During Women’s History Month, trailblazing women are at top of mind at Rockwell Automation, including leaders like Dawn Cappelli, who is a wife, mom, a grandma of two, and serves as vice president of global security and chief information security officer.
Cappelli started her career as a software engineer, which led her to program nuclear power plants and other systems. She later joined a team to support federal law enforcement in protecting the Olympics, presidential inaugurations, and other global events from cyber-terrorism, taking the position just days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
“It was a job that went from exciting, where I thought, ‘I can’t believe how lucky I am to get this job,’ to one of the most frightening prospects in my life,” Cappelli said.
She took on the challenge and learned; and now brings decades of experience, knowledge, and insight to her role as a leader protecting Rockwell and its customers from cyber threats. Cappelli was part of the world’s first cybersecurity organization – CERT – born at Carnegie Mellon University, where she worked for 25 years. Additionally, she pioneered a prototype of a portal for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use during a bio-terrorist attack. The internet was in its infancy at the time and having the ability to share information and collaborate in real time using video had not yet been explored. She said being immersed in a field that is quickly evolving can be exciting and challenging.
“When you find yourself at a point in your career where you think ‘I don’t know if I’m capable of doing this next thing,’ you must rely on the skills, confidence, and ability to adapt that got you to the job in the first place. Someone else believed in you and now it’s time to believe in yourself,” Cappelli said.
Women make up less than 7% of CISOs in Fortune 500 companies, so Cappelli is accustomed to being the only woman at the table. She watched as her female mentors and role models navigated relationship-building and learned early that she did not have to change who she was to fit in.
Her advice: find common ground on which to relate to counterparts and peers.
“We all have different interests and getting to know each other makes it easier to value and appreciate others for what makes them unique,” Cappelli said, recognizing her passion and love for the field has driven her career growth and success while always keeping family first. “It can be difficult to balance a challenging career and your personal life, but don’t give up! It’s important that the culture in your workplace supports your personal values regarding family and career. If your company’s culture contrasts with what you need, don’t be afraid to look for a more suitable opportunity elsewhere. I did that early in my career and I have never regretted my decision. It enabled me to excel at work without the ‘Mom guilt’ that so many of us struggle with.”
She also said it is ok to not know all of the answers, especially in security.
“Be comfortable admitting that you don’t know something,” Cappelli said. “Almost every day, I will tell someone that I don’t know the answer, but I will find it. We have incredible acumen and expertise at Rockwell; I rely on those people to know what I don’t.”
Someone recently remarked to Cappelli that clearly her job is not an occupation to her, it’s a vocation. “My mom always told people that I wanted to save the world. And this is one of the ways that dream took shape,” Cappelli said.
Published March 16, 2021