Sponsored By

Verizon's Nicki Palmer isn't afraid to failVerizon's Nicki Palmer isn't afraid to fail

As women in the telecom industry work toward parity in representation, particularly in technical roles, they can't let fear get in the way of their career goals, said Palmer.

Kelsey Kusterer Ziser

January 26, 2022

5 Min Read
Verizon's Nicki Palmer isn't afraid to fail

There's a recurring theme among successful leaders that Verizon's Nicki Palmer wants women in telecom to adopt: Don't be afraid to fail.

"If you go one direction, and you fail, don't be afraid of failure. Learn from your failures and change course," advised Palmer. " ... If you are afraid of failure, you're never going to get anywhere. You're never going to try things and you're never going to have big successes, which is what we all want, right?"

This week, Palmer, chief product development officer for Verizon, joined Rachel Rea, SVP of operations at Boingo Wireless, for a virtual fireside chat hosted by Boingo Women, an employee resource and networking group. She shared her advice for women in telecom navigating a traditionally male-dominated industry. Palmer has played a lead role in Verizon's 4G and 5G network deployments and product development, previously held the role of CTO at Verizon, and has been with the service provider for over 20 years.

Figure 1: (L to R) Rachel Rea, SVP of operations at Boingo Wireless and Nicki Palmer, chief product development officer for Verizon.  (Source: Boingo Wireless) (L to R) Rachel Rea, SVP of operations at Boingo Wireless and Nicki Palmer, chief product development officer for Verizon.
(Source: Boingo Wireless)

Large global technology firms will only have female representation of about 33% in 2022, up about 2% from 2019, forecasts Deloitte Global. The number drops when female representation is broken out further – only 25% of women are forecasted to fill technical roles, up from 22.4% in 2019.

"The last I checked, the numbers are around two-thirds of the practicing female engineers have a father or brother that is also in the field," said Palmer. "And that just goes to show you that the women that have done this, like you and I today, had a role model at home … but we can never all have the right role models in our own home. So, it's an important thing for us to think about for the future pipeline."

As women in the telecom industry work toward parity in representation, particularly in technical roles, they can't let fear get in the way of their career goals, said Palmer. She encouraged the audience not to underestimate their abilities, and also to think about how they can acknowledge and then move past their fears.

"Fear, in my experience, is what gets in the way for men and women. But I certainly see it a lot with women – the fear of not fitting in, fear of saying the wrong thing and standing out, fear of not being part of a team, fear of not coming across the way you think you should, or not looking and sounding the way you think you should. Those are all de-railers."

When she finds herself stuck in a cycle of catastrophic thinking, Palmer said she imagines the worst-case scenario and realizes that the potential outcomes of her decisions are usually not as bad as she initially thought.

"Fear ends up being the enemy to any kind of meaningful job satisfaction, progression or reaching your goals," she said.

In her career, Palmer has also learned that it's OK to be wrong – no one is expected to know everything about their role at a company out of the gate. Curiosity is a great trait for engineers to foster as it shows employers a desire to learn new skills and improve business processes, said Palmer.

Identifying the decision makers in an organization and finding out where key decisions are being made is another way to make a bigger impact and gain more of a voice in the future of the business, explained Palmer. Earlier in her career, she noticed male leaders making critical business decisions while they gathered during smoke breaks. She initially felt left out but started attending those informal meetings, which became an opportunity for her to network.

"I realized early on that that's where the actual decisions were being made," she said. "And I wasn't there. I didn't take up smoking, but I did join them."

Knowing when to blend in with existing business practices that aren't ideal for fostering diversity of thought and representation, and knowing when to challenge those norms is a balancing act, said Palmer. "It's a decision process, when you try to determine, 'Am I going to dig my heels in on this and try to make it right? Or am I going to try to blend in a little bit and make change from within the system?' "

Women in telecom should also broaden their definition of what constitutes success at work, she explained. Focusing only on climbing the corporate ladder and achieving a specific title can close women off to new opportunities.

Overall, the environment for women in telecom has greatly improved since she started in the industry 30 years ago, said Palmer.

"Today, most men out there want to help women succeed in business and in industry. We still have our challenges, but it was a very, very different environment."

While much has changed and progress is being made, women in telecom aren't out of the woods yet. The pandemic has also been less than kind to women in the workforce struggling to balance work while supporting their families. "The pandemic has affected women more than men at a 19% greater rate," said Palmer. "Women are leaving the workforce in droves. And 68% site burnout as a key factor. The pandemic is layered on top of an already occasionally rough situation with all these other responsibilities and stressors, and a ton of uncertainty."

Related posts:   Verizon SVP Debika Bhattacharya on the credibility conundrum for women in comms 'Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,' Google's Joshi advises on women leadership programs Podcast: Women in Comms Spotlight – Verizon engineer on the value of being a 'relentless doer'

— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Kelsey Kusterer Ziser


Kelsey Kusterer Ziser studied journalism and mass communication with a second major of Spanish at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but her interest in the telecom world started with a PR position at Connect2 Communications where she worked with a variety of clients focused on communications network infrastructure, including switches, routers, SBCs, data center equipment and systems. There, she witnessed the growing influence of fiber in the industry, as packet optical service delivery platforms transformed network performance and scale.

Her drive for communicating the impact of new technology translated into a communications position at the FREEDM Systems Center, a smart grid research lab at N.C. State University. While at FREEDM, Kelsey orchestrated the center’s webinar program which crossed multiple college campuses and covered research projects like cyber security in the smart grid, the center's smart solid-state transformer, fault isolation devices and distributed energy storage devices. She most recently worked in marketing at a healthcare company and is excited to take on the role of editor for Light Reading's Upskill U website.

Outside the office, she can be found riding her aging Raleigh-brand road bike or dodging snakes on runs through the local Raleigh, N.C., greenways. A glass half-full gal, Kelsey is grateful for the sunning reptiles because they motivate her to improve her timed miles.

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.

You May Also Like