companies and partners who judge me by my merit and what I have achieved.  

What have been your most significant career accomplishments? 

Instead of focusing on a specific moment in time, like graduating from law school, advising the US federal government on its security policies, or even becoming a CPO and CISO, I tend to look at my achievements as both cumulative and continuous. I value the ongoing privacy and security contributions my team and I make every day and believe the best is yet to come. 

What advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?  

Life is not fair, and we all must play the hand of cards we are dealt. We all have an opportunity to rise, though the playing field may not always be fair or equal. It’s important to prove your value and worth every single day, and make sure you are not only an asset in your own mind but in the minds of those around you. 

What would you say has been the secret to thriving in a male-dominated industry? 

I am a firm believer in the constant pursuit of education–we should always be learning. I’m a hard worker and have always been very active within the cybersecurity community.

I submit myself for speaking sessions at industry conferences, am a regular contributor to media publications, and promote the work that AvePoint is doing. I’d also add that having a positive attitude and outlook always helps, when rising to any challenges–big or small–that may come my way.   


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