"Be ready to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when necessary," is one valuable piece of advice from Aileen Hurley Smith, head of ecosystem development at Huawei Service Provider Operations Lab, that is worthy of being printed on its own little Women in Comms tchotchke.
Smith has long been a leader in the global communications industry with executive roles at industry giants such as Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), and over a decade holding various roles at the TM Forum , including Chief Operating Officer and SVP Transformation and head of the Forum's Women in the Digital World organization. While there, she also also started a mentoring program for staff.
Currently, she is a leader within Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. 's newly formed Service Provider Operations Lab where her key focus is on the development of a digital services ecosystem to meet ever-changing consumer demands. In her spare time, she rescues Irish Retrievers.
Light Reading: What is the number one challenge for women in comms that is different from the challenges faced by men? What was your biggest hurdle, and what is the biggest advantage?
Aileen Smith: I grew up surrounded by men. For my primary degree I studied electrical engineering, which is obviously an extremely male-dominated discipline -- and I've honestly never felt "different." I regard myself as "one of the gang," and that gang doesn't really have gender characteristics. I don't believe I've ever been deliberately excluded in any way, and I've never felt that being female was a serious impediment to my career progression in the communications industry.
However, I have run into numerous situations where I've been assumed to be a marketing manager or project manager, and on a couple of occasions I recall being mistaken for my male colleague's personal assistant. While this is frustrating at the time, the only advice I would offer is to ignore the incorrect assumption and prove it wrong by being totally professional, clearly demonstrate your knowledge and abilities in a calm and focused way, and be careful not to inadvertently reinforce any "girly" stereotype.
LR: Are there any advantages or disadvantages to being a woman in the comms industry from your point of view?
AS: Just as I've never perceived my gender as a particular disadvantage, neither can I say being female offers any major advantage. I find statements about women being more insightful, people-oriented, empathetic, etc., to be dangerous generalizations which frequently mask the reality. I know many men who exhibit these so-called feminine traits and many women who do not!
I prefer not to categorize people into such simple groupings as "male" and "female" but instead look to find the unique strengths of each person I work with and strive to develop a rewarding and respectful environment in which everyone is motivated to contribute to the best of their ability.
LR: How important are mentoring programs, and how they can make an impact for women in the technology field?
AS: I am a strong believer in mentoring programs and have seen first-hand the difference they can make to the development of both male and female colleagues. Mentoring programs are also very powerful in terms of developing a consistent culture and enhancing relationships in an organization.
Personally, my mentors so far in my career have always been male, but I've not felt that the gender difference has influenced the mentor-mentee relationship. I do accept, however, that other women feel differently; it is clear from trade press, popular press and personal discussions that many women would feel more comfortable with a female mentor and would like to see more female role models in our industry.
I am currently privileged to be mentoring a small number of highly talented women, and I'd encourage every woman I know to make the time to be a mentor as this may help reduce the disappointingly high "in career" attrition rates of women in technology fields.
LR: As a leader, what is the number one piece of personal advice you would give to help women achieve their goals in a male-dominated field?
AS: The best advice I could give to women to help achieve their goals in a male-dominated field is: don't believe that your gender makes you any more or any less capable, and trust that your achievements and abilities will speak for themselves.
Look beyond the male/female labels to identify the unique skills and capabilities of each of your colleagues. Resist the temptation yourself to make generalized assumptions based on irrelevant labels. You will undoubtedly run into obstacles along the way, but that's not just because you are a woman! Keep your eye on the prize, remember why you entered this field in the first place, develop your personal resilience and be ready to pick yourself and dust yourself off when necessary.
— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Editor, The New IP