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Celebrating Women in Tech: Interviews with MFGS, Inc.’s Female Leaders

This Women's History Month, MFGS, Inc. shines a spotlight on the exceptional women propelling our success in cybersecurity, DevSecOps, and hybrid cloud software solutions for the federal government.

Despite the gender gap in tech leadership, with women holding less than one-third of leadership roles and only 25% of C-suite positions nationally, MFGS, Inc. stands out with 38% of our leadership team being women.

We're not just committed to fostering the growth of female leaders but also to honoring the indispensable contributions of women to our daily operations. Dive in to discover the inspiring stories of the women driving innovation at MFGS, Inc.

Celebrating women in tech leadership: interviews with MFGS, Inc.'s leading women

What first sparked your interest in working in the software and tech industry?

Ruthann McCracken, Head of Sales Operations: I have always been (and still am) a huge science fiction fan. Reading so much science fiction created an excitement for math, science, and tech. When I was in high school, I took a computer programming class in BASIC, which was one of the first ones available in the 1980s. I absolutely loved it. The notion that you could create a program to capture information, as well as create untold other programs grabbed my imagination and did not let go.

Jackie Schnupp, Head of Marketing: Initially, the almighty dollar. I was working as the only female commercial HVAC estimator in Boise, Idaho since I’d graduated from college two years prior, and was earning about half the salary of the several hundred guys in town doing the same job. To add insult to injury, I was approached countless times on the various jobsites by men who wanted to know where the coffee was, or demanding to know who brought their secretary. I knew I had to find a different career.

A large tech company hired me as a contractor back in 1999 at a salary that was 40% higher than what I was making. I worked my way through a vast and entertaining variety of individual contributor and management roles as the years rolled on. Voila, I’m still here!

Cynara Releford, Head of Employee Relations: I originally started in the tech industry while I was still in high school. The company I worked for created software for the federal government and they needed a file clerk in their accounting department. It was not my first job, but it was my first job working in an corporate environment, and it allowed me the opportunity to build a career while also continuing to take college courses. During my time there, a woman in IT took me under her wing and showed me how she wrote code and fixed bugs in our home-grown database. After that, I was hooked! My time here sparked a life-long interest in government contracting, software coding and EEO polices, which has carried me throughout my career.

Connie Cappadona, Senior Director, Business Development and Alliances: I was fortunate that one of my first civilian jobs after getting out of active duty was as a Technical Trainer for a software company. At the time, it was so innovative, and I found myself wanting to learn more about the world of IT, cybersecurity, and computer information systems. The more I learned, the more inspired I was to pursue a career in IT.

How do you think the tech industry has changed since you joined?

Women Leaders in Tech - Ruthann McCracken, Head of Sales Operation, MFGS, Inc.Ruthann: STEM was growing in schools, and I jumped in with both feet. Gradually, the push to draw more women into STEM careers grew. Slowly but surely, the numbers began to rise, and we could see more women getting involved in the tech industry. I feel it is imperative that more women step into those areas ranging from engineering to biology.

Jackie: During my early days in tech, I was gratified to see the very, very intentional efforts being made with diversity hiring, gender pay equality and equal promotional opportunity.

I feel those efforts and opportunities have since been replicated throughout the tech industry, and across many other industries. While many studies demonstrate pay disparity continues to be a valid concern, the visibility being brought to bear makes it ever more difficult for companies to camouflage.

Cynara: The industry has changed tremendously! When I joined, we had home-grown databases; now we have third-party vendors housing data in the cloud for thousands of private, public, state and federal organizations and companies. The sheer abundance of resources at our disposal is amazing.

Connie: The biggest difference is the glass ceiling has been broken. When I was first getting started in my career, it was rare to see women in any field other than the traditional roles e.g., teachers, nurses, secretaries, etc. Today, more and more women are occupying senior executive leadership positions across STEM fields. It’s exciting to see the pace of innovation and changes occurring and the demand for talent to fill these roles is huge. The future looks bright.

What is the best professional advice you've ever received?

Ruthann: The best advice came from a female engineer way back in the day:

  1. Understand your worth. Who are you, what do you do well, why do want to be in this industry?
  2. Know what you bring to the table. What are your skills and abilities, who could you reach out to for help (your network)?
  3. Finally, stand up for yourself since no one else would do that for you. 

Jackie: It was actually personal advice that profoundly impacted my professional approach to challenges.

Having been married at 19 and started a family by age 20, I didn’t attend college until I was 28. With three children, a husband, and a full-time job, it took me six years to earn my bachelor’s degree.Women Leaders in Tech - Jackie Schnupp, Head of Marketing, MFGS, Inc.

At year four, I was WHINING to my aunt that I was exhausted, I had no ME time, and holy doughnuts, Batman, I’d be 34 years old by the time I graduated…!

Auntie dramatically sucked in her breath and asked “REALLY??”  

“Yes!” I exclaimed.

“Well,” my aunt offered, “how old will you be if you DON’T graduate?”

Case closed.

Cynara: The best advice I received is that no job is beneath you because there is value in every action when completing a task or process. To learn something new each day is a blessing and affords us the opportunity to grow as an individual.

Connie: I served in the U.S. Air Force for over 22 years. When I became a civilian, I had to make a cultural shift. In the military, only senior officers at the table while everyone else sat behind them.

When I started working for well-known global tech company, I found myself working directly with an influential female executive for the first time in my career. She was a mentor, a role model, and a true advocate for women in tech. She taught me the importance of literally taking a seat at the table, having a voice, and using data to back up your opinion.           

What are some skills that helped you advance in your career?

Ruthann: Besides the technical expertise, it’s important to learn how to authentically communicate in front of people. Not necessarily “public speaking”—but being genuine, because just saying the biggest “buzzwords” does not motivate people. Also, learn to be objective, when necessary, since emotions can color your thoughts and words (I learned this from my father who was both a solider and police officer all his life).

Jackie: I work to communicate thoroughly every detail of any given project to all stakeholders, assuming no prior knowledge by any party. (I may drive people crazy, but so long as somebody’s got the wheel and the brakes are working, accelerate!).

  1. I love to learn. I will ask the DUMBEST questions with no embarrassment or shame. My goal is to reach a place of understanding that will allow me to continue overcommunicating with the group I’m already driving crazy, so they will ultimately surrender.
  2. I enjoy people and I work hard to understand the motivations behind their actions, aiming to interact and collaborate with them accordingly.
  3. I am adaptable. Change doesn’t scare me—I have always accepted it as necessary to improve and thrive. If you think about it, one of the only constants in life is change.
    Women Leaders in Tech - Cynara Releford, Head of Employee Relations, MFGS, Inc.

Cynara: The ability to know your audience. Being able to approach sensitive topics assertively yet positively will empower and encourage individuals or groups to achieve mission set goals.

Connie: The importance of dreaming big and building a plan with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals to accomplish your dreams. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”  

What were some challenges you faced as a female leader?

Ruthann: The biggest challenge was finding my voice and using it. At the time, I was the only female engineer on a team of experienced male engineers and I was the “newbie.” I had a good foundation, so I had to step out on that stage and speak my mind.

Jackie: As a newly promoted manager at a large tech company, I carefully planned for the first meeting with my datacenter asset management team, made up of three incredibly young employees and one veteran employee with decades of experience under his belt – let’s call him Robin.

After introductions, I launched into my habitual DUMBEST questions quest; once or twice one of the young team members would try to respond, only to be overridden by Robin.

Robin, however, wasn’t working to educate. Instead, he was relentlessly hammering on the fact that when it came to asset management, I obviously didn’t know mine from a hole in the ground.

After five minutes of insults, I told the team they could return to their desks. When Robin rose, my grandmother’s Irish temper growled ‘Not you.’

We rose to our feet, and after a few tense moments going back and forth, sat back down. He then answered every one of the earlier questions I asked.

Every morning after, Robin requested a half hour to discuss all the pertinent activities – and sometimes all we did was chat. Ultimately, I promoted him as lead for the asset team.

He gave 150% effort every day, and his efforts consistently paid off. The wins were not due to my personal efforts, but due to my privilege in managing an exemplary team.

The situation made for the perfect storm, which miraculously developed into a wonderful friendship and working relationship for 5+ years. I am grateful to have been schooled.

Women Leaders in Tech - Connie Cappadona, Senior Director, Business Development and Alliances, MFGS, Inc.Cynara: As a minority female leader I often do not see anyone that looks like me in the room. A challenge I've faced is effectively communicating concerns and ideas that are frequently overlooked. I am grateful that Robert Makheja sets no boundaries or limits on what I personally can accomplish with MFGS, Inc. I value being able to pass along the knowledge, resources, and structure for other women within our company to create their own pathway to success.

Connie: It's easy to get caught in a trap of thinking that, as a leader, I need to have all the answers. Thankfully, through coaching, leadership classes and great mentors, I learned that decision-making really is a team sport. When I realized the importance of “listening first to understand before trying to be understood”, the dynamics of my leadership style changed for the better. I learned that fostering collaboration in a team harnesses individual talents, leading to better, more creative outcomes.

What is your advice for women entering the tech industry today?

Ruthann: As corny as it sounds, I would say “believe in yourself”! You have worked diligently and with significant effort to enter the field of tech, and you deserve to be here. Also, enjoy each moment, including any accolades you receive—you earned it! And finally, never take for granted your team and teammates: they are your foundation on every project, program, day-to-day operations, or escalations.

Jackie: Never allow another person to assign your value in any relationship. It’s human nature to want to defend or justify or even apologize when someone makes us feel less than; but can you ever do better than your best? When you look in the mirror and honestly acknowledge that you have given your all to the endeavor(s) you have undertaken, you must acknowledge your contributions and congratulate yourself for a job well done. Self-analysis is critical: don’t give yourself a pass, but by the same token don’t beat yourself up – and don’t compare yourself to others. Did you do your best? I salute you!

Cynara: I would say get out of your comfort zone and converse with as many people as you can. Creating and developing strong networks of people and continuing to advance your education will take you further in life!

Connie: Never stop being curious and learning both professionally and personally. The skills you learn today and tomorrow will open even more doors of opportunities. Continue to grow and maintain your network of contacts through networking events, associations. Lastly, take time to enjoy each day, foster friendships and build strong family ties. Remember jobs will come and go. It’s the friendships and family relationships that last a lifetime.


You can learn more about MFGS, Inc.'s female executives on our website, or by connecting with Ruthann, Jackie, Cynara, and Connie on LinkedIn.