Spotlight on Women in BCM: Karina de Allicon

The Women in Business Continuity Management (WBCM) group shines a spotlight on accomplished women across the field of business continuity and related fields.

For this Spotlight on Women in Business Continuity, we have interviewed each of the members of the Women in Business Continuity Management Committee on their experiences in the field. The leaders of WBCM come from a diverse range of industries, and provide unique perspectives based on their experiences in the field. 

Karina de Allicon, CBCP, CSM
Manager, BCM & ERM, Edwards Lifesciences

What’s your overall background, and how did you get into this field. Did you go into the field on purpose?

I was born and raised in Uruguay, and was awarded with a Fulbright Scholarship to come study to the US. After I graduated from college I started out working in business continuity and disaster recovery in the entertainment industry, at 20th Century Fox. I then moved to the financial services industry, working in risk management for an entrepreneurial bank in Southern California. Now I work in the medical and health care field, doing enterprise-wide risk management for Edwards Lifesciences, a global heart valve manufacturer. Our focus is to ensure continuity of operations so patients all around the world can quickly receive heart valves.

What good advice did you get, professionally, that has helped you in the field? 

To focus on progress being made rather than perfect results. One of my supervisors at Fox advised me not to focus so much on how much better a plan or exercise could be, but instead, on appreciating the progress we were making every day. Are we more ready to respond to an incident today than we were yesterday? If the answer is yes, job well done! Go home, recharge your batteries, and begin again tomorrow. There’s always a chance to do things better, but it doesn’t all have to happen at once.

Growing up in Uruguay can be challenging. So, from my personal background, the motto I grew up with that has helped me in this field is: “expect the best, but prepare for the worst”. It’s an idea that resonates with what business continuity is all about.

What is the one characteristic that you believe every leader in this field should possess? 

Strong project management skills, especially communication. You have to be good at interacting with all kinds of team members, from every area and at every level – whether it’s a CFO, a plant manager, or an IT analyst. It’s especially challenging because, in this field, you work with people who don’t report into you directly, so you have to manage the program in a very diplomatic way. Especially to get the level of engagement you need.

A key message I get across with stakeholders is that I’m not there to audit them, but to make their lives easier. If we can figure out the biggest risks in advance and close those gaps before something goes wrong, they’ll benefit by having an easier time recovering during an event.

What are important characteristics for women, in particular, who manage and lead programs in this field?

As women in the field, we have to be assertive, even if other people expect us to act differently. In our society, the patriarchy we see in our families is typically transported into the business world. So, as women, many times we’re expected to be more docile and submissive. But we can choose differently. We can choose the management style that resonates with us.

What do you enjoy about your job?  What aspect of this work are you passionate about, and why?

I enjoy taking as much stress away from the recovery process as possible. I do this by bringing mindfulness into the picture to help recovery teams optimize decision-making. Teams are trained on how to lower their stress level, increase emotional regulation, and communicate mindfully during recovery efforts. So, if things go wrong, their stress levels will be more under control because they have a plan and a strategy they’ve trained on and tested. But, what’s more important, if something unexpected happens and there’s no strategy in place, by providing the team with mindfulness tools, they can feel more comfortable navigating the unknowns that are inherent to most incidents.

We can’t plan for every possible scenario. But we can train ourselves to manage whatever disruption comes up. That’s the key benefit of integrating mindfulness into the mix.

Tell us about a real-world situation or crisis that taught you an important lesson – professionally, personally, or about life.

Hurricane Maria was utterly devastating. Edwards Lifesciences has a manufacturing plant in Puerto Rico, and our employees were impacted. We worked together, as a team, and we recovered rather quickly. But the main lesson learned from that process was the human element behind every recovery – we can think about the generators, or applications, or networks – but our first priority has to be the people. They are the ones performing the recovery. And most of them live in the community impacted by an event. So catering to their basic needs is critical.

It’s hard for someone to help recover the business if at home they don’t have running water or electricity. Accounting for our employees and helping the community recover was one of our top priorities. Making sure patients received our products on time was another. There were many moving parts after Hurricane Maria, but the big lesson was how important people are above anything else. They are by far our most valuable asset.