Continuing the Women’s History Month theme for March, our next featured leader is Kristina Belnap, SVP and Chief Information and Security Officer (CISO). A couple of weeks ago, you met Anne Larsen in Relationship Management. This time we’re jumping over to the tech space to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women like Kristina who work in non-traditional fields, such as information technology (IT) and cybersecurity.
Supporting equity and inclusion efforts is important to HealthEquity. So, it’s not surprising to discover that in 2023, 55 percent of all HealthEquity people leaders and 54.6 percent of all employees are women. This isn’t the norm across the US, where roughly 40 percent of managers are women. Digging deeper, women represent only about 24 percent of the cybersecurity industry—with only 11 percent in the C-suite, the most senior positions of companies.
None of this is news to Kristina, who devotes her time and energy to supporting women in technology.
In addition to her cybersecurity role at HealthEquity, Kristina is an active member of Women in CyberSecurity, which works to increase awareness of the cybersecurity field, assist with recruitment, and provide networking opportunities for women professionals. Kristina also serves on the Industry Board for the Women Tech Council, a national organization focused on the economic impact of women in the technology sector by developing programs that propel the economic pipeline from K-12 to the C-suite. Kristina said, “I love my work with these groups, especially mentoring young professionals, but it often feels like I get back just as much support, if not more, from doing this important work.”
Kristina’s presence in the technology community is just one reason to celebrate her. From her start in education to her career transition to technology, learning about her background and interests may just inspire others to forge a similar path.
HealthEquity: Kristina, thank you for taking time to talk to us today from your home in Salt Lake City. Are you originally from Utah?
Kristina Belnap: While I’ve lived in Utah for several years now, I moved around over the years. Places I’ve lived the longest are Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, and Colorado. I suppose you can say I’m from the Mountain West.
HealthEquity: A great region to call home! Before we get started on the questions, for those interested in cybersecurity work, can you describe a typical day at work?
Kristina Belnap: Absolutely. Beyond the seemingly non-stop meetings, I start my day early and dive into newsfeeds and subscriptions to find out what’s happening in cybersecurity and IT in general. I look for any new releases or new vulnerabilities that may connect to our work.
After that, I jump into meetings. What needs fixing? What should we check? In any given week, I have about 10 to 15 one-to-one meetings with my team, peers in IT, and other leaders in the organization from product to talent development. I prioritize developing good working relationships with all my teammates, something I’ve learned makes a big difference before a crisis happens.
Woven throughout my day are metrics. In cybersecurity, we measure everything so we know potential consequences and losses. But also, metrics are important to indicate where we started and just how much progress we’ve made.
This field involves assessing risks and protecting important information. It’s serious work, so I make it a point to infuse the day with fun. Some people call security the Meme Team—we’re all remote and chat throughout the business day, sending fun memes to keep work interesting. Sometimes it’s stressful, so we find ways to laugh together and have little breaks.
People interested in solving problems would enjoy working in cybersecurity, and technology in general. It’s not all code—we do a lot of work as a team—and interpersonal skills are just as in demand as technical know-how.
HealthEquity: Amazing. I think people would love to work on your team. Laughter and problem solving—what’s not to love? OK, let’s get into the ten questions.
10 questions with Kristina Belnap, SVP and CISO
1. What was your first job and what is your role now?
My first job was a paper route when I was 10. I also began babysitting for our neighbor that year. It boggles my mind that I was watching little kids when I was just 10. Things are sure different now.
My first professional job was as a speech and debate coach. I loved working in education and as a technical trainer. But at a certain point I got interested in technology and I haven’t looked back.
My current role is CISO. Here’s a picture of my team. We’re smart, we’re tough, and we have a lot of fun when we can.
2. What is your guiding principle or North Star?
My guiding principle is to be a force for good in the world. At work, that means I focus on helping people become the best versions of themselves. I like shining a light on a person’s strengths and supporting them as they grow.
3. HealthEquity has a strong commitment to deliver a remarkable experience—how are we continuing to improve in this area?
Great question. As a company, we’re continuing to improve in all areas of customer experience, including streamlining and modernizing our applications. My piece of this relates to how IT and security work together to ensure our partners feel safe and trust us to hold their data. It’s our collaboration that allows us to continually improve our remarkable service.
4. What advice do you have for people just starting out in their career?
My advice is twofold—first, do it anyway, and second, find a mentor.
People early in their careers, particularly women, tend to discount their abilities and worth. They may tell themselves they aren’t qualified, or don’t have enough experience, or don’t deserve the raise. My advice is do it anyway. Apply for jobs, volunteer for assignments that scare you, ask for what you would like, and push yourself out of your comfort zone. The worst thing that could happen is someone may tell you no. And that should be a learning experience. Don’t discount yourself.
And then, to help you on your journey, find someone you admire and trust. Ask them to mentor you. Having someone who already knows the ropes to show you the way forward is an invaluable gift.
5. What would surprise people to know about you?
I love being active and pushing myself. In 2019 I did nine Spartan races. If you’re not familiar with these races, imagine an intense, timed obstacle course that tests your physical and mental limits. There are mud pits, walls to climb over, ropes to swing from, trampolines to jump over, and for a portion of the course you carry a heavy bag of sand. I know it’s not for everyone, but I think it’s an exhilarating experience. When I finish a race, I feel exhausted but proud.
6. What is a defining moment in your life?
My husband has always been a techie. Early in our marriage we were having a conversation at dinner. I realized I knew only about half the words he was using. I decided to delve into technology so I could speak the same language as he did. I got my first Microsoft certification and liked it so much I kept going. I enjoy technology security as much as my husband. It feels good to be in a partnership where we understand each other’s frustrations and work demands.
That decision changed the course of my whole career. I took classes over the years at a local university, and I also did coursework on my own to study for tests. It felt good to pass those tests and earn the certifications. And then I also learned on the job. I ran some network and database design classes. That’s where I also adjusted my mindset of how people learn. I found that some students who struggled with test taking could build computer elements from parts and pieces. To this day, that’s how I hire. I look for people who can do the job, even if they may not have lots of letters behind their name.
7. What book influenced you in your professional life?
This one is hard to narrow down. I love to read, and many books have had big impacts on my professional life. I read “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson a long time ago. It’s a quick read about mice navigating a maze and tells a simple story about how to navigate change. I still benefit from re-reading it regularly. And then Kim Scott’s book, “Radical Candor,” helped me to understand how to better help my teams to reach their potential.
8. What cause is closest to your heart?
I’m passionate about supporting the LGBTQ+ community. I have family members and friends in the community. I won’t go into specifics because those are their stories to tell. As an ally, I’m a co-sponsor for our HealthEquity Pride+ Connections group. This is a picture of me, family, and friends walking in the 2022 Utah Pride Parade. I like participating in this event. It’s more than just waving along a parade route. It champions acceptance and I believe it’s very important.
One way I’ve supported the community is through Project Rainbow. It’s a wonderful organization with a mission to promote LGBTQ+ visibility and foster inclusivity in Utah. They used to have a program to accept donated clothes to help trans people find clothing that matches their identity. Unfortunately, they stopped that project, so I’m looking for more ways to support community members.
9. What’s your favorite part of helping clients and members reach their goals?
What drives me is knowing I get to make a difference in a company that is making a difference. I can do something that I would not otherwise be able to do, with such a positive ripple effect to clients and members. And I go back to the core of what my team does—protect information. It feels good knowing I can help safeguard private health and financial data.
10. What absolutely excites you right now about HealthEquity?
Overall, I love the core mission of HealthEquity—connecting health and wealth—with the underlying value of making a difference for hardworking Americans. It fuels me to know my work is part of a team effort to help people manage their expected and unexpected medical expenses.
And then, I have to say our culture keeps me excited and hopeful. I feel so lucky to work with people who are so smart. I appreciate nice people who work hard and get things done. It’s a great place to work—from the leaders I report to and extending to the teammates supporting our various efforts.
HealthEquity does not provide legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a professional when making life-changing decisions.
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