A lack of confidence can hold you back, so what does it take to be confident in who you are?
Sometimes, it takes time for us to know ourselves, let alone find a workplace where we feel like we truly belong. Self-belief, courage, hard work and plenty of trial and error are often involved. That can be true if you’re working in the city in which you were born, or a place you have made your home.
Irina Singh, Business Information Security Partner, Medtronic, knows how this concept of “finding yourself” feels.
Born in Riga, Latvia, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time, 20-year IT veteran, Irina moved to the US in the early 1990s. She started her career in 2001 with few practical skills but has, over the years, built a career of her own. Now at Medtronic as a Business Information Security Partner, she is in the process of building out her own team.
Irina shared with us a story of finding and being proud of herself; a story that started in her early career, sparked with her own initiative and strengthened with belief and support from her first IT employer. As her career developed, Irina began to learn what she valued and where her strengths lie, culminating in her finding a work “home” where she is surrounded by a team that celebrates her for who she is.
We talked with Irina about her story and how the In HER Element program has influenced her journey of self-discovery.
Your IT career was definitely not smooth sailing in the early days!
Tell us how you navigated that journey.
I was born in the Soviet Union and graduated with a Management of Information Systems degree, after moving to the United States. Although it sounds good, the degree, unfortunately, did not give me any practical skills were useful in the workforce and that left me feeling absolutely unprepared.
I entered the workforce in the United States in the fall of 2001, during the recession. As I was interviewing, 9/11 happened and the bottom fell out of the hiring market. I ended up finding a job with a small company as a general IT person. The opportunity taught me a great deal. I called myself the “everything that plugs into the wall” person because whether it was a printer or a shredder or a computer, I was the person that they looked to, to figure it out.
After five years in that role, my friend recommended that I interview for an audit and compliance position in his firm. With hesitation, I interviewed, although I felt connected to the IT work I was already doing, and I received an offer that was $25k more than my salary at the time. I had an honest conversation with my boss, who matched what the other company had offered, helped me close out my role in the company while I helped him find someone to fill my position, and then paid for career counseling to help me find what was next.
The career counseling showed me that I was far more excited by project-based rather than task-based work and that I was easily bored with smaller details! Eventually, I found an Audit and Compliance role at RSM which taught me all about this new type of work.
After trying myself out in a variety of organizations, I joined Medtronic in the summer of 2017 as a security leader for their business-facing IT security program. I was hired into an individual contributor position, tasked with building out the Business Information Security program for our Cardiovascular business. After successfully building the program, I was promoted into a Sr IT Manager position, which will cover the IT Security needs of all 20 Operating Units and Global Functions. I’m now building out my own team!
What is it about IT and Security that you love?
Through the In HER Element program, I learned that I love to understand how systems work. Those systems can be anything from a culture/society to an IT system or a business process. “Audit” has allowed me to do that because it’s about interviewing the customer and finding out how their system works and then auditing that. It was a lightbulb moment for me coming out of the program.
Part of understanding how systems work is understanding how I work. The program gave me the opportunity to understand myself better and give me insight into myself. That more authentic version of myself has been celebrated and encouraged by Medtronic and that has really gotten me to where I am today.
In the past, I haven’t always felt that I’ve had that support of who I am; I wasn’t always supported or celebrated for what I brought to the organization. I was being evaluated against the culture norms instead of for my strengths and weaknesses in my career.
What did you know about In HER Element before you experienced it?
I knew nothing! I received the flyer that my boss had received three months into my job at Medtronic. There was a sponsor higher up in Medtronic who gave my boss the job of identifying someone on her team to participate in the program and she chose me.
I remember showing up on day one and unsure of what to expect. But, after the first meeting, everyone relaxed and began to share about themselves. All of the people who went through the program with me were at least at a manager level and many of them had been with Medtronic for 10-20 years. I had only been with the organization for three months so while I felt really lucky to be in the group, I was also a little nervous.
How did your relationships develop with the other participants develop over the course of the program?
It was therapeutic – we dug through our childhood traumas and figured out the root cause behind why we behave the way we do! You learn many personal things about each other, so it had to become a safe space. We all had moments when we had tears in our eyes. Because I was so new to the company, I felt like it was a clean slate. I was able to let my barrier down quite easily and be vulnerable with the other women because, honestly, I had nothing to lose.
When you got to the end of the program, how did you feel?
It was a very positive experience. You come away from the experience with your brand statement and your “colors” that represent who you are. My colors were red and aqua which they gave to us in the form of a bracelet. (Editor’s note: In the In HER Element program, women are given a bracelet made from their colors. The colors that they are given are a reminder of positive forward movement in their life.)
My brand, however, was the most powerful thing I received from the program. Someone is describing you and gets you right. It almost feels magical. I took that brand, read it out loud and I couldn’t get through it without crying because that’s how personal and powerful it was.
Why did you feel so connected to the brand statement?
The fact that somebody saw you for who you are. We all want that, right? There’s power in the fact that someone else wrote that for you, and with you. As women it sometimes feels like we aren’t supposed to be proud of ourselves or like we should be complimenting ourselves. Women are taught to not be loud. It can even be looked at like a negative trait. Being outspoken is a bad thing and we always have negative words associated with those behaviors. For men it’s “brave” but for women it’s “loud”.
When you receive your statement and read them to the group, it feels so powerful because you’re allowed to pump yourself up. After having some time living out my “brand,” I have started to feel rewarded for being myself. I’m outspoken and bold, and at Medtronic, I’ve felt rewarded for being that way.
When you tell others about the program, what do you say about it?
I definitely recommend it. It requires you to dig within yourself so being willing to do that is essential. It’s critical to be open minded and you’ll learn things about yourself that you can use to make yourself better.
About the In HER Element program:
The In HER Element Program is a transformative leadership development cohort program for women that combines mindfulness and neuroscience with one-on-one coaching and community. Our goal for this program is to build upon women’s leadership skills and empower them to be their best self. Click here to learn more.