Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, Jo Bentley - Business Information Security Officer at Liberty Mutual shares her story.
VentureFizz: Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work?
Jo Bentley: I grew up in Manchester, England; Nigeria and London, England. I was a shy child, quiet and reserved. I spent most of the time at boarding school where I played field hockey, long jump and did a bit of track. I also loved to read adventure books. My mum was a nurse while my dad was a public relations executive.
VF: Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating?
JB: I went to multiple colleges. I studied Philosophy and English at University of Lagos, Information Systems & Technology at City University in London and Business Administration at Questrom School of Business at Boston University.
I worked for a startup that assembled computers after graduating and then joined a management training program at the ODEON Cinemas in England.
VF: What inspired you to get into the tech industry?
JB: My early experience in computer assembly sparked my interest. The magic of putting parts together and then typing up a document on something I put together intrigued me. I took a networking course and then went back to university to study technology and became a customer project manager on a management training program at British Telecommunication (BT) in England. At BT, I was exposed to networking on a grand scale: circuits – copper and fiber, digital networks, private branch exchanges, dealing systems, telephony, mobile continuity systems and research labs with a singular purpose of making future bets. I was hooked on the one hand and on the other, quickly learned how technology enables businesses.
VF: Along the way, you have obtained multiple degrees and certifications. How has this helped you in your career?
JB: The certifications I obtained helped to qualify my experiences, categorize competencies, gave some of my experiences structure, served as a gap analysis or expanded my knowledge of the subject of study. In a strange way, they kept me honest and created opportunities for continued professional growth and development.
VF: What has your career path looked like in tech before joining Liberty Mutual and how did you end up focusing on Information Security?
JB: My career path in technology has been multi-dimensional across different industries, countries and roles – covering telecommunication service delivery lifecycle, software development lifecycle, student loans guarantor and private banking. I’ve been a project manager, manager, director and a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) before joining Liberty Mutual.
I have focused on different aspects of security over the years. In my telecommunication days, I worked on the implementation of fiber backbone networks meant to prevent listening in on the wire, the delivery of mobile business continuity systems ensuring the continuity of operations, provisioning and administering test application access. In more recent years; I have designed, implemented and led successful Information and Cybersecurity programs that were appropriately scaled and scoped to manage cyber risks in a highly connected business environment.
As for how I ended up focusing primarily on Information Security; I was asked by my then CIO to lead a project that required my company to have a certification to handle highly sensitive information and/or transactions. The project proved challenging, as I had to understand all aspects of the business operation and the security controls that supported it. I studied the required standards, mapped and assessed in-place controls, uncovered the gaps and designed initiatives to mature controls or address the gaps. My company eventually received its certification to handle sensitive transactions.
VF: Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as a Business Information Security Officer at Liberty Mutual?
JB: The Business Information Security Officer (BISO) is a strategic partner aligned to help technology and business leaders in their cybersecurity program implementations. The BISO proactively drives alignment between business unit objectives, enterprise security strategy and policies. The BISO also facilitates a security culture with the business need for speed, agility and business results.
VF: What has attributed to your success thus far and has helped propel you to the position you have now?
JB: An openness to learn and the flexibility to pivot when needed. Unlike most, my interests were not crystal clear to me when I left school. I had to engage in different areas of interest to figure things out. In the same light, I had to be willing to walk if I did not feel fulfilled by what I was doing. Every job in the past has taught me something about the job I do today. My successes have come from taking a leap, daring to try, learning from failure, and working hard.
VF: What types of programs and initiatives does Liberty Mutual have that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion?
JB: Liberty Mutual is clear about its values and is one of the company’s I have experienced that lives its values. They are not just words; they are effectively a lifestyle. The values represent the core of who we are as a company and are intrinsically linked to the Diversity and Inclusion strategy. The D&I strategy is live, supported by the CEO Pledge and has a dedicated group that takes a holistic approach to awareness, engagement, communications, and initiatives. Some of the D&I initiatives include Unconscious Bias Awareness, Guidelines for Inclusion to help employees move from D&I awareness to action, Employee Resources Groups (ERGs), Men as Allies initiatives and summits, Race and Ethnicity Collaboration to help employees build their skills in working across differences in race and ethnicity for better relationships and results and a D&I lexicon and communications toolkit to help employees choose the most inclusive terminology.
VF: What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry and starting a career in the rapidly growing sector of cybersecurity?
JB: Learn, learn, learn, and do not be afraid to go down the road less traveled. Be good at what you do. Understand your strengths and play to them. As for those things you are not as good at, use them as opportunities for continued growth and development. Be open, inquisitive, humble, engage with integrity and be on your game.
VF: While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken. Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?
JB: Be open to learning with your heart. History is living and breathing all around us; understand context not just the story. Listen and engage with good intent. Create a safe environment that encourages thoughtful questions, discussions, and engagement.