Women in BCM Interview: Encouraging the ‘Lightbulb Moment’ with Santita Lin Hyman

This is Leah Sawyer, from the board of the DRI Foundation’s Women in Business Continuity Management (WBCM), a non-profit industry group dedicated to women supporting women in the field of business continuity with learning and networking.  

Welcome to an exciting interview with Santita Lin Hyman, a business continuity expert and a key player in a new scholarship that has helped transform lives during this pandemic. 

LS: Santita, as always, it is such a delight to get to talk with you, and thank you for your time.

I want to start by recognizing all you did to help us get the Women in Business Continuity Management scholarship off the ground. This was a DRI Foundation scholarship to help women to join the industry, similar to a scholarship for military veterans. We rolled it out in March of 2020, literally days before pandemic lockdowns started. The pandemic, as we know, has had a disproportionate impact on women – what is now being called the “She-cession” – so these scholarships genuinely transform lives. To date, we’ve given out 30 scholarships, and 22 of our WBCM Scholars have already taken the training course online and become certified with DRI. Thank you so much for the hours you put in to getting the scholarship finalized.

SLH: Happy to have been part of this! DRI certification was beneficial to my own career. Certification increased my credibility as I worked with areas on business continuity planning, and helped build trust with those I assist in all the life cycle steps of business continuity management. I’m glad to have been able to help others along the same path.

LS: Let’s talk about you and how you got to this point, and your thoughts on the industry. What business continuity fields, and related industries, have you worked in?   How how did you get into this field – was it on purpose?

SLH: I have worked in the financial institution, insurance, and loan servicing sectors. I have touched every one of the DRI Professional Practices in my business continuity experience and most recently, worked in operational business resiliency.

I did not get into it on purpose. I started my career as a business analyst, and gathered business requirements, worked with Information Technology on design, testing, and implementation. I was promoted to a Systems Support Manager, managing other business analysts and working directly with IT on implementations and system changes.

One day, my director asked me to complete our department’s business impact analysis and business continuity plan. I picked the documents up from her desk and educated myself on the concepts of business continuity, then did the work, including preparing our department for the tabletop exercise. My director officially delegated business continuity to me, and I was hooked! When a business continuity planner position became available in the corporate team, I applied, interviewed over a weekend, and got the position. I’ve been passionate about it ever since.

LS: Tell us about a real-world situation or crisis that taught you an important lesson.

SLH: On the professional level, I experienced a flooding crisis in a call center of about 200-300 call center employees. There were no adverse impacts to the employees but the workspace was about 60-70% flooded. My team and I began the disaster declaration process and worked 48 hours to restore services at an alternate workspace. Now, you may think that was just an office flooding crisis. To me, it taught me that one small-scale simple leak could cause so much activity, resource time, financial, emotional, and reputation impacts. From that experience, it taught me to always dig a little deeper when doing risk assessments and business impact analyses (i.e. think about the most minor things that could cause a crisis).

On the personal level, this COVID-19 pandemic has especially taught me a great deal about the value of life and how I should be living my life. During this real-world situation, I have lost friends and family members, like many others. It is very humbling to think of the loved ones that are no longer here due to a microscopic organism. I now take my health, my exposure to things and people more carefully and on the other hand, I have put more value, planning, and vitality in my life.

LS: My sincere condolences for your losses. I appreciate your sharing your experience.

SLH: Thank you.

LS: The pandemic has changed so much in our world, and we’ll feel the ripple effects for many years to come. Has the pandemic changed things for the profession, or for organizations?

SLH: For the profession of business continuity, one of the critical lessons I believe we have learned involved third parties and suppliers. During this time, some third parties and suppliers an organization relied on for services were impacted by the pandemic and could not supply their normal services to the organization. I even read of the organization having to help their third party or supplier to continue their business. Lesson learned is business continuity practitioners should stress the importance of identifying primary, secondary, and tertiary suppliers and parties when working with their business areas. This valuable information must be added to a business continuity plan.

From the standpoint of leaders and organizations, I think the pandemic has taught them so much. Where do I begin? First, that any scenario can happen. Forethought and taking time to test various scenarios is valuable time spent. For example, some organizations are cautious of testing workplace violence scenarios – but these scenarios happen almost daily now. The pandemic has shown us that we can no longer think, “the probability of a scenario is low”. Many of us never even anticipated COVID-19 even though such scenarios have been lurking in our history.

Another key lesson that organizations seem to have learned through the pandemic is that people are an organization’s greatest asset. Sometimes, business has to run so organizations tend to focus more on the numbers, the metrics, etc. However, there would be no metrics, numbers, board, etc. if the people who do the jobs were not there.

LS: What powerful changes and lessons. Thank you for the thoughtful analysis. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the lessons you’ve learned from the decades in the industry. For instance…what do you enjoy about your job? What aspect of this work are you passionate about, and why? 

SLH: I enjoy the collaboration and dialogue when discussing business continuity strategies. I love when I help the “light bulb” come on for business partners, associates, and employees when they actually think about “what could happen” and “how they can continue work”. I am most passionate about coming out on the other side of a crisis. I know it seems as if I am passionate about a crisis happening but the reality is they do happen. I feel proud, closer to my team, management, technology partners, even corporate areas when I look back and see how we all pulled together, executed our plan, and made it through a crisis. In some cases, you build new relationships through crisis so that’s why I am passionate about the after action.

LS: What characteristics do you believe every leader in this field should possess? 

SLH: I believe a leader in this field should possess a sense of calm, and tenacity. When you are coordinating and leader through a crisis, as a leader, you have to possess a sense of calm to ensure others remain calm. This sense of calm is key to acting according to protocols and plans during an event.

Tenacity is also important for a leader in this field. When you encounter obstacles, setbacks, conflict, and unexpected occurrences during the business continuation process, a leader needs to be persistent in maintaining the objectives of the recovery process and continuing towards the desired state of recovery and normalization for employees, stakeholders, management, clients, and customers.

LS: That makes a lot of sense. What would you say are the biggest challenges that continuity professionals face in today’s world?

SLH: I think one of the biggest challenges is ensuring technology doesn’t leave us behind. Technology is moving so fast and more artificial intelligence is being developed and utilized. I hope our profession can remain, regenerate, or realign itself to be of value for years to come.

LS: I know you have a mentoring mindset. Let’s talk about professional advice you’ve gotten or would give. What good advice did you get, professionally, that has helped you in the field? What advice do you wish you had gotten? What advice would you give a mentor, either what to do or what NOT to do?

SLH: Some good advice that has helped me in my field is remember to always rely and educate others on the foundation and professional practices of business continuity.

Advice I wish I had gotten is spend more effort on educating executives and senior management on what the profession truly entails and what it does not entail.

I would advise to learn to use their business continuity knowledge in different fields. Do not just limit yourself to one industry. Whether through DRI courses or online self-study, make yourself “super” valuable by understanding how business continuity can apply in various industries.

LS: How do you align your organization’s core values and business continuity best practices with the actual activities within the organization?

SLH: I believe in understanding the “why” behind the values and then aligning the objectives of the values to the best practices which will then lead to major initiatives and operational goals to meet the needs of the organization. For example, if one of an organization’s values is great customer experience, I ask, “Why do we want our customers to have a good experience with us?” Easy enough, we want to retain customers and have a great reputation out in the organization’s reach. With that knowledge and the professional practices, I derive that as professionals, we have to do our best job for each practice so that when a crisis happens we can meet business requirements to make our customers happy, feel confident in us as an organization, and speak highly of the services we provide to them.

Santita, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us today.