WWLL: Straight Talk About Women in Wireless

(Part 1 of 2)

Wireless professionals had the opportunity to learn from some of the most successful women in the industry at the Women’s Wireless Leadership Luncheon (WWLL), hosted in Washington, D.C. by The Wireless Infrastructure Association Foundation on February 1. 

Keynote speaker Mignon Clyburn, former Acting Chair of the FCC, encouraged the audience to recognize Black History Month and Women’s History Month by remembering the women who pved the way for today’s leaders. “Those who came before us deserved the seats that we’re in,” she said. “We’re projecting what they could not.”

The FCC and FTC are both now chaired by women, as are the House and Senate Commerce Committees, noted WIA President and CEO Patrick Halley. The progress women have made on the national stage is reflected in the wireless industry, where large public companies as well as smaller contractors and vendors are promoting female leaders. 

Several of the women who spoke at the event described the wireless industry as a positive environment for women, but they noted the critical importance of networking with professionals who understand the value of workplace diversity and want to promote female leaders. Jennifer Schneider, head of American Tower’s D.C. office, FCC Chief of Staff Narda Jones, Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum president Lynn Whitcher, WWLF past president Amanda Cahill, and Texas State Wireless Association president Ashli Fuselier all spoke about the importance of relationships as contributors to their professional success.

Some of the industry’s most prominent women took the opportunity to offer forthright advice to those seeking to advance their careers and diversify their workplaces. Veteran wireless industry editor Sue Marek hosted a roundtable discussion with top executives from Verizon, T-Mobile, American Tower, Crown Castle, SBA Communications and Neptuno USA.

“This is the only time I’ll say this, but you need to think like a man when you apply for a job,” advised Evelyn Clough, Director of Network Operations for SBA Communications. “Men will look at the application for a job and meet just two of the criteria and they will still apply. Women will look at the same application and meet all but two of the criteria, and they won’t apply. I had two management positions open and none of the women in my company applied. We are our own worst critics.” 

“Sometimes you don’t know you’re good at something until someone else tells you that you are,” added Colleen Richards Powell, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at American Tower. That someone is often a woman.

Leticia Latino-van Splunteren, CEO of Neptuno USA, credited a female colleague with encouraging her to apply to be a member of the FCC’s Broadband Development Advisory Committee, a position she received which led to her recent appointment to the FCC’s Telecommunications Interagency Working Group.

Latino-van Splunteren advised women to develop unique areas of expertise so that they will be invited into positions of authority based on their skill sets rather than their gender. “I hate it when they say ‘we need a woman’,” she said. “No conversation should start with that.”

When women are brought into positions solely because of their gender, their success in those roles may be limited by a lack of peer support. “If people sense that I am here as the exception to the rule, they will not bring their networks,” explained American Tower’s Richards.

Not only does tokenism subvert systemic change, it can also create adversaries to progress. “No one wants to be roadkill of your DEI strategy,” said Richards, noting that even women can resist DEI programs that seem unfair. “They’re thinking about their sons, about their husbands, and whether there will be jobs for them,” she explained. “Everybody needs a seat, so instead of fighting over pieces of the pie, we need to make more pie.”

One way to “make more pie” is to grow business through innovation, and that often requires technical skills and the opportunity to use them. Tomorrow in Part Two of Straight Talk About Women in Wireless, executives from Crown Castle, Verizon and T-Mobile share insights about bringing women into technical and leadership roles.

By Martha DeGrasse, Inside Towers Contributing Analyst

Veteran telecom industry editor and journalist Martha DeGrasse is an Inside Towers Contributing Analyst with features appearing monthly. DeGrasse owns Network Builder Reports and contributes regularly to several publications. She was formerly a writer and editor with RCR Wireless and a TV business news producer.

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