To this day, women continue to face challenges on their career journey towards leadership. Existing gender stereotypes and discrimination keep women from climbing to the top of the career ladder without having to face some bumps along the way, especially in a male-dominated industry. In this special episode, Carrie Charles talks about the gender gap in tech with no other than women who have had these journeys, been through the challenges, and rose to the top of their careers. She sits down with Wendy Stewart, the Vice President of Sales and Operations for DataBank and the Founder of the Dallas Women’s Data Center Group; Carolyn Hardwick, the President of Engineering at SQUAN and the President of WWLF (Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum); and Rebecca Hunter, the Vice President of Smart Communities for Aero Wireless Group and Co-Chair of Smart Cities Transportation Working Group at CTIA. Together, they discuss the challenges women face and the secrets they have to succeed. What is more, they also share the things women can do to get promoted and how companies can promote more women.
Listen to the podcast here:
Watch the podcast here:
The Tech Gender Gap: How To Get More Women Into Leadership Roles With Wendy Stewart, Carolyn Hardwick, And Rebecca Hunter
We are going to talk about one of my favorite subjects and this is the women’s leadership gap. There are literally challenges that women face on their career journey to leadership. We want to talk to women who’ve had these journeys and understand what are those challenges and what can women do to get promoted and also what can companies do to promote more women. I’m super excited to have with me, Carolyn Hardwick. She’s the President of Engineering at SQUAN and the President of WWLF which is the Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum.
Also, Rebecca Hunter, she’s the Vice President of Smart Communities for Aero Wireless Group and Co-Chair of Smart Cities Transportation Working Group at CTIA. Also, there’s Wendy Stewart. She’s the Vice President of Sales and Operations for DataBank and also the Founder of the Dallas Women’s Data Center Group. Thank you for being on with me. Where I’d like to start is talking about your journeys. How did you get from where you were to where you are now? Carolyn, why don’t you start us off?
Thank you, Carrie. I consider myself as having a very nontraditional segue into telecommunications. I entered the telecom industry in the year 2000 when I joined AirGate PCS which later became Sprint. I was employed as a project coordinator. I was teaching school at that time, attending graduate school at night and looked for a summer job. I got a job at AirGate PCS. At the end of the summer, I was offered a position to train, to become a project manager in site development. Sprint was very kind to say that I could still pursue my opportunity of finishing my graduate degree.
I worked with Sprint for five years after that, I stayed in site development until 2009. I took a position at SBA Communications as a business development manager. That was a little bit of a different role, but I enjoyed it and continued in National Business Development. Until 2019, I came on board with SQUAN as the national site development director. In December of 2019, I was approached by the CEO about taking over the team in the engineering division. He offered me the position and although I was hesitant at first, I embraced the role and love it and I can honestly say it’s the best job that I’ve ever had. That’s where I am as president of engineering division at SQUAN.
Tell us more about SQUAN.
SQUAN is a telecommunications infrastructure services company. We have three divisions. We have a fiber division, engineering and wireless construction. We embrace the thought of a life cycle, network development and infrastructure development. We were conceived in 2008. We were acquired by RFE Partners in 2014. Here we are, employed with approximately 350 employees and based in New Jersey.
The first attribute to success is making an effort to learn as much as possible.
Click To Tweet
I love your journey, Carolyn, and we’ll hear a little bit more about it because you’ve moved very fast at SQUAN. Congratulations with that and I have a lot of respect for you. Also, I’m on the board of WWLF. I work for you at WWLF. You’re my boss. Let’s go to Rebecca. Tell us a little bit about your journey.
Carolyn stole my nontraditional entry with the telecom, I think it’s very thematic. First, thank you so much. What a great opportunity to talk about such an important issue. I appreciate it. Like Carolyn, I’m very non-traditional, I was also in graduate school working on my Public Policy degree and was tired of waiting tables. Nextel was looking for an RF coordinator. I didn’t know what RF stood for at that time. It’s 1993 or 1994. I’m dating myself a little bit there. Prior to the first PCS auctions and then Nextel shut down nationally.
I got a call from Pac Bell Mobile Services in San Diego saying, “We’re going to win the PCS auction. We’re going to start building out. Will you come to San Diego?” I was in Tampa, Florida at that time and I was like, “Why not?” I packed up and I moved to San Diego, did a site acquisition, site development work for them and went on that phase one PCS builds all across the country. It was very project based. I moved probably ten times and about 4 to 5-year period to different projects. I ended up in Seattle working at an engineering company where they started a telecom division, which I ran and grew that both geographically and then from a customer base. From there, I did a lot of consulting work and that’s where I diverged into having children.
We’ve got to put the children in somewhere.
That was a critical time because for a lot of women on a very trajectory growth path and I had twins. At that time, you have to make a decision. I was very fortunate enough to be able to have a consulting company where I was still able to work, be able to choose what I could do, so I could also stay home and take care of my kids at the same time. I did that for probably about ten years with them until I decided to go back into the workforce and that I went to Crown Castle. I was there for about six years and ended up at my last job there. I was in their corporate development and strategy group.
Pretty much throughout my career on the engineering operations side, site development policy work, zoning work, that kind of traditional path in a lot of ways. I ended up in corporate development and strategy in Crown. Now, in Smart Communities at Aero Wireless Group, a lot of what we did in the strategy was very forethinking like where are we going and what markets do we enter? Something I’m very passionate about is the public-private partnership and focusing on helping the public sector through these technological revolutions we’re going through. That’s my condensed journey.
Talk more about Aero Wireless Group. I love all the folks at Aero and what they’re doing.
Aero Wireless Group is made up of three divisions, Comtech, which is the smart pole, city pole integrated connected infrastructure where the industrial design is to aesthetically match any city, carrier’s needs. We have Aero Solutions which focuses on R&D work and some of our tower modification work. There’s the Aero Smart Communities Division, which I was brought over to grow and a lot of that again, is related to municipal consulting, helping cities understand maybe design guidelines, programs, processing. How do we evolve small cell infrastructure into more robust, highly co-locatable and multifunctional use for smart city or applications?
Wendy, tell me about your journey.
It’s interesting to hear that everyone cut their teeth starting out at a telco and I started out there as well. In 1997, I started out at MFS WorldCom at that time. I was in college at that time. I didn’t know anything about telecom. I started out there as an account relations manager and once the sales rep sold it, managed the implementation of T1s back then. That was the big things. I stayed there for a while and decided to go and join a startup. It was a data center company called LayerOne and they had a single data center in Dallas.
I went over to head up their provisioning and implementations team. We ended getting up to maybe 3 or 4 data centers in a larger data center provider purchases. I stuck around, post-acquisition for a couple of years and then I decided to go back to the carrier world. It was with Level 3 at that time and I went over and did high-level network design for them for several years. After that, I had an opportunity to go work back in the data center space, which is an area that I absolutely loved. I went over and worked at a company then. It was called ViaWest and they’ve been sold since then. I was there and I managed major accounts for them. The founder of LayerOne started another company and that company is known now as DataBank. I was over at that company for about 5 or 6 years. We remained friends and he finally talked me into coming over and I’ve been here.
Can you tell us more about DataBank?
Tomorrow, be 1% better. If you can be 1% better, then in 30 days, you will be 30% better.
Click To Tweet
I’ve been at DataBank for many years. It is a data center managed services and cloud provider. We have a national presence throughout the US. We have twenty data centers and what’s interesting is when I started with DataBank, I think we had two data centers and it seems that right now every month that number of data centers is changing, but we’re up to twenty data centers.
I want to know what has been the secret to your success? If you could say, “This is what I attribute my success to.” It can be one thing or multiple things, but also what challenges did you face getting here? What’d you have to go through? Carolyn, we’ll go in alphabetical order every time to make it easy.
I know that when I first joined AirGate PCS, I knew nothing about telecommunications. I will say the first attribute to my success was making an effort to learn as much as possible. I had some phenomenal mentors who were very patient and answered a lot of my questions. If they couldn’t answer my questions, they directed me to valuable resources so that I could learn about telecommunications. That was the first part. The second was having great mentors, having people guide me along my career path and help me see what the next step was and encourage me and help me get to that next level. Lastly, I think that getting networked with other women in the industry to understand what are the opportunities, how can I get more connected and understanding what’s out there with those opportunities. Connecting with other women and then watching other leaders in the industry who are women.
I love the mentorship piece and I think we’re going to talk a little bit more about that as we go along. What challenges did you have to face to get to where you are?
For me, it was just not being a technical person. In fact, when I first came on as a project coordinator, I can remember people saying to me, “You’re the least technical person I know. You are setting yourself up for failure.” Looking at that as a challenge and saying, “I’m not going to let the limitations of my knowledge of the industry hold me back.” Embracing and learning as much as I could. As I got more connected with women, asking questions and on that path to leadership, not letting anything stand in my way, believing in myself to move forward to the next path.
Somebody said, “You’re the least technical person,” and now you’re the president of engineering at SQUAN. I think that is the coolest thing ever. Rebecca, what about you, what’s your secret to success?
I think I’m still figuring that out. My journey is continuing. To build on what Carolyn said, because obviously, a lot of what she said, I absolutely relate to. To take that learning a step further, it’s being willing to learn something new every day. If you look at our industry and how much it’s evolved in the last many years that I’ve been involved in it, you have to be willing to put yourself out there and to say, “I can learn this.” I’m nontechnical as well. It’s taking that risk and being confident in your abilities and the different perspective that you bring. It’s important to bring these diverse perspectives, even in a technical field, because many of the things that we do require a lot of relational skills.
Community outreach, understanding, collaboration, critical thinking and being confident in what you bring and you combine that with learning something new and taking that risk. It’s like we were talking about with Carolyn, out of your comfort zone, you’d have an opportunity and even against that inner voice that says, “I don’t know,” but you do it and you realize, “That was a great opportunity to learn, to grow and to continue on your path and your journey.”
That’s been important to me and the mentorship, having a few key people to sometimes nudge you when you need that. Both of those are important. I do think that persistence. I was talking to somebody the other day and I said, “When somebody tells you no. No is a temporary state of mind.” If they’re committed to wanting to get somewhere or do something, put a little persistence behind it and realize that it may be a no now because you may have some skills you need to develop or things you need to learn. Remember, it’s only a no now and don’t let that diminish future opportunities.
I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. I know that one of the barriers to women getting into tech is feeling like that they aren’t techie or they don’t know tech. There are many other options for women in tech and I love that this is a common theme so far here. What have been some challenges that you’ve had to overcome?
When I’m starting in this industry, I’ve seen tremendous change and even though we have such a long way to go as far as women leaders and women engineers and women ingrained in all of our facets of business, it has changed a lot in the many plus years. I’m happy to see that there’s been progress, but in the 25 years, it was hard. I have a strong personality as a woman in a lot of those environments. Probably, the biggest challenge was having kids and making a decision took me a while. I didn’t know. Do I want to stop that trajectory and that career path that I was on at the time to focus on my family a little bit more, to be here for my kids?
I’m glad I made that decision. It was the right decision for me. They’re at an age and a point where they let me get back in. I saw a lot of those people that I had worked with early on, already 2 or 3 steps and you have to start over. It’s like, “We’ll give you a job and you can come in at this level,” and then you have to start over. Even though I have twenty years of experience, they didn’t see it in a vertical or incline growth pattern. You have to understand you are starting over a little bit.
The biggest stumbling block that most women have towards success is themselves. They don’t feel confident enough.
Click To Tweet
That’s a common challenge I think with most women. Wendy, tell us your secret to success. What would you say are a couple of things that have propelled you to where you are?
Like what Carolyn and Rebecca both said, I completely agree on those. It’s been multiple, but to name a few, aside from having a good mentor throughout my career, having a personal drive within myself that I wanted to succeed. We see success up here and people don’t always want to do the work and I’ve always been willing to do the work. When I started out in my career, we were building data centers and sometimes we didn’t have a cable guy to run the cable underneath the data center floor. I showed up as the cable girl. I was always willing to step in.
It’s always been one of those where I’ve had a lot of personal accountability for myself where I always questioned myself, “Wendy, did you do your best?” One of the things that I always try and do every day and all the people that I lead is it’s hard to go into a review and it’s not a glowing review and you know you need to improve. One of the things that I do a lot is, “Tomorrow I’m going to be 1% better. If I can be 1% better. In 30 days, I’m 30% better.” I’m very mindful of that and take that into consideration every day when I’m trying to be successful.
What are some challenges that you faced along the way?
One of the biggest challenges is when you’re looking for someone to model the way for you, I didn’t have anyone that looked like me that I was able to cling to. Let’s be real. We’re in telecom and it’s male-dominated and no one looks like me. When I go into most meetings, I’m typically the only black, I’m typically the only female and it’s different. That’s probably been the biggest challenge for me and I’ve had doors closed on me. People weren’t willing to give me a chance just because I was a female, I was black, but like you said, “No means not now.”
Hopefully, this is changing. I know for a fact it’s changing. We have made progress and there are some stats that I found. The good news is that the number of businesswomen leaders is on the rise, but it’s not happening fast enough, but again, it is happening. A couple of stats here. Among the largest 500 publicly traded US companies by revenue, the share of female directors rose 25% in 2019 from 18% in 2015. That’s good news. We are on a trajectory up. In the US, still only 29% of women are in senior leadership roles and women represent 50% of the population and the workforce is 49% or something. We do have a way to go there.
The challenges that women’s representation on board leadership positions barely changed over that period between 2015 and 2020. It edged up from 7.5% from 7.4%. We still have a major problem there. I’m glad that that’s getting a lot of attention. I know I got my first paid board role in 2020 which I’m super proud of. The other stat that I thought was interesting, there are still nearly thirteen companies run by a man for every one company run by a woman. Another piece that I found disheartening is the share of management positions held by Latina women is 4.3%, black women is 4% and Asian women is 2.5%. This is a tragedy.
This lights me up. I think that companies are missing out. I want myself to be a voice for this transformation because I do think it’s going to make us innovate faster. It’s going to make companies better and improve the bottom line. I could go on and on, plus it’s a lot more fun to have different people in a room than all the same people that look alike. You’ve talked about the challenges that you faced. Let’s talk about the challenges that you think that all women face on this path that prevents them from reaching these leadership roles? Carolyn, let’s keep going. You’re doing a great job.
We have talked about this that I believe that the biggest stumbling block that most women have is themselves. They don’t feel confident enough. They maybe don’t check all of the boxes when they’re applying for a job. They don’t think that they have the education or the skills so they are afraid to take that next step. Even the staff that you mentioned, how many women do we know in the industry that would be fantastic CEOs or at a high level, but they’re afraid to take that next step or there’s something that’s keeping them at a lower level. I think that women need to embrace opportunities. I think we need to raise our hand more to step forward, take a chance on yourself, apply for that position, do something that’s out of the box that maybe gets you recognized. Generally speaking, women are not self-promoters. We tend to attribute our success to a team or to others. Every once in a while, we need to say, “Thank you, I appreciate the compliment. What can I do to get to the next level?”
I love that perspective because it puts the power in our hands. We may never see a full transformation in our lifetimes, maybe for our kids and their kids. What I love about what you said is that this is something that we can do as women right now to get where we want to be. Rebecca, what challenges do you see that women are facing out there getting promoted?
Carolyn, I think that’s definitely a huge part of it. Own your path and take responsibility and all of those things that Carolyn said that we’ve been talking about so far. I do think that company cultures are slow to change. That’s the nature and coming from working in a strategy role, it’s similar. It’s like, “We want to change,” go out and find out the next greatest thing and bring it back to us. You do that and then that inertia. You hit that inertia to change. I do think it’s a generational thing and as leadership comes in and new leadership comes into a lot of these companies to embrace it.
Unfortunately, a lot of companies have policies and have webinars or HR comes and says, “Make sure you’ve got this many and you’re being diverse.” Again, I think that in some cases, it’s a show and tell. I’ve always been, “Don’t bring me into this group or don’t ask me to participate if I’m checking a box. I’m capable and I’m confident. I can do this.” Don’t invite a woman or any diverse voice into a room if you’re not planning to listen to them. They’re marginalized from the beginning. I think I’ve seen that in certain instances.
Generally speaking, women are not self-promoters. We tend to attribute our success to a team or to others.
Click To Tweet
That is where leadership can step in and put more meaning and make it more valuable to say, “We not only respect, but we need more diversity in every step of the way.” When you’re offering opportunities, how do you change somebody to mean it and to follow through with it and to allow those women or those diverse populations to come in and make a meaningful contribution if sometimes the top down says, “That’s in our policy. Look at the percentages. Now, let’s move on to the next problem.”
It’s not just checking a box, it’s the difference between diversity and inclusion and it does start from the top down. You’re absolutely right. A leader has to make a decision and say, “This isn’t just about the number. This is about everyone has a voice and respecting every single person that has a seat at this table.” What are your thoughts, Wendy, on the challenges that women face when they’re climbing that ladder?
In addition to what the other ladies mentioned, I would say, lack of women in leadership roles to advocate for other women. One of the things that I’m passionate about within my organization now is I like to have a conversation with everyone. I like to know, it’s like, “Where do you want to go? This is where you start. Where do you see yourself in a year? Where do you see yourself in five years?” When I do have an audience, when I’m speaking to my boss or my CEO or my CFO, we’re reviewing job openings and I’m able to say, “Have we ever considered this person? They’re right here in this organization. Let’s give them an opportunity.” Having a voice and a woman in the room to advocate for other women, I think it’s a shortcoming for women in technology now.
That’s why we’re having this conversation is companies come to us all the time at Broadstaff, a staffing firm, and they say, “We want to hire more women. We need more women in leadership roles so more women will join us.” It’s like the chicken and the egg thing that you need the women there. This happens all the time where we will send a woman out to have a job interview and she says, “There are no women there in leadership. I don’t know if I want to join that company. I didn’t see one woman in leadership. I don’t think that I’m going to grow there.” This is a huge problem we’re facing. The reason for this conversation is to help companies and help leaders say, “How can I develop these women so therefore, I can hire more women?” Along that line, let’s get into that a little bit. For the leaders out there that are reading this blog, what can we tell them? This is what you can do to develop more women into leadership roles and promote more women. What are your thoughts, Carolyn?
First of all, I think it is important to say that not every person is cut out to be a leader. Some people will be very honest about saying, “I love not being a leader, but being a part of a team.” That being said, I’d love to expand on what Wendy said that I think women need to advocate for other women. I think that also, it’s okay to look outside the box. Just because someone doesn’t have the technical knowledge or maybe this person is an introvert or they haven’t had a chance to showcase their best talents, doesn’t mean that they don’t have that potential to be a great leader.
To Wendy’s point, have a conversation with people at all levels. I hope that they’re women who all also have transparency and honest conversations with their managers to state, “I want to be a leader. I want to learn more and move to the next place.” If we, as women leaders see there’s someone who wants to move up and they don’t have the skills, provide those opportunities, provide the mentorship or provide the education to get them to that next level.
You mentioned mentorship. I know this was an integral part of you getting to where you are. Would you suggest that leaders create formal mentorship programs for their companies or is this something where let’s say, leaders will instruct their leadership team and say, “Go choose a mentee?” How would you suggest that leaders go about this mentorship?
There may not be an opportunity to have a formal mentoring program at a company. Not all companies are large enough, but it’s great if you’re at a smaller company to have a mentor and maybe that’s someone that’s in the industry. If you’re a company that doesn’t have a formal program, or maybe you’re not of the size that can have a formal program, direct those ladies to other leaders that can mentor. I have to throw out there where maybe you can’t be mentored or that’s not an option. There are lots of career coaches. Carrie, I know that you coach a lot of people and I have several female colleagues in the industry who said they have gained so much knowledge about leadership and getting to the next level from working with a career coach.
In fact, I know companies and leaders that have paid career coaches for women to help develop them as well. That’s a great point. Rebecca, what do you think that leaders can do to help promote more women into leadership roles?
I think the mentorship idea is clear. There’s a lot of value to it. If there isn’t someone within your company, if you’re not lucky enough to have a Wendy or Carolyn, there are also industry groups, a lot of women-led technology groups now, and there are a lot of resources. Don’t give up and if you don’t see it where you’re at, do some due diligence and reach out or ask for help with finding a mentor. I think going back to what leaders can do, it is being open-minded as well. Like we’re saying about what can women do, take risks and be open and continuing to learn. I think if you have leaders that have that same mindset, they may be able to say, “This is a hard worker. There’s intrinsic work ethic there. There’s a smart person. Maybe they don’t know this, but they can learn it and they want to learn it and they’ve shown that they’re going to put in the time and effort to do that.”
I do think that a lot of it is being open in giving people opportunities. Not every opportunity is going to work out. In some people, it may not work but we tried, or you find out maybe if the leadership path in this one particular functional area wasn’t it, but there are others within some companies. I think it’s finding your niche, but it’s having companies being willing again to take that risk. I’m hoping one of the silver linings of our pandemic and the working from home, realizing that there are intrinsic work ethics in most people, and that flexibility of time and that concept of work-life balance for a long time and what does that mean.
I’m hoping that if there’s a silver lining here for helping women continue on a career path, continue to grow while balancing a family or other needs, perhaps, this is going to help that cause where it’s like, “I can do the job and be with my family.” Coming at it, how can we be flexible to accommodate working mothers in various scenarios? We’re learning now, no two family situations are the same. Being supportive of that diverse group, you’re not going to lose those voices. You don’t have to train somebody new. Even if you say, “You have to be in the office 8:00 to 5:00.” I’m hoping that we’re going to start seeing a lot more understanding that working mothers do a great job.
Don’t invite a woman or any diverse voice into a room if you’re not planning to listen to them.
Click To Tweet
This is a concern for hiring managers and even though they’re not supposed to say it, they say it to us from time to time that it is a concern of other responsibilities that women have and how are they going to have. This is a big role. What if this person has all of these other responsibilities, how are they going to operate in this big role? If you want something done, give it to a busy person. Women have systems. I have systems in place and the support structure in place that allows me to do the work of probably 40 people because I had to. I had no choice. I couldn’t operate in anything else. We are very good at creating those support structures and systems. That allows us to have that big role and also to have those systems inside of that big role to make that successful. Wendy, what can companies do and leaders do to get more women into leadership roles?
One of the things that companies can do is be intentional about having women in leadership roles to make sure that every job that you’re interviewing for that, you’re considering a woman. To piggyback on that, as women, we have to be willing to advocate for other women, be willing to step out and mentor other women and be a part of their village. If you see someone that’s struggling, be willing to help them out, be willing to encourage them. I work with some amazing women and they work hard. Sometimes, they need a tap on their shoulder to encourage them to like, “I see what you’re doing. I see your efforts.” I’m always willing to support them in their career path and their journey as they grow.
I would say a good example is, there’s a young lady that works at my company. She’s probably been there for many years. When I say she’s one of the hardest working women I’ve ever seen, her daughter was sick one day and no one knew that her daughter was at her desk. She made her a pallet. She didn’t have to come in that day, but when we talk about women, women work hard. I will always have a back of a mother, a single mother, because they’re always willing to do the work and need someone that’s willing to advocate for women more.
That brings to my mind an unconscious bias conversation that I do believe some leaders have a bias that they don’t even know about and they want to hire more women. They want to promote more women, but I hear this all the time, “I want the best person for the job.” What if the best person for the job is right in front of you, but you’re not seeing the block that you have to make that person the right person for the job and giving them the opportunity? I truly think that plays a part. We ask telecom leaders today and believe me, I ask a lot of them, about women every time and they say, “I want to hire more women. We need more women in leadership roles. You can do this. You know a lot of women. Let’s do this.” I know they want to and they’ve got these great attitudes, but what’s in the way then? They have the desire. Leaders do.
I do think there needs to be a bigger pool in our industry. As you said, the tide is changing a little bit, that many years ago I would like to see the stats on how many women were in telecommunications and we’re on that career path to the C-Suite. Now, there is a bigger pool of women and women who are intentional about going higher in their leadership roles. We need an even bigger pool.
One of the things that companies can do is look at your stats, publish those stats. How many women do you have in leadership roles? How many minorities do you have in leadership roles? Take a look at that. Once you see that, typically, it’s an a-ha moment. It’s one of those moments where it’s like, “I see 75% of our company are men and less than 10% are women in leadership.” Once you evaluate that and look at that, I think you can be a little bit more intentional in fixing that.
I’ll go back to what I said and your comment about the interview where a woman went and said, “Am I going to fit in here?” Intentionality about wanting to hire women is step one. You hire that person, but you don’t embrace it as a culture within your company and you don’t make them feel like they’re a valuable contributing equal leader or team member, whichever level, they come in at. That’s more going to start seeing it. It’s got to be embedded in the culture, it’s generational and it takes time. It takes that one woman to say, “I may be the only leader, but I’m going to take that job and I’m going to change this culture.” It takes some courageous women to join some of these boards or leadership teams that are all male and be willing to say, “One of my goals is not only because I think it could be a value add to this company, but I’m going to bring that culture shift in this company.”
If I can just tag onto that, for women who want to step to the next level or enter into a leadership position, if you aren’t getting that at your company, don’t be afraid to move on. I think a lot of people say, “This is the culture at my company and there is an opportunity, but I don’t want to move.” It’s okay, especially, in our industry where there will be a workforce shortage, it’s okay to step out and say, “I’m willing to move to a different company where I will have the opportunity.”
One of the best ideas that I can say that’s personal to me is my boss challenged every VP that reports to him to have a mentee. I would say in my company, that’s probably 10 to 15 VPs. I was in charge of mapping that vice president with anyone within the organization. I could say, that’s probably one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ve ever had. What I was able to do was look across the portfolio and pair a VP up with someone in the organization that they didn’t interact with. As part of the sales organization, we rely on everyone in the company.
From bottom to top and top down, we rely on everyone in the organization. In pairing those relations, I knew that those vice presidents are going to be so invested in the success of those individuals that they were going to promote them. They were going to coach them. They were going to mentor them. They were going to lead them and then they were going to be willing to advocate for them. If more companies did that work within your organization to peer relationships up like that, then it won’t be such a huge disconnect when you’re looking for talent to fill the roles that you have.
That’s something right there that every leader reading can take back and put into action. Speaking of courageous women, one of my favorite quotes and I used to tell this to my children all the time because they were athletes and they wanted to be professional athletes. It’s like, “The odds are one in a million.” I say, “The odds are one in a million, then be that one.” Let’s talk to women about right now. It hasn’t changed. It is what it is. This is what we’re facing. This is what we’re living in tech and in telecom. What can they do to beat the odds? I want to ask each one of you, what have you done to beat the odds and what advice would you give to them?
I think the first thing is something that Wendy mentioned that we need to be intentional. If we want to be leaders or move up in career paths, we need to communicate that to management. We need to be intentional about learning and evolving in our career path. I think also, to ask for that position if you want to take that position and move if you’re not in a culture where there is that opportunity. We mentioned this a little bit, be networked in the industry. There are many great women’s organizations.
Women need to advocate for other women.
Click To Tweet
You mentioned WWLF. They are many that have mentoring programs or webinars and will educate and also provide networking opportunities. You can see other women modeling leadership in their companies. Quite honestly, even working with WWLF, I’ve taken advantage of learning more about leadership and characteristics and the qualities that I need to get to the next level. The other thing that I wanted to end on is that be aware that leadership is more than just applying for a position or your particular job at your company.
It also is your character and it’s your social media posts and many things. When I was considered for this position of taking over the engineering division, the senior leadership team communicated to me that the reason they thought I was the right person for this job is because they saw what I did at WWLF and they appreciated how I led that organization. I never realized that the leadership I had in that organization would transfer over into my leading at SQUAN. People are always watching and I think that it’s important.
Rebecca, how did you beat the odds and what advice would you give?
There are five things. When I get a call, “Can we have coffee? What do you think?” These types of things when you talk to women who went up and whether it’s a first step, a second step, or as they move up the ladder if they’re looking to take that leadership role or not, but continue on their own path. Be willing to learn something new every day. I am a firm believer in that. Literally, I learn something new every day. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I remember many times I’m sitting in a room, the only woman and I have no idea what they’re talking about.
I’m like, “Excuse me. I’m sorry to interrupt.” Be willing to ask questions because we don’t know everything. Be willing to put yourself out there and learn is critical. Seeking out a mentor and don’t wait for it to come to you. You seek out a mentor and whether they’re getting that in your company or external, but that support in that role model, in all of those different things is crucial. Taking risks and taking opportunities that may be outside your comfort zone. Those little steps where you have taken it one step, that propels you because you learn something new.
I think all that summed up is own your path. Back to the no is a temporary state of mind, if you want to go in a direction back to being intentional and some of these, you roll that up. Lastly, Carolyn touched on it with the WWLF with her volunteerism, but I always tell people to give back. I think that by giving back, you get so much more than you ever give. Putting yourself out there to give back to your community, to your organization, and to other women will come back multifold. Those are my five things.
By giving back, you get so much more than you ever give.
Click To Tweet
Wendy, what advice would you give to women who want to rise to the top and maybe they’re facing challenges right now?
Carolyn and Rebecca gave some excellent insight. What I would encourage women to do is be willing to advocate for yourself. As women, we get comfortable fitting in and blending in. My message is if you’re the smartest one in the room, it’s time for you to go to another room. There’s nothing you can do being the smartest one in the room. Go in the room that you can grow. You should always be growing and learning. Be willing to do the work. I get up super early in the morning. Most mornings it’s about 5:00 because I’m always giving back. I’m always volunteering to do something or I’ll forget to respond to an email or send a text. What I do throughout my day is I have a note pad on my phone and I’m making a note of different people that I want to encourage or motivate and sometimes I forget, I don’t get to it. That always run out.
I get up early in the morning and I’m rewriting their names down so that I can encourage them for that day. I would say, especially, continue to give back, be willing to do the work and don’t give up on yourself. One of the things that I do is I listen to the same song every morning just before I get up and it’s one song and it’s Worth Fighting For. It’s some encouraging words to myself. If I’m worth fighting for, I should be willing to fight for others and encourage others. That’s the advice that I would give women is to don’t give up. That fifth, I’ve heard a lot of noes in my career. I’m willing to go back and relearn, grow and improve my skillset. As we get older, we get comfortable. We think where we want to be and I’m never comfortable settling where I am. I had a friend say, “There’s going to always be someone that’s smarter than you, but don’t let anyone outwork you.” That’s how I get up every day. It’s like, “He’s not going to outwork me today.”
That’s mine too. If somebody is more talented and smarter, but nobody will outwork me.
I think something that’s relative to what you said is be okay if you make a mistake along the way. To your point, growth only happens if you make a mistake and you’re honest about it. Just because we’re in a leadership role, it doesn’t mean that we won’t make mistakes. We are human and it’s okay to admit that and to model that because people need to understand that even leaders make mistakes and/or they don’t know everything. It’s okay to ask questions, make mistakes and grow from that.
Any other last thoughts?
One thing that we haven’t talked about and it’s probably a whole other podcast, is to take care of yourself. Your health and mental health because all of us who do so much for our companies, for others, for our families, taking care of yourself mentally and physically and taking the breaks that you need is so important. The burnout and the stress is immense so self-care is another critical piece. I’m not good at it all the time, but I try to.
Growth only happens if you make a mistake, and you’re honest about it.
Click To Tweet
That’s an awesome way to end this episode is on taking care of yourself. Ladies, this has been fantastic. I want to have you all on again. Thank you for your time. It has been wonderful. If you don’t mind, letting the audience know maybe where they could reach your company or find out more about your company or maybe connect with you on LinkedIn. Carolyn, talk a little bit about the Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum because that’s a phenomenal organization.
Most people can reach me through WWLF.org, and it is an organization with a tagline that we are keeping women connected. We’re not just comprised of women, but we do have some males in our organization. We focus on networking education, mentoring women and we have about 1,300 members. We focus on women who are trying to get trained in leadership or take on some new skills and networking with other professional women in the industry. My company website is SQUAN.com. I’m also on LinkedIn and Facebook. That is how you reach me.
For WWLF, I’m the Director of Industry Relations. One of the things that I do is I ask corporations to be partners of WWLF and then the corporations can provide memberships to their employees, whether female or male. WWLF will develop and provide mentorship and all kinds of great things to the employee. That’s a phenomenal organization. Rebecca, where can you be reached and Aero?
It’s AeroWirelessGroup.com. Please go there to check out the company. The easiest way to reach me through LinkedIn. I’m probably should be relatively easy to find. I’m looking forward to opportunities, to continue to learn and to reach out to more women who are looking to continue to grow in this field. Thank you.
You can go onto our website, it’s www.DataBank.com. I’m also on LinkedIn and Dallas Women’s Data Center Group also has a group on LinkedIn. Feel free to connect there and I’m all across all the other social platforms.
Ladies, thank you for being on this episode. I thoroughly enjoyed it and we will meet again.
- Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum
- Aero Wireless Group
- Dallas Women’s Data Center Group
- LinkedIn – Carolyn Hardwick
- LinkedIn – Rebecca Hunter
- LinkedIn – Wendy Stewart
- Facebook – Carolyn Hardwick
About Wendy Stewart
Wendy Stewart is a powerful business driver whose Client Relation instincts and clarity of vision have carried multiple companies through rapid and continuous growth though outstanding detail to one on one client relationships.
Her primary focus for almost 20 years has been in the technology industry, with a focus on the Data Center industry.
Wendy is distinguished by her passion for business, her focus on collaborative team-building, and her commitment to meeting customer and market demands. This contagious enthusiasm instills her and her team members with extraordinary energy and dedication in an environment where creativity and innovation are encouraged. Wendy’s servant leadership philosophy motivates people to deliver. Wendy is profoundly driven and energetic by nature.
About Carolyn Hardwick
With approximately 20 years of telecommunications experience, I am an experienced telecommunications executive committed to excellence with client relations, contract negotiation, creative marketing strategies, and results-driven solutions.
My abilities to foster long-term executive-level relationships, lead productive teams, and adapt in our fast-paced industry support my professional successes.
About Rebecca Hunter
Business development, communications and external affairs strategist with extensive expertise in connectivity convergence, wireless communications and technology.
Experienced advisor, consultant and executive developing public-private partnerships, successful governmental relations outreach and team leadership.