Q&A: Raelyn Thomas, Principal Engineer of Project Management & Implementation at Verizon
What is the current situation for women working in the telecom industry?
The current situation is varied depending on what organization you’re with, but I think it’s better than it’s ever been, and it will continue to get better as we continue to have these conversations. The more that we talk about women in this industry and the more that we learn from each other (men from women, women from men, and women from women) and the more that we make a conscious and targeted effort to continue to progress in this area, then we’ll get to where we want to be, which is that genuinely equal setting between men and women where there isn’t this bias to one or the other, just a truly inclusive mentality and environment.
In your opinion, has COVID-19 had an adverse effect on gender parity? If so, how can the industry address that issue?
I think in a lot of industries, yes it has, because many of those industries were impacted by shutdowns, but in telecom, I honestly believe that COVID has leveled the playing field between men and women in most cases. Now I say most cases just because it really depends on your spousal and parental situations, but from what I’ve seen and experienced myself is that now we’re all give the same circumstances, we’re all challenged with the same or very similar difficulties, so its opened the door for women to more opportunities to step up their game, and show up, deliver, and excel.
How can we inspire the next generation to engage in STEM education and seek out technical positions?
We need to continue to get in front of the younger generation, and I mean as young as grammar school ages. We need to find ways to peak their interest in the mechanics behind the technology that they so frivolously use. Many organizations are making a huge impact with their STEM and outreach programs, but I also think it’s almost as simple as parents going to Career Day and getting in front of the kids to explain how their iPad or their phone works when they leave the house and aren’t on Wi-Fi anymore. Those are the ages where they’re sponges, so it’s really the time when we should be tapping into that wow factor and getting them hooked on asking why and how things work and guiding them towards those STEM related activities.
What steps can women take to advocate for each other, and how can men better advocate for their female peers?
I actually asked this very question to about 30 women on the Verizon team, from directors, managers, individual contributors, etc. and what I learned from the responses is that they vary significantly depending on their personal experiences… some women had a lot to say about how men can better advocate for women, and others had tons of opinions of how women can better advocate for other women, but in my personal opinion, I think we need to take the men and women out of that question and simply ask, how can we better advocate for each other, regardless of our gender…
And that means first attacking the biggest culprit of why we don’t do it enough, which is fear and vulnerability.
Many people fear advocating for others because they feel if they raise someone else up, then who will raise them up? They also feel a sense of vulnerability if they help someone else’s light shine, that in return it will somehow dim their light…. When the reality is, that’s all nonsense and made up in our heads.
Then there’s the simple fact of someone’s performance. When we see someone who is just killing it at their role, handling their business, driving results, building strong relationships, encouraging others… Why wouldn’t we advocate for that person, why wouldn’t we speak highly of them when they’re not around, or publicly praise and recognize them, or recommend them for a promotion, whatever it may be. We should be doing this for anyone we know with outstanding performance, both men and women… Remember it’s not the gender we bring to the table, it’s much more than that… it’s our experiences, our capabilities, our strengths, our failures and mistakes that we’ve learned from, our tenacity, our drive, and our uniqueness.
So to summarize, the best way we can advocate for each other, is to have the courage to push through our fears and sense of vulnerability and be the one to take that step towards advocating or sponsoring those that we believe are rock stars in their role. And by setting that example will likely lead to more and more people doing it. Just having the courage to be the first or earlier ones to commit to sponsorship in your professional circles, well that’s the challenge.
Can you describe The BIG 5G Event 2021 in three words?
Inspiring, Informative & Innovative.
Inspiring, because there were so many women and men to learn about, and I was very encouraged by all of the people I met during the networking sessions at the event.
Informative, because there was a plethora of 5G related information and organizations to learn from.
Innovative, because some of the product offerings that vendors were presenting at the show were from genuine tech disrupters and what they were presenting was absolutely amazing and such imaginative tools, cutting edge stuff that will change the world.