Join us in celebrating Women’s History Month! We honor the strong pathfinders and trailblazers who came before us and those who continue to push for a more just, equitable society. While International Women's Day was first celebrated on March 8 in 1911, Women's History Month grew from a Women's History Week, first celebrated in 1978. Two years later in 1980, March was designated Women's History Month.
This whole month is a time to recognize the strides Women have made throughout the years and continue to make across the world. We had the amazing opportunity to connect with a female leader here at Palo Alto Networks, Sonia Singh, Manager-Prisma Cloud Global Customer Programs. She wants to share her experiences and advice with all of you. Sonia continues to inspire others in the workplace, and we are excited for you to learn more about her.
LIVEcommunity Team: How long have you been working in IT/cybersecurity? Can you talk a bit about what it’s like to be a woman in a historically male-dominated field, and how the industry has changed since you’ve changed (if at all)?
Sonia: I have been in IT for about 7 years collectively and cyber security for about 3 years collectively. I was fortunate to grow up in a household where I was taught to look past gender norms. Especially, seeing societal influences focusing on appearances, “pink vs blue stereotypes”, and the expectation for a woman to be best suited for a supporting role rather than a main character. I am lucky to be taught that we are all the main characters of our own lives and see myself as such.
Growing up in an environment where gender norms were not significant has continued to help influence my career’s journey. I have my ideals of what is right, what is wrong, and understanding to know where I need to strengthen my knowledge to gain a perspective. This mindset has enabled me to vocalize my thoughts and pursue any initiatives head-on which has ultimately helped me succeed.
Q&A with SoniaI have continued to tackle my career pursuits with “main character energy”. I have encountered some resistance to this approach in the early days of my career. Not many were used to a woman having this approach, but I continued with my approach and ensured that the results of my work were highly visible. I did feel that as a woman, I had to work harder to ensure my and my teams’ work and results were made visible to the right people.
Since I’ve reached Palo Alto, I will say that the industry has definitely developed more and my fellow colleagues here are very supportive. It has been a relief to have been able to redirect the energy which I was initially using in battles for visibility into productivity and progressive projects instead. With companies, bringing the struggles of women into light and taking action, there has been a significant change towards gender equality.
LIVEcommunity Team: How did you get into the field? Why PANW? What’s your favorite part of your job?
Sonia: I have actually always had an interest in tech and gadgets since I was very young. In high school, I was CCNA certified and continued to gather additional certifications as I pursued college and joined the workforce. I always wanted a career which was impactful to the world. Out of all of the industries in tech, I’ve felt that Cybersecurity has been the most important because at the end of the day, it is due to the work we do here at Palo Alto which grants other tech companies the freedom and peace of mind to expand.
I came into Palo Alto Networks as a contractor and a situation had occurred which provided me with the motivation to pursue a permanent career with PANW. I recall it was my second week as a contractor in an operations analyst position. I was working on some very significant projects and noticed some areas of opportunities. I had a check-in meeting with an executive of that time and voiced to him about some areas of opportunity which would allow for the organization to reach the pursued goals.
The next leadership meeting, the executive highlighted the areas of opportunity that I brought up to him and began initiatives in taking action on these gaps. That was the point where I decided that this is a company which I would like to establish my career with and contribute to helping succeed.
LIVEcommunity Team: How do you think women have shaped and changed the workplace / PANW?
Sonia: Three significances:
- Breaking Gender Norms
- Supporting each other equally
I appreciate that my fellow colleagues acknowledge and honor strong women, but also the fact that growth at PANW is truly based on effort and acumen to maintain a balance. I appreciate the fact that an individual at PANW is granted professional recognition based on their contributions to the company because after all, the goal is to gain equality and break the mindset of stereotypes.
LIVEcommunity Team: Who are the women you look up to? Are there any important mentors or influences in your professional or personal life you’d like to share with us?
Sonia: I don’t find myself looking up to anyone in particular, instead I admire the following traits in a compilation of various women I’ve encountered in my personal and professional journey: assertiveness, passionate about core values (i.e. staying true to oneself), and never accepting the concept of “the glass ceiling”.
My motivation to succeed has been shaped by the fact that the women leaders in my life (my single mother, previous, and current managers) have been very strong, well-rounded, highly supportive, and successful role models.
There are also two very important historical figures who I’ve always drawn motivation from:
- Rosa Parks - as an empathetic individual, I have always tried to empathize whenever I hear stories. I always think about how tired Rosa must have been that day when she refused to give up her seat. Just that moment where she knew she was not in the wrong and has the full right to say no. That confidence to stand up for what is right and refuse to indulge. I admire that moment and strive to reflect that value in my day-to-day.
- Walt Disney - I know this is a focus on women, but just to add to our strive for equality. I have always been drawn to Walt Disney and strongly admire him. The fact that he never gave up on trying even after multiple disappointments. He took each disappointment as an opportunity to learn and strive to do better. The very same way, the reality is that we are at an emerging point for equality, but there are still struggles out there. However, just as Walt Disney kept going until he reached the success he did and left behind a legacy. I feel we all need to do the same. Stay persistent through the disappointments, celebrate the wins, and leave behind a legacy for the generations to come.
LIVEcommunity Team: We would love to hear more about your relationship as a mentor to other women in the field. Is mentorship part of your professional ethos? If so, tell us more!
Sonia: Just as my managers have been supportive to me, I strive to be the same for others. My value as a leader is to develop others to reach their full potential, I strive to create leaders through empowerment, understanding what their end goals are, and sharing lessons I’ve learned or have gained through observing others.
I personally love being a People Manager and in a leadership position. Seeing someone that I’ve helped succeed is a win for me as well!
I feel I am in a unique position to mentor and empower others since I have the personal experience of the professional journey from a female perspective and also going through the motions of becoming a leader.
I am simply “a main character” helping other “main characters” develop in their story.
LIVEcommunity Team: Do you have any morning rituals that you can’t go without? Or: What’s one thing you do to set your day up for success?
Sonia: This may seem like a small thing, but this task is actually very crucial to me. At my desk, I have a white board directly in front of me with a few stickers of places and activities I enjoy as well as motivational quotes. On this white board, every night I write down all of my meetings for the next day as well as how much of a gap I have between meetings.
In those gaps, I plan out what I will be doing including taking breaks. It is very important to plan out which gaps are meant for work and which are meant for breaks to not burn oneself out. I.e. If I have several back to back meetings then the next gap is meant for a break.
Balance is very crucial, one cannot be productive if they constantly stretch themselves out. We have to understand that we are human, and for us to deliver the best work possible, we need to be able to walk away and clear our minds. I would rather deliver my best work instead of a quick turnaround time with rushed results. Balance is key!
LIVEcommunity Team: Where will we find you on a weekend?
Sonia: My ideal weekend? Strolling through the lands of Disneyland, waiting to get on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride with a churro in one hand and blue milk in the other.
Otherwise - around the Bay Area, most likely in a dining experience pop-up enjoying the atmosphere of a mini world away from the world with a craft cocktail and some unique dishes!
LIVEcommunity Team: What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self?
Sonia: There is no harm in being “the black sheep” - stay creative and innovative. One struggle that I’ve overcome is moving through life with the typical Perfect Life Dream expectation - i.e. college > job > a home and family as you continue with your career advancement. However, over time I have understood that what may be a good goal for many does not have to be a goal for another.
Many successful women are the ones who are looking beyond “the Dream”.
They are pushing their limits to improve and grow on a daily basis.
They are empowering themselves and others.
They are coming out of their comfort zones and experiencing all that the world has to offer plus creating even more opportunities.
There is no set way that anyone should be expected to live, I’d encourage my younger self and anyone to set goals based on their own personal growth and satisfaction and to stick to it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with disruption and innovation.
LIVEcommunity Team: Anything else you’d like to mention here?
Sonia: Over time, there is a concept which is now slowly fading away, but the concept is that a woman is to be dependent for certain things (i.e. physical strength as an example). Sometimes the message to work against this concept is that a woman needs to be completely independent.
In my college days, I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. There was a theme in the book about Interdependence. The message of interdependence in a nutshell is that we all cannot be strong in all aspects - we all have our own strengths and need to accept that we will always have weaknesses. Our strengths will compensate for others’ weaknesses and vice versa.
In order to progress effectively, we need to work in the mindset of interdependence. There is support out there, there is help out there to succeed. One does not need to be independent nor dependent to reach success. Instead, we need to always have a balance of interdependence and work together to reach success.
LIVEcommunity Team: Ending thoughts?
Sonia: Balance and equality go hand-in-hand.