It is the industry's worst kept secret that women are underrepresented in STEM fields. We make up less than 20% of the US tech labor force and an even smaller percentage of corporate board seats. These statistics are far from welcoming for young women contemplating college majors and entering into the workforce.
In fact, these daunting statistics often serve as a deterrent for women, as not everyone wants to bear the burden of being a "trailblazer" or being the only woman on a team or a project. Couple this with the threat of the "double bind" facing many female leaders, also known as the "too sweet or too shrill" issue. And then, of course, we can't forget the general pay gap between men and women.
I have spoken with several female members of the Fiber Broadband Association about their experiences working in our industry. While many are quick to point out the tremendous progress we have made in including women at the table, most note that we have a long way to go.
Female industry leaders agree that, on the surface, it can seem like obstacles no longer exist for women and that the "sky's the limit," but it cannot be denied that women are still a minority in the industry.
This can make it hard for women to feel comfortable in such an environment. "Over and over again, I hear from my female counterparts that their opinion really has to be proven, but if a man said the same thing it is accepted more readily," said Tanya Kanczuzewski, senior manager of marketing and communications at Dura-Line. And while everyone faces obstacles, there are certainly ones more specific to women, such as feeling increased pressure in maintaining family- and work-life balance, paying more attention to their expression of emotions, as well as operating without an abundance of female leadership to look up to.
Thankfully, there is tremendous reason for women in the fiber industry to be hopeful. We have seen women breaking boundaries in telecom and fiber and these trailblazers offer a model and path for younger women. "I am so incredibly appreciative of those who have forged before me giving me that first glimmer of confidence that it can be done. I knew, if they could do it, I could do it," said Alexa Edens, director of sales at KGPCo. There are women in the field now who continue to pave that way and lay the groundwork for the next generation of female STEM leaders. "I see more and more females in this industry and I applaud their efforts – from CEOs and managers, to the front-line field technicians and production experts," said Mary Ellen Grom, executive director of marketing at AFL.
There is more visibility of women in the tech industry and with it has come a wave of solidarity among women. We see it in the formation of groups of women supporting each other and the growth in mentoring networks.
At the Fiber Broadband Association, we are committed to growing the role of women in telecom. For the past several years, we have hosted a Women in Fiber luncheon during our annual Fiber Connect event. We hold discussions on the changing technological workforce and the unique challenges present for women. The luncheons were a huge success and we realized that this wasn't just an isolated event; there was desire both from industry insiders and newcomers alike to keep these conversations going year-round.
Building off of this momentum, we launched our Women in Fiber Group last year with an accompanying LinkedIn group to foster longer-term discussions on professional development and networking. Last month, we announced our new Women in Fiber Steering Committee to lead the Women in Fiber Group. These five female industry leaders each bring diverse backgrounds and a range of insights into the telecom and fiber industries. Hearing some of the valuable advice each member shared has only made me more hopeful and excited for the potential this group holds for women and the industry as a whole. So far this year, the Women in Fiber Group has hosted four webinars on timely workplace issues with more quarterly webinars to come. We also plan to collaborate with other women's groups within the telecom and tech space as well as similar industries.
There are bright and talented women out there who hold the potential to drive our industry forward. Behind every great leader, there's a long list of people and organizations that helped her reach her full potential. At FBA, we're ready to help women professionally grow and thrive and earn a spot on that list for the industry leaders of tomorrow.
— Lisa R. Youngers, President and CEO, Fiber Broadband Association