After a year spent hosting Women in Comms networking breakfast events; interviewing leading female executives in the industry for our Mentor Monday series; and generally thinking about the challenges, opportunities and potential for women in the next-gen comms industry, it's become clear there's a lot of work to do, but there's also never been a better time to be a woman in our exciting industry.
That's why I am so excited for all Light Reading has in store for Women in Comms in 2016 as we prepare to launch it as a non-profit with our initial members Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP), Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), CommScope Inc. , AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Vodafone Americas and Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) . (See Women in Comms on the Road to Non-Profit .)
Before we look ahead to what will be a great year with more networking events, an online community for women and a jobs fair just for women at the Big Communications Event, it's worth first looking back at 2015 -- the good, the bad and the ugly for women in the comms industry. (See WiC New Year's Resolutions.)
Here's my short list of notable events, quotes and themes from 2015, but I'm sure it's just the tip of the iceberg. Weigh on what stood out to you in 2015 and what you'd like to see happen in 2016 for women in the next-gen comms industry in the comments section below. (See Light Reading Presents: Women in Comms and Introducing LR's Women in Comms Online.)
Dominant Themes: Throughout the interviews and panels hosted and attended in 2015, there were a few themes that popped up frequently, which will serve as a foundation for discussions in years to come as well. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Promoting diversity in the workplace isn't about looking good or doing good; it's just good for business. Studies routinely show that having a diversity of backgrounds and opinions makes a positive impact on the bottom line. (See BTE 2015: Innovation Thrives on Diversity.)
- When it comes to advancing your career, finding both a mentor and a sponsor can make a huge difference. Mentors offer advice and guidance, and are usually found organically within your network. Sponsors actually suggest your name and put you forth for advancement, singing your praises and championing your cause to your higher ups.
- In order to strengthen the pipeline of women in tech, it's not enough to start at the post-collegiate level. Girls' interest in STEM typically tends to drop off around the middle school level, so it's important to encourage them to stick with it, show them how exciting and cool it can be and give them confidence to pursue a subject matter that they may see as "for the boys." (See WiC Poll: Start Young to Improve the Pipeline.)
- A company can have any number of initiatives to promote women, but none of that matters if it doesn't also examine and perhaps change its culture. In our industry, long-engrained cultures are often not conducive for women given unconscious biases, historical hiring and promoting practices and other, likely unintentional issues. Understanding this, determining where you can improve and working to do so -- with buy-in from the top -- is critical. (See What Is Your Company's Gender IQ?)
- While there are institutional factors that need to change -- i.e., company cultures -- it is also incumbent on women to make sure they are not "voting with their feet" and opting out of the workforce or declining to make their voice heard. It's on us to take a seat at the table and then use it. (See Intel Urges Women to Take Advantage of Their Seat at the Table.)
- Finally, times are clearly changing -- whereas women in the workplace in the past may have felt they had to act like a man to fit in, new generations of workers are not willing to do that. They won't put up with a workforce that is not equal or demands they be something they are not. It's up for the industry to keep up.
Best Piece of Advice for Women: The gender balance may be off, but our industry is full of talented, successful women at the top of their careers. Since mentorship is routinely cited as one important way women can advance, we started a weekly Mentor Monday series back in July. You can find all the fascinating interviews on the WiC site, but the piece of advice that stood out the most to me in 2015 came from AOptix Technologies VP of Marketing Christina Richards, because it applies to women and men and creates a solid foundation for always advancing in your career. She said, "Always be creating value, increasing knowledge and increasing scope." (See Meet the Queen of Laser Radio Tech.)
But, I'd also add in the advice from Chicago CIO Brenna Berman, who preached the necessity of self-promotion. You can't spend your career trusting others will recognize and reward the good work you are doing. You have to put yourself up for promotion, go for the positions that seem a little out of reach and know you can learn as you go. Berman said: "No one can sell themselves like you can, and you need to back it up with facts. Put yourself out there and help your manager know that you deserve it. You are not asking for anything you haven't earned." (See Women in Tech: People Skills Trump Tech Skills .)
Best Piece of Advice for Men: While female-only events, like Light Reading's past breakfasts, bring a great energy and networking element to them, men ultimately have to be a part of the conversation or we are just talking to ourselves. In the industry, there are usually several camps of men: those who champion for women just as females do; those who want to help, but maybe don't know what role they play; and those that don't see why the issue matters in the first place. We asked our weekly mentors for their advice for men in the latter two camps, and got some great, practical feedback.
The best, in my opinion, came from Open Platform for NFV Project Inc. Director Heather Kirksey, who advised men to simply come to the table with an open mind and open ear and to ask questions of women about their experiences, rather than get defensive. "One thing I'd say to inspire men is that diverse environments tend to be healthier for everyone in them, less competitive and more collaborative, and that breaking down some of the gender barriers and gender roles can give them more air to breathe, more opportunity to make a healthy work-life balance, more space to be themselves as well," Kirkey said. (See Mentor Monday: OPNFV's Kirksey Brings Men Into WiC.)
Next page: Biggest 'aha moment,' wins, challenges, opportunities and the wall of WiC shame