Marissa Salzone is Making Her Own Opportunities, in Life and Business

“Be the best you can at what you do, have purpose every day, and be passionate about what you’re doing.”

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In honor of Women’s History Month, GreyCastle Security is highlighting some of the women in leadership positions at the organization. We are very proud to have remarkable female leaders here, and all the women at GreyCastle Security make valuable contributions every day.

Today, learn more about Marissa Salzone, Director of Marketing at GreyCastle Security. We’ve seen a lot of growth since Marissa took the helm of the marketing department, and not just in revenue. Marissa has hired and mentored interns who are now full-time employees and managers at GreyCastle Security, driving us forward in their own ways.

In our conversation, Marissa stresses the importance of being passionate about your calling. Whatever you do, do it the best you can, and do it with purpose – and Marissa lives these values: she’s been nationally recognized in business and cybersecurity marketing. She ties these successes back to her parents and her sisters, showing she takes GreyCastle Security’s “Humble Confidence” value to heart.

Marissa also wants readers to challenge themselves. She doesn’t settle, professionally or personally, and neither should you. She’s currently made a goal for herself to challenge the culture around her, not to accept “that’s just the way things are” as an answer.

“People who have made an impact in their industry didn’t settle.”

The culture at GreyCastle Security, she says, hasn’t needed that much challenging. She’s found the executives here to be open and flexible, and she knows that’s how leaders get results (and she promises she doesn’t just say that because she works here!).

Marissa has advice for other women who want to make Director or Executive: make your own opportunities! Find needs and fill them – you don’t need to ask permission. And when you find challenges in your career, don’t think of them as stumbling blocks: think of them as fuel for your fire.

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Full Interview

What do you do here at GreyCastle Security?

As the Director of Marketing, I lead the marketing team to make sure that our client-facing initiatives align with the company’s mission, vision, and purpose.

You’ve had some notable honors and awards in your career. What was it like being named Cybersecurity Marketer of the Year [by the Cybersecurity Excellence Awards] and one of the Most Inspiring Women in Business [by Insight Magazine]?

I’m a very driven person. I have many hard workers in my family, and my parents instilled in me that hard work is something you should have a lot of pride in. My father always said that no matter what you do in life, you need to do something that you’re passionate about, even if that’s picking up garbage. Be the best you can at it, have purpose every day, and be passionate about what you’re doing. Finding that passion in marketing, getting national recognition for something that I love to do, really brings back the values of what my father ingrained in me. In a world where marketing is so competitive and noisy – anyone and everyone’s a marketer, right? The competition is so high – it’s an honor for my hard work to be recognized.

With these accolades, I also want to show my sisters that you should not be complacent in life. Even if something is going well for you, and you have a routine (don’t get me wrong, I love my routines), challenge yourself every day. It doesn’t change your routine, but it challenges your mind, and it challenges you to take steps forward in a world where we sometimes don’t have flexibility. Absorb information from people you want to emulate, pause and take moments of opportunity to learn something on your own. It doesn’t have to be something drastic like a conference; take the opportunity to learn a new tactic or strategy you know will help you. Or even listen to a podcast.

I want to show them with these accolades to not be complacent with your life, but still be happy in the moment. You can’t always get to the finish mark if you keep pushing it farther and farther, but I want to show them that you can still push yourself in that way. Don’t become a groundhog in your life.

I truly do half of this because I want to show them an example of that. They’re saving lives right now, but I still want to show them there’s opportunities to do more than what’s in front of you.

Right, to push and challenge yourself.

One hundred percent. In terms of empowering and inspiring women, there was one thing that really came to my mind when I was interviewing for the Insight feature. People who have made an impact in their industry didn’t settle. If you know me, I do not settle. I am a perfectionist. I advocate for high quality, for doing something a ten-out-of-ten as much as you possibly can. I’m okay with saying out loud that I don’t ever want to settle, even in the personal aspects of my life. I don’t want to settle in the quality of my life, and I don’t want to settle in being complacent. Challenging yourself through professional and personal milestones and development matures you in ways you can’t even realize.

So, what are some personal or professional milestones you see for yourself in the future?

From a professional level right now, I’m really challenging myself to think outside the culture that I was brought up with. In past work generations, we were told to “just deal with it,” whether it’s a problematic policy, coworker, or view. You just work for a place for ten or fifteen years, then you retire, then you die. Now I’m challenging myself to tell myself I don’t just have to deal. I can teach myself a different culture and different ways of imagination through storytelling and books. I’m really making myself read and do things in ways I’ve never done before.

Right, so you’re really following the #ChooseToChallenge theme from International Women’s Day, not accepting things the way things are or working within the system – finding ways to challenge the system on your own.

I’m choosing to challenge my brain. I did this challenge, I made it up and it changed my life. On my 29th birthday, I said I’m going to create the “12 to 30 Challenge,” where once a month I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I wasn’t doing anything crazy, like skydiving, but some things were extreme. I tried archery, I did a retreat, I went to a New York Giants game, and I tried other things like donating time, supporting different small businesses, and travelling to places I’ve never explored. I tried meeting with different people or making myself uncomfortable. I asked a Chief Marketing Officer to go out to lunch, just to pick his brain on how I could move up to an executive-level someday. That was hard and scary for me! I’m training my brain even now to say, “Oh, you’ve never done that before, so we have to try it.” It’s really choosing also to challenge myself. That challenge is to become more experienced, more wise, more articulate, to really bring it back to who I am as a woman.

Are there any challenges that come from being so driven and high achieving, or from wanting to challenge a lot of ideas? In the business world and the IT world, where it can be very male-dominated, a lot of C-levels are older men. What kind of challenges have you faced in that?

It’s just crazy – I’ve had people not shake my hand before. “Oh, you’re the intern. Yeah, we know.”

But it’s amazing how many men at the executive level in the industry are now so moldable and totally okay with saying “let’s try something different,” or are very open to moving past the “boomer mindset.” There’s so many people I’ve seen in my life that I’m so lucky to be surrounded by. They’re not the stereotype of what other women deal with.

Like how it was our (male) Chief Commercial Officer who brought up the Women’s History Month initiative.

Exactly. People around me make me feel like they’re supporting my personal journey.

Then you get that one encounter that reminds you otherwise. Maybe they’re working on themselves in a different way, and maybe that’s all they know, and that’s okay. I’m going to work on myself. I don’t need you to support me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t help. It’s crazy when men who are significantly older than you can be moldable like that. The more moldable they are, the more eager I am to run twice as fast for them. If you’re supporting me and challenging yourself, I’m going to do the same for you. We’re both walking parallel together. I feel at GreyCastle Security, we are beyond lucky to have an amazing culture of supporting women. One hundred percent. I would say that on or off the record.

I’ve absolutely seen and experienced challenges in male-dominated industries. I think about women like Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. . With a Gemini vegetarian dog under her arm, she walked into a world of black suits and white pearls. The way that she spoke at the time, it was hard for people to grasp when she was saying something that was actually intellectual. But then she takes a moment to think and say, “wait, I need to tell a story to my audience in a way that’s appropriate – I have to speak to my audience.” She still wore pink, but she spoke to that jury in a way that they understood, and they got on her level. When it comes to communicating about the treatment of women in the workplace, I think we have to take a step back and realize “I’m not conveying the story well enough to the audience.” It’s the same way with me – people need to know how to talk to me and how I retain information. When you don’t tailor the message to my experiences and learning style, it’s hard for me to paint a picture. It’d be hard for anyone to paint a picture of something they haven’t seen before, and I think I’ve seen that and experienced that challenge of self-reflecting. “How can I challenge my brain to speak differently? How can I tell the same story in different words?” I think that’s something that has helped me “speak the language” in a very male-dominant business or industry.

How do you think we can manage to see more women in director- and executive-level positions? How can young women in school or internships make an impact and see themselves higher up in the future?

Look for opportunities, or make your own. For example, I was an intern at a company where, even though I worked 40 feet from the Vice President, I still had no answer on whether I’d be signed on full-time, even though I’d already graduated. We were at our conference, a huge symposium I had planned in Nashville – I’d never even been to Nashville until I got there for the conference. I had a camera in my purse (it was a birthday gift I’d left in there for some reason), and I looked around, and I saw clients and partners at our four-day event at the Grand Ol Opry, and I asked myself, “What are we doing here? We have to make a promo video! We have to get video testimonials!” These were directors and decision-makers within their industry, wrapping their arms around me telling me they love our company, and we weren’t doing anything with that. I asked the third-party AV team for a tripod, I started pulling clients out of sessions and asking them what they loved about our company and our product, and I made an entire client testimonial promo video.

The Vice President saw what I was doing – I didn’t tell him, or even my boss until a certain point what I was doing – and looked at me and said, “I now see your purpose here.” Suddenly they found the budget to hire me. I was so happy. It took seeing that opportunity and taking initiative on something that wasn’t directed by my boss. She was my mentor, and I love her. To this day, she taught me every marketing fundamental I know. But I wasn’t going to ask her permission. I was going to ask for forgiveness if there was any, but a lightbulb just went off for me. It’s really about seeing that you have to make your own opportunities.

We’re so focused on the tangible challenges like the wage gap and the gender ratio gap in STEM, but why aren’t we talking about closing the confidence gap? Finding and making these opportunities closed it for me. If we bring awareness to closing the confidence gap in how you feel as a person, the others will follow. That’s what will make a difference.

I’d love to bottle that sentiment and keep it for myself – not just for the blog.

I’ve been in women’s activist groups since college. I didn’t fully understand it at the time. It’s weird to charge the college baseball guy a dollar for a cupcake while charging a woman 25 cents. At the time, you think you get it, but when you live it, it takes on a whole other meaning. Back then, I thought I understood it because I was curious, and there was a voice in the back of my mind saying, “this is wrong,” but when you actually experience it, it takes up more real estate in your brain.

It was actually at GreyCastle Security, the day we won a spot on the Inc 5000. Somebody mentioned to me I had walked in with my head held high, but I tried to brush it off. “Please, I was just walking with lions on leashes that day.” I didn’t own my success. As I was driving home, I asked myself, “Why am I making an excuse for being proud?” Why was I making an excuse for myself for being confident and excited for something I helped build? For some reason, I dismissed that so quickly, but when I was driving, I thought, “what if I incorporated lions in my every day?” It’s not egotistical, and it’s the confidence that I can accomplish things I never thought I could do. What’s wrong with that? So when people are complaining about the wage gap, I know that I’m working on the confidence gap and everything else will come with it.

One other thing: we talk about seeing opportunities. Envision yourself at the goal line – always pushing towards the goal line makes you the marathon runner. But you have to happy and fulfilled in the moment while you’re hungry for tomorrow. My sister, the other day, said she was always thinking about the future two months out or six months out, and that’s great – that means she’s hungry. But you also need to be present and think about whether you’re happy today. Take in what you’re doing right now, and envision what you want.

Know that no one’s going to hand it to you. You have to create that opportunity. Challenge yourself mentally. Find women you want to emulate and ask them to lunch or a zoom call. Say, “Hey, I want to be you someday, and I want to talk to you and know where you are and share my story. How can I get to the next level?” Nothing’s going to be handed to you on a silver platter, and I don’t think it should be.

So that’s my advice to young women in business: own your successes, stay hungry, keep learning, and keep your audience in mind – tell stories to people who are interested. And don’t let obstacles turn into grudges or stumbling blocks: use them as fuel to do better.

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