WHEN American software engineer and businessman Eric Schmidt
addressed the students of the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, he made an
insightful statement. "We have an opportunity for everyone in the world to
have access to all the world's information.
"This has never been possible," he said. "Why
is ubiquitous information so profound? It's a tremendous equaliser. Information
This rings true for me. I work in an industry that is a true
boy's club, but I've never let that dissuade me.
Yes, it comes with unique challenges, but women should never
doubt themselves or feel intimidated by men because of their gender. I agree
with Schmidt's statement – knowledge is the great equaliser and information is
If women know their subject and hold their ground in
technical discussions, they will win the respect of their male peers who so
enjoy the nuts and bolts of the IT and telecoms industry.
Likewise, strategy and learning has always been a passion of
mine. I studied a BCom and was initially involved in education and setting up a
business school in Pretoria, Gauteng.
I also started up my own businesses on the side but kicked
off my career in telecoms at Siemens Telecommunication as a fresh MBA graduate
in their marketing and strategy division. Because I majored in strategic
marketing in my MBA, the position sounded ideal for me - devising marketing
strategies for the internal sales divisions.
Telecoms happened to be the industry - specifically mobile
telecoms, which had been all the rage in the early 2000s. Although this was
seen as quite a technical (not to mention, male-dominated) industry, I was keen
to gain experience and apply my newly-found skills in this industry.
I think young women today have less preconceived ideas about
their typical roles. They should let go of them and look to women in senior
positions in fields like engineering and IT for inspiration.
My advice to them would be to find out as much as possible
about the industry before entering into a new field - for example, by doing an
internship or talking to other women who occupy positions in the field.
Pinky Moholi, CEO of Telkom - a very brave woman – is a
great example of someone who was willing to take on a daunting task.
Again, knowledge is power. If you want to enter a field like
telecommunications or technology, make sure that you know what you are letting
yourself in for.
If this is what you want to do, go for it. It will help to
specialise in a specific field since telecoms has many areas, ie mobile, fixed,
converged, networks, applications, call centre, etc.
The industry is dynamic and you have to stay ahead of
technology development as well as where the market is going. You need to know
and understand your customer's needs and environment to ensure you bring them
the products and services that best serve their needs.
I greatly admire women like Irene Charnley. She was voted
one of the top 50 businesswomen outside the US and is South Africa's 6th
richest woman (she is believed to have amassed a net worth of $150m).
Aside from that, she is a diverse woman of many talents. She
spent 13 years with the National Union of Mineworkers, has been executive director
of companies like MTN, FirstRand Bank, Johnnic, Johnnic Communications and
She still serves on the MTN board and is currently the CEO
of Smile Telecoms, an affordable telecoms product company working out of
Mauritius and across Africa and the Middle East.
Smile helps lower-income individuals have telecommunications
and continues a line of anti-poverty programmes. Charnley is a great example of
women who push through barriers to achieve great things.
If at the moment the industry seems skewed towards favouring
men, don't let that stop you.
Knowledge is power and at the end of the day, most of the
barriers that keep us from chasing after what we want in our careers are purely
in our own heads.
*Mimi Viviers is key accounts executive at Connection Telecom. She is the latest guest columnist taking part in Fin24's
Women's Month campaign celebrating women in business.
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