Clarissa Cerda is known for her firsts. She was the first person in her high school to go to Harvard, the first woman to be allowed to attend members-only rotary meetings in Australia, the first Latina in the White House counsel’s office, and the first Latina to make partner at a hundred-year-old law firm. And that’s only naming a select few of her many accomplishments.
As she enters the second half of her life, however, Cerda says she is realizing that reaching those milestones is only half the battle.
“I thought that success consisted of achieving those firsts and ensuring that I did it in a way that the door remained open for others that look like me to follow,” she says. “But now, I am realizing that just leaving the door open isn’t enough: somebody actually has to go through it. I encourage, motivate, and mentor the next generation of leaders as much as I can to ensure that happens.”
Going through the door can be hard, Cerda acknowledges: things often aren’t fair, and you may not be judged by the same standards as the next person over. “But even if the person next to you is swimming in water and you’re swimming in Jell-O, I say embrace the Jell-O,” Cerda advises. “Swimming in Jell-O only makes you stronger. And you can’t achieve personal bests while focusing on what someone else is doing—you have to swim against the clock.”
Cerda’s associates have long trumpeted the finesse with which she empowers those around her. “I have always been inspired and impressed with how seamlessly Clarissa encourages, leads, and promotes those around her to be the best version of themselves,” explains Cindy Ricketts, founding partner of Sacks, Ricketts & Case. “She not only helps open the door, she motivates and helps navigate you through it.”
“Swimming in Jell-O only makes you stronger. And you can’t achieve personal bests while focusing on what someone else is doing—you have to swim against the clock.”
Plus, to Cerda, achieving diversity of leadership is worth a few swims in Jell-O. Having diverse leaders means promoting unity, tolerance, and compassion in a world that desperately needs it, she says. But even further, it means economic success for everyone involved.
“There’s a McKinsey study that shows that diversity in leadership actually leads to greater financial returns for the organizations that embrace it,” Cerda says. Having worked in different senior executive roles at leading companies such as Initiate Systems Inc. (an IBM company), and LifeLock (formerly NYSE: LOCK), Cerda has a list of employers that acts as a perfect example of that theory. In 2016, she accepted the role of general counsel and secretary at Pindrop Security, one of the companies on Forbes’ The Cloud 100—a list which recognizes the best private cloud companies in the world.
“Pindrop believes that your voice is the interface of the future. Our mission is to provide real-time security, identity, and trust on every voice interaction,” Cerda says. As GC, Cerda leverages her nearly two decades of experience in the tech space to help the CEO and leadership team navigate the industry’s complex regulations and define a product vision for the company.
Pindrop is dedicated to protecting consumers and finding new and creative ways to combat fraudsters, Cerda says. From Siri and Alexa to Google Assistant, there is an array of technologies crucial to today’s economy that rely on voices—rather than typing—for interactions. Pindrop focuses on improving voice security so that consumers can feel confident using their natural voices to authorize transactions at their bank, order purchases from Amazon, check medical records, and much more. “We live and breathe fraud detection,” Cerda states. “That’s why we’re able to find fraud at a much higher rate and with fewer errors than our peers. Across all functions, our organization is dedicated to catching fraudsters of all different types.”
But a focus on security shouldn’t translate to an inferior level of consumer convenience, Cerda stresses. “We don’t believe you have to compromise customer experience to achieve security,” says the GC. “Our passive biometrics spotlight suspected fraudsters and flag them for analysis or investigation, while allowing genuine customers the ability to continue on with a smooth and frictionless experience.”
Stefanie Fogel—who at DLA Piper is chair of the information governance and data strategy practice—knows Cerda’s expertise at Pindrop cannot be overvalued. “Clarissa is an incredibly novel thinker who knows how to strike a balance between advocating for innovation and navigating risks in a strategic way. She has always been a champion of diversity on legal teams, and she consistently prioritizes mentorship of younger lawyers.”
“Pindrop’s vision is to make technology more human, and the more people trust using their voices for all computing interactions, the more the digital divide will break down as the world moves to voice computing.”
Cerda may spend her days helping Pindrop find a balance between convenience and security, as well as between consumer protection and individuals’ privacy rights, but to her mind, the company’s work carries even greater meaning.
“At the end of the day, for me, our mission means that we help people,” Cerda says. “Pindrop’s vision is to make technology more human, and the more people trust the security of using their voices for all future interactions, the more the digital divide will break down as the world moves to voice computing. Today, people access information and technology very unequally, and Hispanics in particular have bigger divides than others.”
That divide isn’t about a difference in who is able to watch the latest TV shows or use social media, Cerda adds. People today need the internet to receive medical information, view test results, and access healthcare programs. If you don’t have access to technology, or the skill set to use it, you’re at a critical disadvantage, Cerda explains.
“Our technology is protecting millions of consumers but at the same time is creating the security standard—which I hope will become the gold standard—for the new conversational economy,” Cerda says. “And that economy will be more accessible to everyone because it is more human, easier to possess, and easier to utilize and optimize.”
The Skills of a Scholar
“People often assume that if you are someone who competed in pageants, you can’t also be a smart businesswoman. But the funny thing is, I learned almost everything I needed to survive in corporate America on the beauty pageant circuit,” Cerda muses of her participation in the Miss America pageant.
Cerda was the first person to use a Miss America scholarship towards her Harvard tuition, and in 2018, she decided to endow a one-of-a-kind scholarship at ASU Law to promote the next generation of Latina leaders. “I believe the world needs leaders that look more like the diverse world we live in,” Cerda states. “And we can’t just hope that happens—we have to make it happen.”