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Women in Information Management: Becky Lyons

By Melanie Deardorff

A new year means new profile stories in our long-running Women in Information blog series. First up in 2021 is this feature on our senior consultant Becky Lyons, PhD.

If you’re a First San Francisco Partners (FSFP) client, you may know Becky from working with her on a data governance or Collibra engagement. Or you may know her by name because Becky is one of our more prolific writers on this blog.

Last week, I was able to find time on Becky’s calendar to learn more about her background and role at FSFP.

Meet Becky Lyons

Becky’s education is in Organizational Development and Learning, and the earliest part of her resume reflects this focus. She earned a master’s degree in Human Resource Development and a Ph.D. in Institutional Analysis, where she focused on organizational evaluation and improvement. This background came as no surprise because Becky focuses so much of her work on organizational change management.

Becky’s experience in data management got its start in 2010 when she was the director of training and development for a healthcare organization. In this position, she emphasized the use of measurement and analysis in management and improvement of individual and organizational performance.

One day, Becky’s manager walked into her office and asked her what she knew about data governance. Admittedly, she knew very little about it, but she had a general understanding that it had to do with data, rules and the like. Her manager said, Okay, good. We need a data governance program.

Becky’s employer was applying for the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. A cornerstone of the award process is providing evidence of systematic approaches to continuous improvement in business functions, including data governance. “I didn’t realize it at that moment, but we were doing all of the right things around data,” Becky says. “We didn’t have a formal governance program in place, so documenting the good work we were doing and working to fill in the gaps became the priority.”

Combining something technical with the human side of things was how I worked back then, and that dual focus continues to this day. – Becky

Blending People and Data Responsibilities

Juggling both roles, employee development and data governance, became Becky’s new responsibility. She quickly became hooked on the concepts and practices of governance, and this started influencing her worldview. She found it fascinating to see that, while people in her company intuitively knew the right things to do with data, they didn’t know how to get to that next level to support data quality and security proactively. With her background in organizational development, Becky knew what it would take to get the company there.

These co-joined interests followed Becky into her next role in organizational learning and development at another company. “Even though my new job title didn’t reflect it, the work I did there also had an emphasis on data,” she says.

Becky started incorporating data management best practices into the company’s employee performance management system. She helped others see what quality data meant to the system’s integrity and how to enter information correctly. “Combining something technical with the human side of things was how I worked back then,” Becky says, “and that dual focus continues to this day.”

Becky’s Arrival at FSFP

Before joining FSFP, Becky worked for two years as an independent organizational development expert. In the spring of 2019, Becky’s long-time friend Gretchen Burnham mentioned FSFP to Becky. (Gretchen is one of our senior consultants.) Gretchen was excited about the work she was doing here and told Becky that, with her love of change management and data, she should check into the company. Becky says Gretchen was so enthusiastic that she pulled up FSFP’s website right then to show her. (This was on a camping trip, by the way.)

Becky says the more she learned about FSFP and its focus on the intersection of technology, processes and people, the more she became excited about leaving her consulting firm and working here. “The emphasis on change management and the opportunity to apply what I know about organizational data drew me in.”

Fast-forward a couple of months, and Becky joined FSFP as a consultant.

Witnessing the moment when people “get it” is one of the job’s rewards. I live for those light-bulb moments. – Becky

Living for the Light-Bulb Moments

When Becky says she loves her job “every single day,” you believe her. She truly enjoys figuring out what’s important to the clients FSFP serves, uncovering their data-related pain points and finding the technologies and drivers that can support needed change.

Becky wants organizations to embrace data governance, especially the individuals who aren’t familiar with its practices and tools, such as Collibra. She frequently encounters people who initially don’t care all that much about governance because their priority is finding the data they need to use — and finding it quickly.

Helping people to look beyond the data to see governance’s full potential and how it solves business challenges is what drives Becky. Witnessing the moment when people “get it” is one of the job’s rewards. “I live for those light-bulb moments,” Becky says.

Client Engagements Bring Skills to Bear

One of Becky’s earliest engagements here was working with a client who purchased Collibra but hadn’t set it up yet. They brought in FSFP to establish the organizational structure and educate their teams on the importance of metadata management and how to use Collibra.

Early on at FSFP, Becky became certified as Collibra Certified Expert 2. The certification demonstrates she has the knowledge, skills and ability to configure, implement and maintain the operating model for organizations and understands the nuances of the Collibra platform (user roles, content management, security, etc.).

A more recent client engagement found Becky working to establish an enterprise data governance function and understand the company’s requirements for an enterprise metadata management solution. She describes it as an organization whose people were doing the right things instinctively, but they needed to standardize processes to scale. Driving adoption is vital to this client, and Becky’s excited about working with them to accomplish this.

Becky Lyons' EDW presentation

Are you attending Enterprise Data World this year? Becky is one of the featured speakers on Tuesday, April 20. Her intermediate session is Future-Proof Your Data Catalog with Enterprise Adoption.

A Career Information Management

When I asked Becky about the keys to success in this industry, she cited the importance of effective communication, being relatable and establishing credibility. “There are times when being a woman helps, and there are times when it hurts,” Becky says. “Even though diversity is increasing in information management, conversations around data and technology often include more men than women. So, when a woman walks into the board room to talk about data, people notice. Sometimes that makes things easier — bringing in a different voice can often help people hear things in a new way.”

Other times it can be harder, and Becky says she’s not always sure what’s at the root of those instances — and whether it’s because of her age, gender, where she grew up or her professional background. She uses those occasional experiences to shape how she helps other women see that information management is a viable career for everyone.

Our conversation shifted to Becky’s niece, with her telling me that her niece has an affinity for math. “We were talking recently about careers where her love of math could be explored,” Becky says. One-on-one conversations like these and the larger-platform opportunities Becky gets when she speaks at universities and industry conferences give her the chance to talk about information management. She shares what it’s like to work in data governance and how she interacts with many smart and talented women. “The more women that people see on stage and at the podium, the better,” Becky says.

While Becky believes the workplace is changing for the better, one of the places where gender still comes up is in the leadership space. Though there is more diversity overall, Becky sees much less of it at the executive level.

From Inspiring Others to Being Inspired

As our conversation neared its end, I asked Becky which women leaders inspire her. She said Kelle O’Neal, FSFP’s founder. “She’s a CEO who works in data. She’s amazing to work with. And she successfully balances her family with a busy career.”

Someone else who came to mind is a close friend of Becky’s, Jane Vangsness-Frisch, PhD, VP of Student Affairs at North Dakota State College of Science. She says that Jane is a lot like Kelle in many ways. They both work in traditionally male-dominated fields and work tirelessly to find innovative approaches to address deep-seated issues.

Becky says she’s fortunate to work with a wide circle of smart, talented women and values having them in her life. The feeling is mutual at FSFP, and we’re glad Becky is part of the team.

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