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WiC: Change Starts With Women, Must Include Men

Elizabeth Miller Coyne
6/7/2016
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The doors are open and there is a lot of opportunity for women in the comms industry, but in order to take advantage of that opportunity, women have to make it happen.

That was the general consensus among panelists offering a "gut check" on the state of women in comms today at WiC's recent conference in Austin, Texas. (See WiC Pics: Women in Comms Takes Austin.)

"You have to open yourself up and ask for [opportunities]," said Shashi Mariputtana, director of strategy and business planning at Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC).

Her comment was echoed by Kaitki Agarwal, co-founder and vice president of development at Parallel Wireless Inc. , who told attendees to "learn your potential and take charge of your actions," and by Joyce Mullen, vice president and general manager of Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL) OEM Solutions, who advised, "Don't be afraid to be yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want and take risks. Try something new and take the challenge of the unknown."

Great advice aside, all the panelists didn't shy away from pointing out the myriad of hurdles faced by many women in comms, including unconscious bias, changing corporate culture, the need for flexible work schedules, inclusive recruitment strategies and the feeling that working mothers have to be a "super mom," as noted by Caroline Dowling, president of Communications Infrastructure Enterprise Computing at Flex (Nasdaq: FLEX).

Despite the panelists' emphasis on women taking charge of their own careers, they also agreed that one of the ways to overcome the hurdles is to include men in the conversation -- a topic the subsequent WiC panel focused on. (See Service Providers Debate Workplace Inclusion.)

"We need to have men advocating real change, too. It's a team effort," Dell's Mullen said. "This is not something women can do on their own. Everyone has to work together, and it's something we all have to own. If you don't force the issue around it, you will keep seeing the same things." (See Panel: Men Critical to Change Telecom Culture.)

Sparking Change for Women in Comms
Panelists on Light Reading Editor-at-Large Carol Wilson's WiC 'Gut Check' panel debated the success and failure of a variety of tactics for getting more women into the comms industry. 

From left: Sandy Motley, Nokia; Shashi Mariputtana, Intel; Caroline Dowling, Flex; Joyce Mullen, Dell; Kaitki Agarwal, Parallel Wireless
Panelists on Light Reading Editor-at-Large Carol Wilson's WiC "Gut Check" panel debated the success and failure of a variety of tactics for getting more women into the comms industry. From left: Sandy Motley, Nokia; Shashi Mariputtana, Intel; Caroline Dowling, Flex; Joyce Mullen, Dell; Kaitki Agarwal, Parallel Wireless

All the panelists highlighted initiatives at their companies that are aimed at increasing the number of female employees, and many said they are making progress by creating networking groups, offering mentoring programs and via management training. Many are also offering flexible work schedules to allow for childcare and eldercare, as well as changing recruiting programs to make sure diverse candidates are part of the pipeline and are being considered. (See From Teddy Bear-Shaped Homes to Cloud RAN, Intel Hired 43% Women, Minorities in 2015 and Nokia's Motley: Confidence Paves Career Paths.)

Flex's Dowling said that growing the pipeline is a huge challenge but one that can be overcome by "catching them young and offering them roles at the company." Flex, which designs and builds intelligent products for a connected world, recruits students for multiple-year summer internships with the goal of bringing them on full time when they finish, she said. (See WiC Radio: Flex Takes On the World's Problems.)

Sandy Motley, Market Sales Solutions in North America at Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), said recruiting should start as early as middle school and, she said she has seen results from programs that help girls and minority children with homework after school. (See WiC Poll: Start Young to Improve the Pipeline.)

"It is all about staying in math and science," she said. "We did start to see kids pursue [STEM degrees in] college and even further. Those are the kinds of influences that we can have at a young age."

Positive role models are also important in getting girls interested in STEM careers, she added. "If girls can't imagine themselves in those roles, then they won't do it." (See Women in Tech Need Role Models, Confidence.)

— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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TeleWRTRLiz
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TeleWRTRLiz,
User Rank: Lightning
6/7/2016 | 2:08:17 PM
Re: Starting REALLY young
I stuck it out in physics in HS because it was part of the college prep classes back then and you needed it to apply to college, but I went to get my BA and MA degrees in fiction and poetry writing (must to everyone's dismay) and never went past Algebra II for math. I still love sciences and biology but decided I'd rather study writing. I knew what I wanted to do. With my own kids (boys, all), I let them do the things they are interested in -- and hopefully they will find their way into a field they love.
ErynLeavens
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ErynLeavens,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/7/2016 | 12:43:28 PM
Re: Starting REALLY young
Those are great examples, Liz! What made you stick it out in physics even though the environment wasn't welcoming to girls? I think encouraging girls and showing them that ANYTHING is a possibility is so important and exactly the right thing to do, just wouldn't want to push STEM as THE best option. I was never into math or science at all, and if I had been pushed towards STEM instead of art and writing I would have really been miserable, so just looking out for all the artsy girls out there too. ; )
TeleWRTRLiz
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TeleWRTRLiz,
User Rank: Lightning
6/7/2016 | 12:39:36 PM
Re: Starting REALLY young
@Eryn good question and I think about that all the time, too. I think the difference though is that you are at least exposing them to the possibility early and often. When I was in high school in the late 80s, I was the only girl in my physics class. Almost every question on the tests revolved around football. The teacher put quotes at the top of every test like: "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche" or "Real Men Don't Cry"  -- it was not the greatest enviroment to encourage me to go into a career in the sciences. Today when I do my NASA workshops with girl scout troops, I always try to show videos or information about women astonauts, food scientists, behavioral psychologists, and anyone else I can find just to show the girls that it's possible for them to pursue a career in science.
ErynLeavens
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ErynLeavens,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/7/2016 | 12:30:09 PM
Starting REALLY young
Love the whole premise of this and the emphasis on inclusion. Interesting idea from Motley about REALLY recruiting young, as soon as middle school. I guess my concern with that is what middle schooler actually knows what they want to be doing when they grow up? So are they really allowed to follow their passions or are they being funneled into a STEM system because they might be good at it?
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