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Women In Comms

How Big Plans Led Sue Monahan to Small Cells

If Sue Monahan would have listened to popular opinion in 1987 and chosen business rather than computer science as her major, she would never have gotten to where she is today -- doing not one, but two jobs that leverage her technical background, analytical thinking and problem solving skills.

Monahan is the CEO of the Small Cell Forum Ltd. and director of mobile operator group GSM Association (GSMA) in North America. For the former, she helps develop a small cell release program, providing wireless operators with the information they need to deploy the mini-base stations that fill in coverage gaps in their network. In the latter role, she manages all of North America's technical working groups around network interoperability, services, billing, roaming, fraud and security, standards, terminals and smart cards. (See Small Cell Forum Appoints CEO, Small Cell Forum Sets Out 5G Stall and Enterprise Market Fuels Small Cell Growth .)

Her confidence to pursue her goals despite being one of few female faces, and her willingness to pave a career path for herself despite the challenges has put her at the center of all of these network technologies that are pivotal to wireless networks.

Here she shares her thoughts on some non-network related topics: how to improve the workplace culture for women, attract more women into the field and more.

Sue Monahan, CEO, Small Cell Forum; and Director, GSMA North America
Sue Monahan, CEO, Small Cell Forum; and Director, GSMA North America


Women in Comms last networking event of the year is coming up on October 18 in London at Broadband World Forum. Find out more and register to attend right here!


Women in Comms: Tell us a bit about your background and how did you wind up in a technical career?

Sue Monahan: I entered college not really knowing what I wanted to do career-wise. After completing my general electives, I finally had to declare a major. I was always strong in math and enjoyed engineering and computer science, so I declared computer science as my major with a concentration in business administration. That was in 1987, and the advice I often received was, "Don't go into computer science. The market is flooded, and you'll never get a job!" Most of my friends were declaring business as their major, and I wasn't really sure what that meant when I was 20! My thinking was that a computer science degree would demonstrate that I am an analytical thinker and problem solver. That philosophy has served me well for that last 30 years.

WiC: What do you see as the biggest issue facing women in comms today?

SM: I think that depends on your geographic location, and perhaps even the culture of the company. I have been very fortunate to work for progressive companies such as Bellcore and GSMA, for example. Early in my career with Bellcore, I applied for a short-term assignment in another country, and I felt I had all of the qualifications and experience for the job. They hired another woman and she returned home within a month. She was unable to be effective in her role due to their male-dominated culture. Not long after, I was on holiday there and was shocked to find that at the time there was a significant glass ceiling for women in the workplace.

I think the US is fairly progressive in terms of treating women fairly, but you’ll always come across people and even companies who lack awareness. As an industry, it is our job to raise that awareness, and I think we're doing a great job at that. So based on my experiences, I think it's cultural.

I wear two hats -- one as Director of GSMA North America (since 2002) and the other as CEO of Small Cell Forum (since 2014) -- and I've attended several of GSMA's Connected Women events. I was initially surprised to see a handful of men in attendance, but it makes so much sense now. We really need to collectively promote women along with men in order to change the culture.

WiC: What can we, as an industry, do to recruit, retain and/or promote more women?

SM: The industry is still disproportionately male, however, the landscape is changing. In telecoms, and more widely in technology, there are a number of women who hold leadership roles, from Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook to Anne Bouverot, the previous Director General of the GSMA. There are also women working at all levels and across all roles within the industry. I think the key is to celebrate these successes in order to promote the sector, highlight the misconception of there being barriers to entry for women in technology and attract more to follow in their footsteps.

WiC: What is your biggest piece of personal advice to a woman pursuing a career in the next-gen comms space?

SM: Just be confident and pursue your dreams and goals. As women, we tend to be much harder on ourselves and more self-conscious than men. Never be afraid to say, "I don't know, and I'll get back to you." Just be sure to always follow through. And, always remember to SMILE!

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

Kelsey Ziser 9/26/2016 | 12:48:36 PM
Re: computers v business I agree, I would have thought a business degree would have been more popular. 

I agree with Sue that women are harder on themselves and that can affect confidence. In a recent Upskill U course on Agile, speaker Alan Bateman said that failure is a key part of the Agile process, but try to fail quickly. He also said it's important to be able to accept constructive criticism. I think that applies for women in the workplace as well - don't be afraid to make a mistake, but try to pick yourself up quickly, learn from it, and let it go.
Sarah Thomas 9/26/2016 | 11:14:54 AM
computers v business Thank you for sharing your story, Sue! Interesting that the computer science degree was the one that was flooded, not business. I'd think it'd be the other way around or, at least, it is now. It is easier to go into business with a computer science background than go into a computer science role with a business backround, I imagine. Those that can cross the divide should do well in today's tech workplace.
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