The telco industry is full of opportunity, but is it full of diversity? On Episode 3 of the Women In Telco miniseries on The Connectivity Matters Podcast we were joined by Maria Lema, one of the Co-Founders at Weaver Labs, to talk about her experiences of working and leading in the connectivity industry. Read on for her perspectives.
What have you experienced as a woman in the telco industry?
I think the telco industry is male dominated, but it’s not sexist. I’ve never experienced the issues some women have with being a successful professional in this industry or getting my voice heard or people not taking me seriously. This industry values knowledge and skills. So, if you know your stuff, people are gonna listen to you, regardless of your gender, age or other characteristics. There are a lot of imbalances in terms of age in the telco industry, which is something I would like to highlight. I think that telecoms is an industry that is very eager to have more diversity and more women and more young people.
I have met loads of inspirational women in this industry in leadership positions from early on. I’ve always seen myself growing into a leadership role in the industry, because I have always seen female leaders in the industry. I’ve also had extremely good male mentors who have put me in positions that allowed me to grow, develop and challenge myself, and I’m thankful for that because it’s taken me to the place where I am now. If you don’t have anyone that really challenges you and takes you out of your comfort zone, it’s impossible to grow. Nothing good happens in your comfort zone.
Telco is still male-dominated. What needs to happen for that to change?
There are a few things that need to change. The first is that telecoms needs to become attractive to the younger generations. For that to happen, we need to start doing things that are attractive. We’ll attract more young people with startups and innovation and actually breaking the status quo. That rebel approach was brought into the software industry 20 years ago, and we can certainly leverage some of those learnings.
We also need to show that there is a diversity of skills needed in this industry. Why do we only talk about engineers? We can attract marketing professionals, designers, and all sorts of people from different disciplines into the telecoms industry. We don’t need to focus on the techies. The other element is to incentivise women to get into engineering, because it’s actually quite rewarding. That goes back to school and younger education.
I think the telecoms industry is taking a great approach by putting more women in leadership. BT just announced that they’re going to have a female CEO, which I think is another great step in the right direction, because it’s bringing diversity into the leadership teams. That trickles down to everyone everywhere in your organisation. However, we need to stop tagging people as ‘female CEO’, ‘female founder’ – it’s a job, and they need to be treated exactly the same as any other person would be treated.
The other thing that I think it’s quite important to tackle if we actually want to evolve as an industry, is the fact that female-founded startups only attract 2% of the funding in our industry. I was saying that the telecoms industry is male dominated but it’s not a sexist industry, but the finance industry is male dominated and it’s very sexist. If we want to incentivize women in leadership and innovation, we obviously need to fund them. Without money, there’s no nowhere we can go.
Do you think there are any tech advancements or trends that will empower women to get into the industry?
Software is a catalyst of innovation for telecoms, and it is going to continue to impact this space, because it isolates complexity of the network. With AI there’s so much going on now. We can bring developers from the AI community to do something with all the data that we gather in our networks. They can help us organise our data and enable intelligence.
DevOps professionals could come and help us organise better infrastructures too. Opening up to the developer community would bring more skills and diversity to the industry, and it would bring monetization opportunities. Every industry that has engaged with the developer community through API’s has created a business model out of it. So we could expand our innovation landscape through them.
To learn more about women in the tech industry, tune into the Women In Tech miniseries on The Connectivity Matters Podcast here.
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