Deborah Golden leads by example, leaning on her resilience as a foundation for personal and professional growth. “My inner resilience, empathy and ability to see the big picture, coupled with a transparent, authentic leadership style, enables me to be the strongest version of myself,” says Golden.
With more than 25 years of experience, Golden leads the US Cyber & Strategic Risk practice for Deloitte & Touche LLP — overseeing the market’s largest global cyber consulting organization and combining authenticity and empathy with a values-driven approach to help clients solve their most complex cyber challenges.
Recently, we spoke with her about her experience as a woman in a male-dominated field; her drive to create a more diverse workforce; and the resilience, strength and mentors who inspired and supported her on the journey to where she is today.
Tell us about your job.
For the past two years, I’ve led a team of more than 5,000 professionals across predominantly the U.S., with support in India and Israel. Our focus is on helping clients make their organizations more secure against cyberattacks and adversaries. Additionally, I’m spearheading a large-scale cyber growth initiative aimed at more than doubling our business by 2025. It’s ambitious, but this visionary strategy will help position our clients to have a safer future.
What drives you?
I’m driven by purpose. As we become more comfortable in who we are, we can better understand our own purpose. I help people navigate tough challenges with empathy while possessing a serve-first mindset, focused on empowering those around me via a foundation of trust. Everyone faces their own roadblocks and having the clarity to navigate them isn’t always easy. The ability to help and encourage others — ultimately, listening to understand and acting to serve others — is what drives me every day!
How do you define grit?
Grit is our story. It’s the challenges we’ve overcome and the lessons we’ve learned. It develops and is realized over time because our experiences have the power to transform our lives. Through time and self-reflection, I gained a better understanding of its importance for me.
My grit started developing after my mom’s death when I was a teenager. The sense of loss was immeasurable, but I eventually learned how to separate my grief by compartmentalizing. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this ability to create a “safe place” from stress would eventually allow me to develop the ability to remain calm in the face of chaos. It’s enabled me to navigate both personal and professional stressors, like helping clients combat cyberthreats, with a level head and empathy.
What role has resilience played in your career success?
Resilience has been the foundation for my growth. Not only can I tap into my strength and support system to address challenges, but it also helps me to chart a strategic path forward for my clients and team. My career has been built on helping organizations become more resilient and secure — to protect my clients from threats that may not even exist yet. Resilience plays a critical role in every aspect of my career and gives me a unique ability to connect with clients and colleagues and create a level of trust that may not otherwise exist. Building trust is critical across a two-dimensional basis — in both depth and breadth — which enables us to deepen the basis for trust with those who enjoy a trusting relationship, as well as create new trusting relationships. Both require time and energy — with a focused, positive intent, but it is the best investment you can make.
Can someone become more resilient?
I believe life has a way of giving us opportunities to be resilient. I’m stronger today than I was yesterday, and I’ll be stronger tomorrow than I am today. What we go through shapes us and defines us, so our growth is ongoing. I am constantly looking for ways to learn from challenges — and seek out the unpredictable — and come out stronger.
How have you used your role to help bring up other women behind you?
I’ve embraced an authentic leadership style. I choose to be honest and transparent about my struggles to help others see themselves in me and show how they can evolve through hard work and determination.
When you make something a priority, you can always fit it in your schedule. My door is always open and my team members know that they can contact me anytime. I want my team to know that they’re important, and I’m available for them. I also speak at events focused on the advancement of women and diversity. I love these opportunities because they’re a chance to empower others and transform the cyber-talent landscape to make it more inclusive. We’re better when we have a diverse workforce with multiple perspectives.
What’s your mantra?
“I am perfectly imperfect.”
We have flaws — that’s what makes us human! It’s how we learn to understand and appreciate our flaws that make us “us”. The more we appreciate who we are, the more we grow and strengthen ourselves. Just remember that humans are complicated beings — they are both good and evil, smart and not-so-smart, confident and insecure, honest and deceitful, noble and narcissistic — it’s important to not put people on a pedestal or judge them too harshly. Likewise, it’s critical that we don’t do that to ourselves either.
What’s something at work that you’re especially good at?
Forgiveness. There’s a lot of talk about balance in the workplace, especially for women. I’ve learned over the course of my career that a perfect balance doesn’t really exist.
Instead, we need a balanced approach. Every day is unlikely to be a 50/50 split between work and life. There are times my clients need my full attention and others when my family and friends do. That’s okay — some days certain things win over others, but that doesn’t mean sacrificing our health or living in guilt as a result. Be kind to YOU and forgive yourself — recognizing that balance will always ebb and flow and look different. Instead, try to set aside time — which is always possible if you prioritize it. It only takes a couple of minutes to achieve mindfulness, and that’s a very valuable use of time!
You’ve had a long career in what are often overwhelmingly male industries and disciplines. What was that like when you were first starting out?
It would have been wonderful to have more female representation in top leadership roles, but, for me, it comes down to passion and drive. I was (and still am) a strong, determined woman focused on growth, regardless of the stage of my professional journey. I knew that I deserved a proverbial seat at the table, so I kept seeking out experiences that would make me an invaluable asset for the team.
I reached out to leaders — men and women — who had advice to share. Perhaps more importantly, I identified specific areas where each of these leaders excelled to maximize what I could learn from each of them. We should acknowledge that it’s critical to look at the benefits of mentoring across a variety of viewpoints. There’s a lot that women can learn from male mentors and vice versa — we should strive to learn from others because of their experiences, and should seek out mentors from all genders, races, religions — we all have unique perspectives to learn from and eventually share with others.
What were some of challenges you faced?
Sometimes, you can make the biggest impact by speaking up and having a voice — your own voice. When I was a newly promoted principal, I was in a meeting with top executives. As the only female “guest” in the room, I thought I should keep my opinion to myself. Afterward, a more senior colleague asked if I had any questions and remarked that it was unlike me to not share a point of view.
When I told him I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, he encouraged me to have more confidence in myself. He explained that I was in that room because I deserved to be there and that my voice was critical to the discussion. It was like a lightbulb flicked on — I needed to build my confidence and embrace my voice. I started to build that “muscle memory” and sought mentors who I recognized had this skill, asking for help in building this capability. Over time, it became second nature to me.
What’s changed since then?
So much! Personally, I’ve grown immeasurably over the last 25 years, and I’m so proud of my journey. I have the ability to help shape what our organization looks like and be a guide for those looking to build a career. I love to see how the cyber landscape has evolved over the years to include professionals from more diverse backgrounds, bringing new perspectives to tackle the ever-changing challenges our clients and people face. It’s an honor to have played a role in that change, and I look forward to what the future holds.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
I spend time with my family and focusing on my mental and physical health.
I also raise and train service dogs — it’s a way that I give back to the community. I’m currently raising a service dog named Benny, my third full-time service puppy in training, which Deloitte generously sponsors via America’s VetDogs. Benny will continue his training with me over the next year to be a service dog for a military veteran or first responder to help them live a more independent and mobile life. I’m humbled by the opportunity to help change someone’s life and continue to learn along the way, as well as spread happiness, one puppy at a time!
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