Mary Ann Davidson: Integrity in information security

Oracle CSO Mary Ann Davidson faced pressure from the get-go thanks to the company's Unbreakable marketing campaign.

Mary Ann Davidson, CSO, Oracle

It isn't how she came to be Oracle's chief security officer that matters most to Mary Ann Davidson. It's why.

Mary Ann Davidson
Mary Ann Davidson

The MBA had lobbied her software company to create the position, but figured someone with stronger roots in IT would essentially ensure the security of databases holding valuable corporate information. Instead, Oracle chose the straightforward Davidson, whom they knew would speak up when things weren't right.

"Many people work at companies and are asked to choose between their integrity and employment, or change some attribute that's really important to them. I hadn't compromised that, because I'm not sure I could," she says. "Oracle wanted me for that attribute--my basic integrity. It doesn't get any better than that."

Not long after she assumed the CSO role came the company's "Unbreakable" marketing campaign, which has not only created more pressure for Davidson and her staff but also raised the industry bar for developing software that can withstand harsh security evaluations.

Her frankness hit a high point in 2002, when Davidson tried to shame federal lawmakers by telling them to "chirp or get off the twig" and demand more secure software.

A former U.S. Navy officer, Davidson has adopted that same approach to her own life, earning a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Virginia despite being inherently better in liberal arts. She's also an avid surfer and skier despite sitting out childhood sports due to poor vision.

"There's nothing quite like seeing a wave that's bigger than your comfort level and willing yourself to take the wave anyway," she says. "That carries over into different things, [such as] taking on difficult projects that are beyond your comfort level."

Davidson is among a growing number of women coming into top security posts from an organization's business side-a movement slowly changing corporate culture and raising risk management's profile in enterprise decision making.

Though single, she empathizes with women who must juggle family and career, and says she provides flexibility and encouragement when possible.

"All of this is supposed to be about women having choices, and if I don't enable women to have choices, then what have we really learned? It's not specific to information security, but it's something women should do for one another."

Diane Davidson, who works for Marriott Corp., believes her kid sister makes an ideal role model.

"If you can take a message or lesson from Mary Ann, it's be true to yourself."

This was first published in September 2003

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