Moving up the ladder in the comms industry may require a few uncomfortable conversations with your managers and co-workers, but the first uncomfortable conversation you must have is with yourself.
This philosophy has helped get Eugina Jordan, now the director of marketing for cloud radio access network (C-RAN) startup Parallel Wireless Inc. , to where she is today. Jordan started working as a receptionist in the industry 16 years ago, and she never stopped working hard or learning to get ahead. But before she could begin, she first had to tell herself she deserves a seat at the table. That was step one before convincing anyone else.
Taking the plunge despite her fears has paid off for Jordan. And, once she found her voice, she never stopped using it, continuing to have those uncomfortable conversations in the workplace to improve things for everyone.
Jordan admits that every time she speaks up it's scary, but also empowering. "Me speaking up encourages others to do the same," she says, adding that it's ultimately having the effect of creating an open workplace culture. Here, she shares more advice for women on how to find their voice and use it for the benefit of everyone.
Women in Comms: Describe one progressive policy your company has that you'd like to highlight.
Eugina Jordan: There is this one very important initiative at Parallel Wireless that gives flexibility to working mothers (or fathers, for that matter). It is not an official policy, but we allow team members to ease back into work at their own pace after having children. And if a working mother needs to change their hours or go part time, we allow our team members this flexibility. We are also open to hiring women that do have a gap in their career due to taking some time off to raise a family. I have noticed that there are bigger companies out there that have started to introduce similar programs. Flexibility like that makes team members feel valued and motivates them to be more productive and loyal to the company.
WiC: Have you ever had to put your career first and what effect -- positive or negative -- did it have on your family? (Or, vice versa?)
EJ: We all are different and we need to respect each other's choices. If someone decides to be a stay-at-home mom, can afford it and enjoys it -- this is their choice and should be respected. But we also shouldn't frown upon women that work for financial or personal fulfillment reasons. Because after all, a happy mom is a good mom. For me, even if I could afford financially to stay at home, I would have chosen to build a career -- it is who I am and what makes me happy. The effect of me building a career on my child has been positive so far. I am very proud of my 12-year-old who is an all-A student, teaches himself how to code at night, helps around the house, gives me hugs and is kind to his friends and strangers. He has learned a strong work ethic from early on from me as we all know that you cannot get all As in school without working really, really hard to get them.
Saying that, people see where I am today or how great my child is and they do not realize the struggles and sacrifices and all the hard work we had to put in to get to this place. For the first six years of my son's life I was a single parent. I started working as a receptionist 16 years ago and worked hard to move up the ladder. I never stopped learning or working hard and that is why I am where I am today.
WiC: In your opinion, what policies don't seem to be effective when it comes to recruiting, retaining or promoting women? What has worked?
EJ: I believe that any efforts to attract or retain women in technology need to start before they enter the workforce: in schools, colleges. We need to establish programs that will encourage young girls to enter the comms field as a career. That said, in my mind, hiring policies should be around hiring the best people for the job and not based on gender -- that is a very ineffective policy. Because that approach will only hurt other women that truly deserve those jobs. Policies around flexibility will help to retain women. Improving maternity (or paternity) leave policies will help to retain women as well, and we see some great examples that companies out there are implementing.
WiC: What uncomfortable conversations do we need to have with our bosses, leaders and co-workers to make a change?
EJ: The most uncomfortable conversation we need to have is with ourselves. We need to convince ourselves that we deserve that seat at that table. And then we need to take some uncomfortable steps to get to that seat. Those steps will include uncomfortable conversations with peers or superiors. Start by asking questions: What do I need to do to get that promotion or that interesting project? Do not internalize things; do not act on emotion.
If you think that you were passed for a promotion, ask yourselves questions: Did they know I wanted the promotion? Did I had the skill set, and what qualifications the other person had that I do not have? And if you had a better skill set, and you think that you were passed for a promotion based only on your gender, go have that conversation -- do not be afraid. Be open to take criticism and be ready to do some work including internal work. What I have learned is that you cannot fixate on your gender and play a victim of it. My advice is to be objective in figuring out why you didn't get that job or a promotion. It is easy to blame not getting a job on your gender, but admitting to yourself that you didn't get the job, because you lack certain skills and start working on acquiring it is hard. Do not fixate on your gender. Fixate on your work and excel in it!
How many times have I been entirely ignored, talked over or interrupted in technical discussions, presumed not to have either a valid opinion or any relevant technical knowledge? Maybe too many. What did I do about it? I learned how to bring my point across, respectfully. Do not get angry or upset; get smart. Speak up, with respect. Do not be negative. Stay positive. Raise up and bring others with you to the level of open and productive collaboration. Negativity will only create negativity. If you are respectful and positive, you can lift the conversation to a whole new level, which will help you and all the women in the industry.
WiC: What makes you feel optimistic -- or conversely, pessimistic -- about being a woman in comms?
EJ: I've thought a lot about what it means to be a "woman in comms" -- I’ve wrestled with a lot of different questions internally and externally -- with my male and female co-workers and managers, my friends, my husband and even my son. All these internal and external conversations made me think critically and objectively about my own daily experiences. That said, I am an optimist by nature. I have been in the telecom industry for over 16 years and started on the very bottom as a receptionist. So, my own story is encouraging and a positive example that if you work hard, play fair, continue learning and always believe in yourself, you can build a rewarding career in comms. The door is there; you just need to be strong enough to open it; be strong enough to get a seat at the table and work hard to get where you want to be.
I am not saying that it's going to be easy, but if you want it, you cannot give up. If a shy girl from Russia can work her way up to be a fearless director of marketing of a very successful telecom startup, so can you. I, and other women in comms, believe in every single one of you, ladies, and we are here to support each and every one of you every rung of the ladder! Remember, we are not alone.
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms