Synectics Exec Discusses Importance of Mentorship, Sharing Your Success

Synectics VP of Business Development Stephanie Mayes shares her experience of being a woman in the security industry and gives advice for those looking to join.

SECURE Perspectives is a monthly column by the Security Industry Association (SIA) profiling women in the security industry. This column is part of SIA’s Women in Security Forum, an initiative to support the participation of women in the security field through programs, professional development and networking events.

For this edition of SECURE Perspectives, SIA spoke with Stephanie Mayes, vice president of business development at Synectics.

How did you get into the security industry?

Upon graduation from university, a placement firm sent me on temp jobs while I was waiting to go to graduate school. The third place they sent me was a security systems integrator. The technology really interested me, and so after I enrolled in a master’s program in another state, I took a position with another integrator to continue fostering that interest. Ultimately, I was promoted to become the Northwest operations manager and consequently stayed in the industry.

After being on the integrator side of the house for 19 years, I moved to Pelco, where I progressed to run North America sales for three years. I then worked at Seagate for nearly two years starting up their original equipment manufacturer storage business in the video surveillance space. I joined Synectics in September 2018.

How does your organization serve the industry?

Synectics is a global leader in the design, integration, control and management of advanced surveillance technology and networked security systems for environments where security is operationally critical.

With over 30 years’ experience, we have gained an intimate understanding of the unique pressures, priorities and challenges our customers face in the specific vertical sectors of oil and gas, gaming (casinos), transportation and infrastructure and high security and public space. This specialist sector knowledge, coupled with a flexible user-friendly software platform, drives efficiencies for our end users rather than requiring them to adapt their operations to fit our system.

What is your current role?

My current role is vice president of business development. In North America, Synectics has a particularly strong heritage in casino surveillance. My focus is on continuing to expand our footprint in this key market, while also evangelizing our capabilities in our other key verticals — transport, infrastructure, high security, public space, etc.

Just as we’ve designed and deployed enterprise-class solutions for some of the world’s biggest casinos, our systems can also be found enabling busy airports to operate securely and more efficiently, supporting passenger-centric train travel in key European cities, protecting students studying on vast campuses and helping to safeguard assets critical to national infrastructures. It’s my job to surface up opportunities in the region where we can develop new business partnerships.

What types of functions do women fill in your company? Is there diversity of roles in your company or do women gravitate toward certain job functions?

In addition to myself, Synectics has women leading our marketing, creative and HR departments and as part of our senior leadership team. We also have several women who hold managerial roles in our engineering and operations departments. All positions are open to women within the company, and we have development programs for our employees to foster professional growth and opportunities to advance within the organization.

With more and more data that shows diversity makes a better workforce, what opportunities do you see for women in the security industry? What impediments do you see for achieving this? What could remedy some of these impediments?

There are almost limitless opportunities; however, more needs to be done to raise awareness of them, nurture interest in STEM-focused careers and expose women to as many different facets of the industry as possible.

Recruiting at universities and technical schools is important, as are any subsequent educational reimbursement schemes. But instituting formal and informal mentoring programs within companies and within trade organizations such as SIA and ASIS enables industry leaders to share their own experiences and form the next generation. I was fortunate enough to receive the right guidance and strongly believe in giving back to help those coming up.

I also think a lack of exposure across entire organizations has been an impediment. The implementation of internal cross-functional teams can remedy this; it benefits employees and departments alike, as employees and managers are able to identify transferable skills and spark interest in horizontal, as well as vertical, growth. It works. I’ve worked with women who started their careers in accounting or customer service but ended up running entire departments outside of either of those, all because they were given exposure to, and expressed an interest in, technology aspects of the business.

What do you see as important technology trends in the security industry?

We are on the cusp of a new era characterized by integration, automation and greater levels of system connectivity and inter-operability ‒ all underpinned by the development of smarter, more sophisticated technology.

Technology like powerful cameras that improve image quality and enable greater levels of analytics at the edge such as facial recognition and biometrics. Cloud-based solutions for analyzing, storing and securely sharing vital data so the right information can be accessed at the right time, by the right people. Interconnected IoT-enabled devices that ensure critical detail is always delivered in context to support informed action and deeper levels of operational insight.

This overarching trend is breaking down walls that historically created silos for our customers between security, safety and customer service provision.

More specifically, what trends are you seeing in Synectics’ space of integrated security and surveillance systems for challenging environments?

The connected, more “silo-free” future has significant implications for the sectors we serve. For example, we are working with the transport industry and bodies such as police forces and emergency response teams to facilitate viewing, understanding, sharing and taking action in response to data captured across converged, smart city-style landscapes, rather than each having a world defined (and ultimately restricted) by its own traditional operational boundaries. The use of Cloud technology to facilitate fast, secure and reliable data sharing will be a key enabler moving forward in this respect.

This principle and the application of new technologies also apply to many internal landscapes too. For instance, the level of data now generated across an entire leisure resort ‒ from systems used to detect fraud on a casino floor to tracking and analytics systems used to spot customer movements and preference trends ‒ combined with the emerging technologies and integrations we are talking about makes it possible to deliver an operational picture that was previously only an aspiration.

What are the top challenges your company has faced so far in 2019?

Perhaps counterintuitively, our biggest challenge remains the breadth of our offering. We serve all our core sectors globally. Inevitably, however, our work in one specific sector often comes to the fore depending on the region. As I already mentioned, in North America we are known for setting the standard in casino surveillance, a reputation also achieved in Asia; in the Middle East, oil and gas are most closely associated with the Synectics name. Investment we’ve made in our worldwide infrastructure, expert team, technology and business processes means we have a multi-sector capability set unrestricted by location – one that can be difficult to unlock.

The other challenge we face is one of perception. With Synergy 3, especially our latest release, the opportunity to connect technologies, unify data and simplify management of complex operational architectures is there. But as my colleague Greg Alcorn ‒ who heads up our global transport and infrastructure division ‒ says, while customers want to implement measures to integrate, interoperate and automate processes, many still think this cannot be achieved today. The good news is it can! What’s more, with the infrastructure most of our customers have in place, it takes very little investment to make it happen.

What are the biggest opportunities your company — and the industry — are seeing?

The challenges I have mentioned are, of course, all opportunities – both for us and our customers. Organizations have never had more sophisticated systems and tools at their disposal, and we are ideally poised to help them leverage that fact to dramatic effect.

Additionally, I think a major opportunity for us is helping customers navigate new or increasingly stringent performance and resiliency demands they are facing, from technical cybersecurity requirements to regulatory compliance.

What do you hope the Women in Security Forum can achieve for the security industry?

For me, mentorship is key. It can and does make a difference for women just entering the industry or looking to advance their careers.

Furthermore, sharing and celebrating the successes of women in the industry is vital – taking particular care to show the wide variety of roles and opportunities available. I also think there is a role to play in helping women celebrate their own successes – teaching them to advocate for themselves with confidence.

The Women in Security Forum is also ideally positioned to really champion organizations that do operate diverse cultures – report firsthand experiences of, for example, CEOs who have seen their businesses thrive as a direct result.

What advice would you give women who are in the industry?

Don’t hide ambition or achievements or be reluctant to ask questions like “what do I need to do/learn to have a shot at THAT job?”. Similarly, don’t be shy about keeping a list of your accomplishments to share with your manager during reviews. You might already have the evidence you need to present your case.

Also, just because you don’t know about mentoring or education reimbursement opportunities within your company, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Ask. If such plans aren’t already in place, you could lead the way.

My last piece of advice would be to volunteer outside your organization. As well as being incredibly rewarding, it can help build up your network. You never know – the right new contact could be the person to help you make your next positive career move.

Who or what was the strongest influence in your career (e.g., a mentor, an event that inspired your career decision)?

I’ve been fortunate to have two standout managers in my career, both men. They took a chance and gave me the opportunity to succeed by promoting me into positions that suited my business acumen, energy and dedication, even though – on paper – I may not have had the “necessary experience.” They also empowered me to make my own decisions, though importantly, would also challenge me by playing devil’s advocate or asking me to walk them through what I believed would be the possible outcomes of my actions.

Most significantly, both allowed me the room to fail, though not catastrophically, so that I could learn from my own mistakes. They were supportive but didn’t micromanage me, and I still use lessons I learned from the two of them on a daily basis. I would also say my parents were a very strong influence on making me the person I am today. They instilled confidence, humility and an attitude of gratitude that has carried me through my career.

Who or what was the strongest influence in your career (e.g., a mentor, an event that inspired your career decision)?

Success is knowing you could not have done more. It’s about recognizing you put all your effort, knowledge and experience into a task to get the job done. That stands whether the outcome is positive or negative – as long as you learn from mistakes, they too can be success stories.

While I think we each have a personal responsibility when it comes to success, there’s also no doubt in my mind that, in most cases in business, it is a team effort. That’s often incredibly rewarding. Working with others effectively – whether customers, colleagues or wider stakeholders (often all) – to achieve a specific goal is a form of success that is hard to beat.

What would you say to new women coming into the industry?

In addition to my earlier advice, I think I’d just say, don’t hold back. This industry has so many great opportunities for women and men who believe in their ability, strive to keep learning and are brave enough to say, “Yeah, I could do that.”

Learn more about Synectics.

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