A passion for security

Whether it is business as usual or during a high-stress situation such as a cyber event, how a security team works together and handles pressure reveals its strength. Jennifer Williams says her team at the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) becomes stronger with every success and challenge. Williams has built this team on trust, innovation and an endless passion to protect the pensions of more than 435,000 members, which are funded by HOOPP's CAN$103.7 billion in net assets, as of December 31, 2022.

When Williams finished school and took on her first job at a payroll company, she had no idea her professional career path would lead her toward the security industry.

“My career actually started in accounting,” Williams recalls about her job as a Banking Analyst at a large Canadian payroll company. “It came very easy for me, I had a very good understanding of how the systems supported business processes — from the user experience perspective — which later led me to a position working on an application testing team, where our main focus was to customize our core payroll application and introduce new functionality to expand into global markets.”

With this experience setting the stage for future opportunities, Williams soon transitioned into a more technical role as an internal IT auditor at the organization.

“It was an exciting but challenging opportunity at the time,” Williams remembers. “I had no prior IT experience coming from a background in finance, and getting to know the back-end infrastructure was a welcome change and allowed me to build my IT skillset.”

That move led to the opportunity to work within an Information Security team on some of the security products and technologies.

“I welcomed the opportunity,” she says. “I was really interested in having some hands-on experience, and training in how security systems are configured. I knew so much about how the systems worked — why not figure out how to secure them?”

That eventually led to Williams taking on an intermediate security analyst role which solidified her career move from accounting into the security industry.


The road to healthcare

In 2010, Williams began her journey helping to protect systems and patient data with Ontario’s healthcare industry and took on a new role that allowed her to build and lead an Information Security program for a large healthcare system, supporting multiple community hospitals within Ontario.

Williams later expanded the program to include the protection of patient information in the core mandate, assuming the role of the hospital’s Privacy Officer as well. She recalls that at the time, “the hospital needed someone to understand legislative responsibilities and make sure that they were doing all the right things to protect the patient data.”

“We wanted to make sure that we were building systems for the future — that they were efficient systems to help the patient experiences and patient care, but the information was secure and protected at all times,” Williams says.

She stayed in that role for almost 10 years until moving to Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), where she took on a new challenge within the pensions industry, to build a program and secure systems and sensitive data for the organization that delivers pensions to Ontario’s healthcare workers.

“As hard as it was for me to move out of the hospital space, I knew that I remained close to the healthcare sector,” Williams says. “Now I'm securing the pension of the healthcare workers that support our healthcare industry, working on the front lines supporting patients.”

I've been so privileged to be part of and to witness the growth of this program. If I look back on all the things that I've done in my career, the building of this program, to date, will have to be my greatest achievement.”
— Jennifer Williams

Leading the way

During her time at HOOPP, Williams has been instrumental in evolving information security into a mature, forward-looking program that utilizes new and emerging practices and safeguards, including incorporating offensive security into the program to increase HOOPP’s overall cyber resilience.

While she’s proud of the cybersecurity program at HOOPP, Williams is most proud of the team that works with her to deliver services that cover all domains in security.

“I couldn't have done it without them,” she says. “It's not just their talents, it's also the support they show me that they believe that the direction is right. The team that I have today, I think they're incredible. They’re in this journey with me.”

In her current leadership role, Williams prioritizes growth opportunities for her team both within and outside security. By embodying core values that motivate, encourage and make team members feel valued, Williams’ leadership helps the team contribute to the program’s success.

“They are a smart and talented team that has really pushed the boundaries of the maturity in this information security program,” Williams says. “Ive been so privileged to be part of and to witness the growth of this program. If I look back on all the things that I've done in my career, the building of this program, to date, will have to be my greatest achievement.”


Cybersecurity challenges

When Williams first entered the world of cybersecurity 15-plus years ago, she was young and there weren’t many women in the security field, which she says was a challenge.

“I wasn't very welcomed into this industry,” she says. “So I did a lot on my own. It took a pretty big backbone, and a lot of pushing through barriers to get there. I was able to find a few people along the way to help me grow. I've had some of the greatest leadership, and not just the leaders that I directly report to, but leaders across the organization who have been huge advocates for my success.”

Mentorship is an important part of growing talent within the security industry, Williams adds, and is something she keeps top of mind in her role as a leader.

“I am very aware of the roadblocks that I had in my path and I want to be part of eliminating them for the future and making sure that I encourage those women that want to come up in this field, and make sure that I'm ready to support them,” she says.

In addition to her role at HOOPP, Williams also often participates in panel discussions and speaks at security events to promote equity, diversity and inclusion. She presented on a panel at the LGBTQ2S+ Voices in IT conference in 2021, and also participates at events to support women in technology, such as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science roundtable with Ontario’s Digital Service team.

Williams says she is her “best self” and is the best leader when she is working with a highly motivated team.

“When I’m with a team that is motivated, excited, has worked very well together and supports each other, it just makes me want to do better to grow as a person, to grow as a leader,” Williams says. “And now I have that team — they can accomplish anything.”