When Shannon Lucas was a girl, pink didn't appeal to her as much as green -- specifically, the green screen of a command-line computer terminal. She says she "liked being in the machine."
Now, Lucas manages the worldwide Customer Innovation Program for Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), helping Fortune 500 businesses stay agile, competitive and sustainable. She facilitates Innovation Workshops around the world, working with enterprise customers on mobile, information and communications technology solutions to enable new business models, customer insights and streamlined operations in the drive to the New IP economy.
Lucas is a frequent speaker on the power of mobility to positively change business and society, as well as the role of "intrapreneurship" in large corporations.
Lucas has worked on leading-edge technology more than 15 years. At T-Mobile US Inc. , she helped drive to market the first carrier-based fixed mobile convergence offering, and she has extensive background in IP, VoIP and mobile technologies, having designed and implemented networks at Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA).
Lucas is also a board member on CorStone, a non-profit for improving the health, education and self-sufficiency of marginalized adults and youth around the world.
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?
Shannon Lucas: Obviously, historically, because it is an engineering-based industry, the number of women in the industry and the number of women in senior leadership positions isn't where we want it to be yet. There is the real question of finding mentors and creating a support network of peers who understand your day-to-day challenges.
The flip side is it is a massively growing industry with a ton of opportunity and the industry is redefining itself. We don't even talk about technology in the innovation program. We think there is a ton of opportunity for people to come in and contribute what they want to do in this industry versus in a traditional industry.
My biggest hurdle is work-life integration, like it is for a lot of people. I'm a single mom and the challenge is I have to travel a lot for work because I'm running a global program, and making sure I'm spending an appropriate amount of energy focused on all areas of life is a challenge.
What I love about Vodafone is the flexibility it gives me to embrace the idea of flexible workplaces.
LR: What is the biggest advantage to being a woman in the comms industry?
SL: I have no answer specific to telecoms, but when I think about business in general, relationships are the things that drive business forward. I hate to tread on gross gender stereotypes, but the ability to manage and maintain a lot of intimate relationships across different communities and cultures is really important, and that has been one of the things that has enabled me to be successful. I look around at all the women who are successful in the organization and that is a key characteristic.
For any minority group, in order to succeed, you have to develop a certain sense of personal resiliency, self-worth.
As a junior woman in the room, your voice is not always listened to, even if you're the one with the idea. It's easy not to have the community foster your worthiness to sit at the table. You have to find natural advocates to invite you to sit at the table or you have to say, "You know what? I'm going to sit at the table because that's where I belong."
LR: Are there any programs you or your organization is involved with that you'd like to highlight?
The He for She program, sponsored with the UN, is a recognition that women in the workforce will only change when men and women sit at the table and have open conversations.
In the program, we read Lean In. We did a push to have guys involved in the conversation. We can have women talking around their experience, but we have to have guys at the table.
Vodafone is the first company to guarantee minimal maternity leave everywhere around the world. (See Vodafone: What's Good for Moms Is Good for Business.)
LR: How can we, as an industry, encourage more young girls to enter -- and stay in -- the comms or STEM space?
SL: At Microsoft, we started a paid internship programs for high school girls interested in network engineering. I really believe the whole thing doesn't get better if the whole thing doesn't start early. Somewhere in middle school there wasn't the support, and I had to find it myself.
We need to find ways. I don't mean making it pink. There have to be lots of ways to engage lots of personality types in STEM.
I liked the green screen and command line as a girl, not pink toys. I liked being in the machine. That's why I became an engineer. That's more satisfying to me.
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?
SL: I hate giving advice, but the best thing I have done for myself is stay true to myself. This is the time to do the personal reflection work and mindfulness of where your journey is headed. I made a conscious decision to reprioritize and change my career track. I have a degree in art history, but fell in love with the computer so I became an engineer.