Nokia's Sandy Motley's more than 30-year career in the communications industry has seen her make a number of shifts from technology roles to business to sales, but one thing has tended to remain the same -- the general lack of women working with her.
It's something she's gotten used to, and while it hasn't adversely affected her career, it's something she feels we can -- and should -- rectify. Motley, who joined Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) by way of Alcatel-Lucent and is now the head of its Market Sales Solutions, NAM, division, believes leveling the playing field will take a combination of sparking interest in the industry at a young age to get more new women into the field, as well as helping those women who are in it to bolster their confidence and keep advancing.
In her personal career, it took a while for her to make her first jump, but once she did, she kept moving around to new areas that excited her and expanded her skill set. This is her advice to other women: Go for that next job even if you don't have every skill required for it. Be honest about what skills you do have and which you can learn -- and then go learn them.
Motley, who is also a member of Women in Comms Board of Advisors and will be speaking at our upcoming conference in Austin, caught up with WiC ahead of time to share more insights and advice for fellow women making their way in the comms industry today.
Women in Comms: Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are today.
Sandy Motley: My background has a been a convoluted path. I started out in Bell Labs many years ago with AT&T doing design work and did that for federal systems for the government. We provided hardware designs and installed them for the government. I had very much a technical background for many years and then moved over to wireless 20 years ago and have been in wireless ever since, though I've done a lot of different jobs. I started in design and was excited about being in a commercial area as opposed to government. Then, I jumped around a bit in business -- did some pre-sales, proposal work, product management work, ran a business for a time and was in sales for a time, then was the COO for wireless, and more recently, I have a new job that I've been doing for a couple of months. Prior to this one, I was supporting the sales region of North America for pre and post-sales deployment. Once I started moving around a little bit, I got excited about trying new things and learning new areas. It was really exciting. It took me a little while to make the first jump, but once I did I moved around a little bit.
I've mostly focused on wireless, but in my earlier career with government, it was also telecom -- always in the comms industry. Before I started working, I had a Master's in mechanical engineering, and I had started a PhD in Columbia, but got promoted into management and came to a fork on whether I wanted to pursue a technical career or business. I got a technical MBA at Smith College and then got a full MBA beyond that. School followed my career a bit -- started technical then went into business.
WiC: Given your long and varied experience in our industry, would you say the environment has gotten better for women or remained stagnant?
SM: When I started out, there were so few women, particularly in the work I was doing in supporting the Navy. There were so many meetings where I was the only woman with 200 men. That's what I always remember. It was never an issue for me, so to speak, except for it would've been nice to have more women. I always had to be very comfortable around men. It's still the same 30 years later. The situation is still if I look around the industry, the percent of women is still very small as compared to men. A big part of it is because a woman in science and math isn't always popular. It starts out from very little girls who don't always pursue those kinds of careers. There are always a few but the more young girls that start out looking at science and math focused on engineering, the more we'll see in the ranks. That's one of the challenges we face as a country and across the world -- getting them to start out focused on math and sciences in junior high, high school and through college.
WiC: Overall, is it a good time to be a woman in comms?
SM: I certainly think it's a good time. It's a better time because I think there are fewer surprises for women being there. The whole culture in the business -- in any business -- has changed to where women are treated differently than when I first started where there were still people asking me to get a coffee. It's a better time for women to be in business, in general, whether comms or some of these other technical areas. Obviously comms has a deep root in technology. A lot of that started in Bells Labs years ago. Technology is open to women much more than it's been in the past. There have been some positive changes, but we certainly don't see as many women in the field. It's in part because they haven't chosen the right set of skills or knowledge to acquire.
I also think -- it's a generalization, but -- women aren't necessarily as aggressive or confident in themselves as their counterparts. It's a challenge for us as a group because women tend to be less confident and less willing to be aggressive about what they know and don't know. Even if they have the education, because maybe they aren't as confident or aggressive in the industry, that holds them back from scaling positions, higher positions, as quickly as counterparts that are more aggressive.
Confidence doesn't have to come across as arrogant. A lot of women are sensitive to not be arrogant, but you can certainly be confident and be a bit aggressive without the dimension of arrogance. That's a message for them to be more confident in what they have and know. You can state the facts in a more positive way than our culture teaches us to do.
WiC: How does this lack of confidence sometimes manifest itself in the workplace?
SM: If there's a set of requirements someone who is more aggressive may say, "I have five traits and the other five I can learn," whereas women tend to be less confident in general and would say, "I only know five so I can't pursue this role." There's a difference between aggressiveness and being honest about what you know and don't know, but speak with confidence about your ability to learn in the other five areas. It's just as important as having those skills. State how you can learn those skills and that you have a desire to do it. The lack of confidence because it's five out of ten often comes through more strongly on someone less aggressive. You could state with honesty about what you've done and not, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't be aggressive if you haven't met every single skill. If you have the capacity and ability do all those things, it's important to go for those jobs even if you don't have the experience.
WiC: How important is having other female role models in the industry for women to gain confidence and keep moving forward?
SM: Having role models is important. Of course there is the chicken and egg concept with all this, but having some role models is very helpful in order to break through on some of these levels. We definitely need pioneers to take chances -- not for someone who is unqualified, but with folks who are not as confident and have a different personalities and approaches but that can succeed just as much as others. It's also about not only looking at skills and approach and how someone sells themselves, but understanding what's underneath that and helping to push our peers and helping women come along. It's important for us to be mentors and reach out and help other women get on board.
WiC: Do you mentor other women now as a leader in the industry?
SM: I do both -- I have several mentees at a time, two or three. I haven't gone and sought them out. They have come to me asking for support. I help them solve their problems or talk about the right next step. It's an opportunity to have someone bounce off the right next step as part of the mentoring. We do career discussions and discussions around next steps and where I could help to direct them or help them open a path to some end points. I do definitely mentor. Then sometimes it's very important to have a network. I try to as much as possible -- it's easier to stay and work at your desk and get all your action items done, but it's also important to network and go out in the building throughout the company to talk to people and keep your network active. It's also important to support women in this field.
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms