Women In Comms

Panel: Men Critical to Change Telecom Culture

CHICAGO -- International Telecom Week -- Men must be more engaged in changing the culture if telecom is to attract more women, according to a panel of experts here Monday.

The Advancing Women in Telco group included two men and it also featured some candid comments on the remaining biases of those who still occupy the vast majority of telecom leadership positions.

Cengiz Oztelcan, CEO of the international arm of Türk Telekomunikasyon A.S. , admitted some men are still "uncomfortable" with the idea of reporting to a woman, which means they are less likely to choose a woman for a leadership position. "We have to make it normal to work for a woman," he noted. (See WiCipedia: Millennials & the 'Angry Man' Movement.)

That will sometimes require challenging experiences, according to the three female executives participating on the panel. Mardia van der Walt, SVP of Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT)'s ICSS unit, admitted that her promotion to an executive role unsettled a male colleague with whom she had worked well, and after a couple of months, "I had to tell him it wasn't working."

Her ability to increase the unit's revenue five-fold in four years laid any issues about her competence to rest. "I didn't play to that audience," she said. "You can't change someone else's attitude. Work with your own confidence and the success will come and most people will change their attitude."

Chatting in Chicago
From left: Oztelcan, van der Walt, Bourque, McCorcle and Burkitt-Gray discuss how men can help level the playing field for women in telecom.
From left: Oztelcan, van der Walt, Bourque, McCorcle and Burkitt-Gray discuss how men can help level the playing field for women in telecom.

"Produce the heck out of your business, and everyone respects success," Brooks McCorcle, president of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) Partner Solutions noted. Men are an important part of the conversation around bringing more women into telecom, she said, and need to advocate for women and be recruited as coaches or mentors for female executives. She applauded the fact the ITW panel had attracted an audience that wasn't predominantly female.

But women have to be prepared to stand up to those men who don't recognize a woman's value, she said. That's actually harder with individuals who have an unconscious bias than with those who speak up. (See Tales From the Valley: Bias, Sexism & Worse.)

Michelle Bourque, SVP of product and marketing for BCE Nexia's wholesale and access strategy, agreed that women who want to succeed in telecom and in leadership roles in particular need to be prepared to face critics. "You have to set your moral compass on what you are prepared to accept and what you are not prepared to accept," she said. "It's important to set boundaries on what you tolerate. We are a people business and it's about respect."

As is often the case, there were mixed feelings about the use of quotas or thresholds for adding women. Van der Walt noted research which shows that 30% is the threshold at which diversity gains its real voice and without that there isn't real change possible. Oztelcan worried that pushing women into positions for which they aren't ready sets them up to fail and could set back the entire diversity movement. (See Quotas Wrong Way to Boost WiC – Panel.)

"And yet, if a man fails, it doesn't set back men," commented panel moderator Alan Burkitt-Gray, editor of Capacity magazine, to the general amusement of the room.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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