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March marks Women’s History Month, dedicated to highlighting and honoring the incredible contributions of women, both past and present, across the world. As someone who has blazed her path in a traditionally male-dominated field of information risk, privacy and security, SAP Ariba’s Chief Security Officer Lakshmi Hanspal has made a significant impact on helping fuel customers’ businesses, building a successful team and making positive contributions to her community. Read on to learn more about Lakshmi’s career journey, what makes her tick, and the advice she lives by.

What factors led you to your current role in the information risk, privacy and security field?

Lakshmi: I believe that the best fit professional opportunities are the ones that fit with your personality and personal style. I do not believe in the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ approach to personal and professional lives. My personality is one of always trying to start with the “Why”, followed by the “What” and “How,” which has kept me curious and able to constantly learn new things. Having the desire and willingness to stay curious and be open to different learning opportunities has helped me get to where I am and be a better leader for my team.

What are some of the biggest hurdles you’ve overcome in your career?

Lakshmi: For decades, I have been working in the same field in which I am today. When I first started out, it was lonely being a woman in a traditionally ‘male-branded’ field. I often felt that I needed to make room for myself by bringing a differentiated perspective and using this to my advantage.

Particularly in my field, customers can expect a policed approach, so when I start our conversations around risk and security management with “how can I help you?”, oftentimes my customers think they’ve walked into the wrong meeting! I’m hyper-focused on moving my field of work into a more empathetic mindset, and I’ve found that more diverse teams – whether it be of gender, culture or background –bring a variety of different perspectives, which help us better understand, serve and empathize with our customers.

On the flip side, what are some of your most memorable accomplishments?

Lakshmi: I believe in family first – this is something I practice as well as preach. So, when I think of my proudest accomplishments, I tend to gravitate towards accomplishments that have to do with my family – be it as small and simple as being a chaperone on my kid’s field trip, or seeing the youth basketball team I coach, filled with diverse, individualistic personalities, come together as one cohesive unit while playing a formidable opponent – these are my longest-lasting memories on accomplishments.

 What words of advice do you live by?  

Lakshmi: Network, network, network! As others get to know you (and vice versa), your horizon opens to new avenues of collaboration that you may not have fathomed. This is what makes events like SAP Ariba Live such a fantastic opportunity for us and our customers- It’s a great venue to get to know people from different facets of professional lives and creates a mutually beneficial, collaborative opportunity.

I would also say don’t underestimate the importance of building your personal brand. I think of this as fine-tuning the dreaded ‘tell me about yourself’ question. You have about eight seconds to impress someone you meet for the first time. That’s eight seconds to work through the lens of someone’s predispositions and biases, and then make a memorable impact on him or her. Fine tune your pitch to showcase how you can add value to someone in a powerful way.

Lastly, invest in yourself- constantly be on the lookout for new learning opportunities in your career, and don’t be afraid to take some calculated risks- these are the opportunities that enable new learning experiences from which we can become better professionals. I also believe it’s crucial to get others invested in your development and growth. The bottom line is: if you stop learning, you stop being valuable to yourself, your teams and your customers.

To stay up to date with events and news from SAP Ariba Live, check out #SAPAribaLive on Twitter, and for customers attending the event, see Lakshmi’s presentation Securing Your Digital Transformation: Cybersecurity and You on in Yaletown 3 on Tuesday, March 21, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm PT.