As managing director of UK Internet service provider Hyperoptic, Dana Tobak has grown the company from two employees to over 200, brought in $77.6 million in funding and helped transform the ISP from a telecom company to a property company.
She's focused on expanding Hyperoptic 's "fibrehoods" to all of the UK, but she's also part of the small but mighty sisterhood of women in the UK holding top positions in the communications industry. (See Hyperoptic Takes Gigabit to Glasgow.)
Tobak has been in comms for more than two decades. She founded ISP Be in 2006, a venture she got up and running in six months and later sold to Telefónica , before she went on to co-found Hyperoptic in 2010. She attributes her success to "placing the consumer at the heart of success, and generally refusing to take no for an answer," but she admits it takes time to crack into the "boys' network" that is our industry.
Light Reading caught up with Tobak to hear her advice for other women in comms, including the importance of role models, mentorships and our biggest assets.
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?
Dana Tobak: I can't speak to the challenges faced by men, but I do feel that the comms industry in the UK is definitely dominated by a "boys' network," and this is especially compounded by the importance of government interactions where 70% of MPs (Members of Parliament) are men. Now that I'm MD (managing director) of my second ISP, my professional network and credibility are growing. It takes time. Participating in industry and regulatory affairs is hugely important to Hyperoptic and to my effectiveness as its leader.
Having said that, there are quite a few women in UK comms, which is great. Dido [Harding, CEO] at TalkTalk, Meri [Braziel, CEO] at KeyCom, and really looking forward to Sharon's [Ofcom CEO Sharon White's] impact at the helm of OfCom. Chi Onwurah is a great advocate of fiber broadband as MP of Newcastle as well.
LR: What is the biggest advantage to being a woman in the comms industry?
DT: Most of the other execs are men, but 50% of potential customers are women. In my experience, women also tend to focus more on company culture and empowering managers.
LR: How can we, as an industry, encourage more young girls to enter – and stay in – the comms or STEM space?
DT: Celebrate role models. When I was growing up it never occurred to me that women had different options from men. My dad was a computer scientist and professor back when programming meant stringing together 1s and 0s, and my mum was and is quintessentially pragmatic. I was lucky -- they gave me the opportunity to experience all beginnings and encouraged me to use those skills wisely. When I look around, I see women dominating healthcare, education, retail and marketing. All of those are good career paths. People often choose their career and life paths based on what they see and what they know. So let's make women visible in the industries where they are less represented.
LR: Are there any programs you or your organization is involved with that you'd like to highlight?
DT: I make myself available to a program called Founders4Schools where I am asked to come and speak to students -- both boys and girls -- to encourage entrepreneurship and focus on technology. I enjoy the opportunity to influence those students and give them some insight into the business world, and encourage the participants to not close doors and do the best they can. Follow your passion -- it makes work much more fun.
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?
DT: Consider your brain and your intuition to be your biggest assets. Nourish them, practice them, polish them and present them. You can't create impact and rise if you think like and agree with everyone else.
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading