There are parts of STEM -- the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math -- that tend to attract more traction among females than other parts and, more often than not, it's the tech side of things that is struggling to spark interest.
What is it about the comms and tech industry that turns females off? Getting to the root of that issue -- what makes our industry often times seem macho and maybe even obnoxious -- is an important first step to fixing the problem, according to Hilary Mine, Leader of Network Transformation at Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK). She has some ideas too -- the "male, pale and stale" stereotype of the boardroom doesn't help nor does the fact that a lot of companies still think all sales happen on the golf course.
Mine, who joined Nokia by way of its Alcatel-Lucent acquisition, is now responsible for helping her customers transform their networks, operations and businesses to be leaner, more cost effective, more agile and ultimately more competitive in the future.
At the same time, she is also passionate about transforming the gender dynamics in the comms industry and making it an industry where women, down to young girls, want to work and can thrive. She knows there is a long way to go, but recently spoke with Women in Comms about the important strides Nokia is taking and how others can get there as well.
Women in Comms: As a female leader, what's your mandate to help more women reach the top?
Hilary Mine: I didn't realize I needed a mandate! It's always just made good business sense to me to support all my colleagues in their career ambitions, and in leadership roles it's really part of the job to identify and support rising stars in all forms. Research tells us that women are less assertive about their careers, so as a leader, it's incumbent on me to keep a careful eye out for talent that may be hidden, and ensure that all the high potentials are getting the support, encouragement and care they need to thrive.
For me it's not just about helping women make it to the "top," but equally important is increasing diversity throughout our business to ensure we are the best we can be competitively and for our customers. It's also about making our industry as a whole more appealing to women, and helping women navigate their individual careers in what continues to be a very male-dominant industry on the vendor side. Today our industry essentially misses out on one of the greatest talent pools in the world because we don't appeal to a huge number of smart, capable, creative, ambitious employees and leaders.
WiC: Why do you think we see so many drop off in higher-level and technical positions -- is it a factor of them holding themselves back, company-wide issues or a combination of both?
HM: Let's start with some data. There are globally as many women as men doing STEM degrees -- it's a straight 50/50 split according to a 2016 report from the National Science Board. So the old arguments about women not liking or being able to do math are just not fact-based. Interestingly, we don't lose women in junior high and high school as we did a few decades ago -- the battle is really now for their college choices. The percent of women doing engineering degrees is low -- just 30% of engineering grads are women (even lower in North America and Western Europe). Instead women tend towards biology and chemistry. Research by Intel and others suggests that women are more drawn to fields where they can see social relevance and impact. So we are starting with a gender gap in technical fields -- and technical expertise is critical to success in our business.
When you start with such a gap, it creates an inherently less friendly or less welcoming environment for women. A few years ago, I invited the gentleman who I was grooming to take my place as CEO of our business in Australia to a national high-potential women's event. There were a couple hundred women in the room, including a table of our own high-potential women. When I arrived at the event, he had not yet walked in the door, but was waiting for me outside, and I realized this was a completely new experience for him. I asked him if he felt awkward, and he blushed a bit and said effectively, "Wow, is this what is feels like for you all the time?" Yes, guys, this is daily life for a woman in a tech company. Try it. I would note that he then went on to take a chance on a woman who is now one of the company's most successful sales leaders year after year. And she is not an engineer by training.
There is a very sharp drop off in female leaders as you move up the executive chain. The root cause is probably a combination of many factors, but the real solution from my perspective is that as an industry we need to make engineering careers appealing to a broader audience.
WiC: What do we, as an industry, need to do to retain more women in the field?
HM: You have to be proactive. It does not just happen because you wish it or think it's a good idea. We had a program in one company that identified the top ten high potential women in each region, and then provided a significant focus on each of them with mentoring, coaching, special workshops, etc. We also highlighted their stories internally and followed their progress as an internal story. The target was to prepare women for the executive ranks, and we were, in fact, successful in promoting 40% of these women within the first year of this focused effort. I think one key is that the corporate sponsor for our diversity program was our CFO, and he was genuinely committed to it. If the executives don't authentically see diversity as important, nothing will ever change. You can see the difference in leadership between different business groups in a company. For example, some business leaders have much more diverse leadership teams than others. And strong female leaders will tend to flock towards those groups. Equally, some have very little diversity -- not just of gender, but of thinking in their leadership, and that also attracts only more of the same.
Nokia is currently supporting yFactor.org, which is looking at the underlying issues behind the lack of women in STEM, and we also support an employee network, StrongHer, of 1,300 active members in 50-plus countries, that maintains ongoing and extremely active dialogue, including events, focused on unleashing women's potential in Nokia and changing the way we all look at talent, irrespective of gender.
WiC: What do we, as an industry, need to do to recruit more women into the field?
HM: That's a great question and one I would like to spend some real time on in the next few years. It would be interesting to expand the research in this area, and for us as an industry to reframe what we do in terms of how we impact society, which is huge by the way! For me it's always been a significant attractant that in my line of work I have the chance to really make the world a better and more interesting place. The introduction of micropayments in Africa with mobile is one very small example where we as an industry were able to substantially improve opportunities for many people. Energy consumption is an area where we still have so much opportunity to change things -- from telecommuting or distance learning for at least some portion of population during some portion of their time, to how we architect the future of data centers and networking to optimize energy consumption and more. So, we need to bring these things to life not just for women but for all younger workers to make our industry more compelling.
The good news is that as we become more and more software-intense with the impact of virtualization, the growing pool of female computer scientists gives us a better head start with almost 45% of college grads being female. I think that will help us reduce the gender gap in recruitment.
WiC: Do you have any specific examples of programs that have worked well at recruiting or retaining women in your experience?
HM: In my past experience, we matched high potential women with women already in the Corporate Executive pool to help them to the next step. That was the glass ceiling where we saw the sharpest fall off from 24% to less than 15% of the population being female. It was quite effective even in the first year. I hate to say it, but the other reality is that when leaders set targets of some kind, change happens -- especially when retaining and promoting women and minorities, I have rarely seen real change without that.
WiC: What is your biggest piece of advice for women in the workplace?
HM: The first thing I tell women is always to find a male mentor or boss with daughters. There's overwhelming evidence that men with daughters promote women more and are more comfortable working with women -- and, yes, of course, that's a generality but the evidence is impossible to ignore. This is especially important in an industry where men are more than 70% of the population. Men have to be part of the solution, and having men mentor or coach women is also a hugely important way to raise men's awareness of talent.
My second piece of advice is don't be afraid to ask for things that are reasonable. Women are more likely to flee than fight for what they want. I've managed literally thousands of people in the industry, and you notice pretty fast that men are much more likely to ask for more money and promotions than women.
Again, that's a broad generality and its changing a bit, but my advice to women especially is to exercise courage and don't get upset by rejection. You won't get what you want a lot of the time -- most men who ask me for a raise or a promotion get a good explanation for why the answer is "no." But it keeps your leaders conscious that you want to progress and it keeps it on their radar if they want to retain you. My favorite quote of all time is "Courage is a muscle."
Finally, I encourage everyone -- not just women -- to understand the power of lateral moves. If you want to move "up," for most significant business roles you need to be rounded. Make sure you take roles whenever possible that either have revenue responsibility (sales) or P&L responsibility. The best execs have done both.
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms