If you ever wonder if you have what it takes to succeed as a woman in today’s business and technology-driven world, Kara Greer, Director, Customer Projects PMO at Schneider Electric, is going to give you a definite ‘yes.’
It’s the answer she’s built a career on, and what she tells middle and high school girls when she volunteers as a teacher in The Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub, a group of community partners who bring their STEM expertise to K-12 educators and students. Kara’s expertise in cybersecurity makes her a natural fit to pass her technology know-how on to future cyber geniuses in the “Expanding Your Horizons” (EYH) class.
“Typically, one of the most frequent questions that I get asked when I'm teaching, is ‘Kara, can you be pretty and smart?’” said Kara. “And I usually start laughing because I'm like, ‘Yes, you can be pretty and smart, it's okay.’"
She can relate to any apprehension girls have about venturing into the world of technology and leadership, since being a cybersecurity expert was not part of her initial career path. As a matter of fact, her career at Schneider Electric stems from another field that was largely staffed in past years with males—manufacturing.
“I was with Bridgestone Tire here in middle Tennessee, and everyone called me ‘the facility guy,’” she said. “It became very much of a joke. All of my technical and maintenance guys would buy me pink-handled tools to remind me that I was a girl, and not a guy, but they still called me ‘the facility guy.’”
Through her work with high-level electric in tire production, she built relationships with teams at Schneider Electric, who invited her to consider working for the company if she ever wanted a change.
“And I did,” she said. “It was the best decision, a great decision.”
Kara earned her master’s degree in business administration from Western Governors University, which helped her land a leadership role at Schneider Electric. But soon, the digital landscape Kara worked in demanded that she expand her own educational horizons and diversify her skills.
“I inherited a couple of software design development and testing teams in the U.S. and Canada,” said Kara. “I knew nothing about software. Now, I'm managing dozens of people that work in that space. So, [my] boss comes and says, ‘Kara, I'd like you to learn more about software.’"
Kara knew, from her prior experience at WGU, that the University’s competency-based, flexible online education model would still fit best for her fast-paced active lifestyle, which includes supporting her family of eight and volunteering in the community with special needs kids.
“WGU had just introduced the cybersecurity and information assurance master's degree,” she said. “I thought, oh my stars, that sounds like the coolest thing on the planet.”
Two years ago, she earned this degree in cybersecurity and now uses her two master’s degrees interchangeably with her work, where she operates digital platforms for customers, and her civic passions.
“Every day, I find that I use something that I learned in the cybersecurity platform and it’s because of the digital realm we work on here at Schneider Electric,” said Kara. “Customers want to know that their data is secure, that no one can get in and hack it, and we can give them that assurance.”
Now, Kara not only delivers assurance as a leader at work, but as a role model to future women technology leaders. Her diverse skillset has broad reach in the community as she advocates for social initiatives and solutions.
“Since I've worked for Schneider Electric I've participated in Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, Junior Achievement, so many things that I can't even remember because I've just been so involved in the community,” she said. “I sit on one of the boards for Special Kids Therapy and Nursing Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. We provide occupational, speech, and... several kinds of therapies to special needs kids.”
Kara said keeping women in the technology field means embracing how women interpret and solve problems in technology.
“It goes back to diversity,” said Kara. “Diversity doesn’t always have to do with your skin color or where you were born. It has to do with how you think and process.”
To encourage that, she continues giving her colleagues and students what she calls “Kara-isms.”
“You just don't ever say ‘no’ to an opportunity,” she said. “Don't ever say, ‘No, I would never do that in a million years.’ Just find out about it. You still may say ‘no’, but it may be the best ‘yes’ you ever say.”