WiC 2017 Leading Lights Finalists: Most Inspiring Woman in Comms

Learn about five women who are inspiring others through their success, business acumen, outreach and advocacy in the next-gen comms industry.

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

April 17, 2017

6 Min Read
WiC 2017 Leading Lights Finalists: Most Inspiring Woman in Comms

It's easy to find inspiration amongst the female leaders in the comms industry for any number of reasons, including blazing their own path, pulling up other women along their way, advocating for diversity and inclusion, mentoring, speaking up and more.

The finalists for this year's Leading Light for the Most Inspiring Woman in Comms do all of the above, in addition to their important day jobs. This award is in our second year of doling it out and will go to "a woman who has worked tirelessly and effectively to advance the cause of women and girls in the next-gen comms industry." (See WiC Leading Lights: Meet the 2017 Finalists .)

We had a number of inspiring entries, but picked the five women we felt were best at leading by example and action and who made an especially big impact in the past year. We can't wait to see what they do next.

Women in Comms' biggest event of 2017 is coming up on Monday, May 15, ahead of the Big Communications Event in Austin, Texas. Register here to join us for a networking luncheon with top-notch keynoters and panel discussions!

The winners will be announced at the Leading Lights Awards Dinner on Monday, May 15, at Brazos Hall in Austin, Texas, following Women in Comms' one-day conference and preceding the Big Communications Event.

Cheri Beranek, CEO, Clearfield
A lack of female role models is often cited as a barrier for women in comms, but Cheri Beranek, the CEO of fiber-to-the-x technology provider Clearfield Inc. (Nasdaq: CLFD), is breaking the mold and is a role model worthy of any comms professional. She took the helm at Clearfield in 2007 and got to work transforming 20 years of losses into seven years of record revenue and profitability. At the company, she is known for listening to her 200 employees and over 580 customers, encouraging a collaboration and fostering a culture of inclusion. She is paving the way for other female leaders and doing her part by encouraging other women to embrace unconventionality, immerse themselves in the industry and create their own environment to minimize obstacles and reach the top as well.

Dawn Callahan, Chief Marketing Officer, Boingo Wireless
Dawn Callahan worked her way to the C-suite at connectivity provider Boingo Wireless Inc. , and she constantly strives to bring other women up the chain with her. She helped make 2016 Boingo's most successful year yet, but also found the time to focus on mentoring, recruiting new female hires and retaining women in her company -- as she has her entire career. Callahan mentors her peers in the industry through Broads Circle and focuses on elevating women within her own company. She recently championed the addition of a woman to Boingo's Board of Directors and encouraged Boingo's recruiters and hiring managers to hold roles open longer to make hiring qualified females a priority from internships to engineering roles to senior-level executive positions.

Heather Kirksey, Executive Director, OPNFV
As executive director for the Open Platform for NFV Project Inc. , Heather Kirksey is working hard to transform the comms industry, both from a technological perspective -- through the use of open source to virtualize networks -- and through diversity. She works with more than 280 developers and 54 member companies and hosts two summits each year, where she has made diversity and inclusion a priority, starting with a no-tolerance policy when it comes to any kind of discrimination within the OPNFV community. The changes she has made to the OPNFV's summits are setting an unprecedented example for the larger industry. In addition to hosting an "OPNNFV Women and Allies" event at each summit, she requires that all panels at the summit include at least one female, offer child care on site, a private space for nursing mothers and have inclusive bathrooms with prominent signage. One of these features would be rare to see at any comms conference, let alone all of them together. She also requires her summit track chairs to attend a diversity workshop to fully appreciate why all of this matters.

Vanessa Little, Senior Manager, Global NFV Ecosystem Architecture, VMware
As the senior manager of global NFV ecosystem architecture at VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) and the only female member of the Technical Steering Committee for European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) Open Source MANO, Vanessa Little is no stranger to being the only woman in the room. She doesn't let that stop her, however, as she travels the world to host NFV onboarding hackathons for 26 VMWare member companies, presents on various topics to large crowds and generally breaks down barriers in what is a highly technical field. The computer science and astro-physics major is a role model for women in comms and also actively works to support them through her involvement in Women of Open Stack.

Brooks McCorcle, President, AT&T Partner Solutions
Brooks McCorcle took the reigns as president of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) Partner Solutions in 2013 and quickly set to work transforming the old hierarchies into a collaborative, open, innovation organization that felt more like a startup than a telco. Ever since, she's been shaking things up at AT&T and empowering women in the process. In the past year alone, she spoke on the topic of enabling women to reach their highest potential at four different industry events and remains active in a number of AT&T organizations for women, including AT&T Aspire, Women of AT&T, AT&T Women of Finance, AT&T Women in Business and the Go Red for Women Executive Leadership Team. Outside of the office, she is also a volunteer with Big Brothers and Big Sisters and Friends of the Dallas Public Library, helping to inspire future leaders.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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