There’s a Problem With FierceWireless’s Most Powerful People in Wireless Tech” List

Last month, FierceWireless announced the winner of the 2019s Most Powerful People in Wireless Tech” series. Readers weighed in on a tournament that pitted 26 industry heavy hitters against one another in five rounds of match-ups, and, after a week of voting, Rakuten Mobile’s Tareq Amin emerged as the most powerful person in wireless technology. 

But there’s a problem.

While some incredible executives made this list, we wanted to take a moment to call attention to the breakdown of those 26 people. Because 25 of them are men. Only 1 is a woman.

Just 1.

For many a reason, those numbers are problematic. And that’s not on FierceWireless, who has been actively involved in curating and compiling similar lists of powerful women in wireless in the past. 

The onus lies on the industry. Because though we’ve come a long way, tech is a space that has not always been easy (or safe) for women to occupy. 

If it’s not obvious by the lack of equal representation in this bracket, then it’s evident in watching women’s participation in tech lag over the years; seeing women far less likely to be invited to speak at academic conferences than men; women statically earning less than men; Google employee who penned a manifesto on why women are biologically inferior; the man who shot and killed 14 women in Montreal 30 years ago today because he believed women should not work in tech.

The onos lies on the industry. Because though we’ve come a long way, tech is a space that has not always been easy (or safe) for women to occupy.

There is transformational value in diversity. And when we fail to recognize the diverse minds in tech, we add to the problem. Which means doing the not-so-fun task of calling things out. Because to have a seat at the table, there needs to be people who will make space.

So, we did a thing: We made some space.

Below, 2019s most influential women in wireless, followed by a call for action for other voices in our industry to make some room or find a bigger dang table.

2019s most influential women in wireless

Note: FierceWireless focused on tech, but we’ve taken a broadened scope to include leaders throughout the entire tech space, of which the wireless industry as a whole is part of. 

Mary Patterson Clark, CPO & CMO, Synchronoss

Clark, a long-time wireless industry veteran, has been a champion for women in the wireless industry. Before leading Synchronoss’ global product management, marketing, and communications team, Mary also served as Senior Vice President, Next-Generation Roaming Services and Standards, and Senior Vice President, Roaming. She was most recently named to the National Diversity Council’s 2017 Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology” list and Mobile Marketer’s Mobile Women to Watch 2016” list.

Marian Croak, VP of Engineering at Google

This powerhouse is Vice President of Engineering at Google and previously served as Senior Vice President of Research and Development at AT&T Labs. She is credited as a developer of Voice over IP, a technology that makes phone calls possible from any internet-connected device with a microphone and speakers. Marian led Google’s service expansion into emerging markets, including managing the team who developed the initial communications technology for Project Loon which uses balloons to extend coverage. She led the deployment of WiFi across India’s railway system, dealing with extreme weather and high population density.

Kathleen Ham, SVP, Government Affairs, T-Mobile

As the Senior Vice President, Government Affairs at T-Mobile, Kathleen manages all public policy issues before federal and state governments impacting the company. Her team regularly engages Congress, the FCC, state agencies, and other governmental bodies on a wide range of regulatory and policy issues, including spectrum, consumer, public safety, and competition matters. If that’s not impressive enough, she has led numerous successful efforts to gain additional radio spectrum for the company, including most recently, the acquisition of 600 MHz frequencies to expand T-Mobile’s coverage and deploy 5G technology. 

Mary Chan, Corporate Board Director

Uh, what can’t this woman do? With over 30+ years of extensive global management experience in the telecommunication and high-tech industries, Chan has held positions of the likes of Senior Automotive, Telecom, and Consumer Electronics Executive with a focus in the area of Connected Car and Wireless Communications. Most recently serving as president of GM’s Global Connected Consumer & OnStar Service, Chan was instrumental in the implementation of 4GLTE connectivity service across GM’s global vehicle brands, enabling connected drivers and bringing forward a new generation of technology-enabled automobiles.

Prior to that, Chan’s tenure at Dell, Alcatel-Lucent and AT&T included taking the lead on several key consumer electronic and wireless initiatives, one being the global deployment of 4G and 3G networks. Her contributions have helped shape the connected ecosystem we experience today.

Karen Freitag, CRO, Aryaka Networks

With a broad background in executive sales leadership that includes Carrier, Enterprise, and Enterprise Channels, Karen joined Aryaka from Rivada Networks, where she served as the executive vice president (EVP) of worldwide sales. Karen has an extensive track record driving growth in highly complex global sales organizations through developing innovative go-to-market strategies, creating operational efficiencies and building high-performance teams for companies such as IBM, Siemens, Ericsson and Sprint. Prior to Rivada, she served as the president of Sprint’s global enterprise business unit where she oversaw the provider’s IoT, wholesale, and SD-WAN businesses.

Nicola Palmer, Chief Product Development Officer at Verizon

As the head of technology and product at one of the largest wireless networks, Nicola Palmer is tasked with the responsibility for planning, engineering, building, and operating Verizon Wireless’ industry-leading voice and data networks, including its growing 5G capabilities. Prior to her current role, Palmer was SVP of Global Network Operations and Engineering at Verizon, responsible for planning, designing and operations of the company’s global voice, data and IP networks, which span more than 2,600 cities in 150 countries on six continents. That role also saw her leading the engineering and operations of the fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network, which enables Verizon’s FiOS data and TV services.

Jennifer Van Buskirk, SVP Wireless Marketing at AT&T

Previously the President of Cricket Wireless, Jennifer is responsible for leading Operations for the Digital, Retail and Care organization at AT&T, which provides customer support and drives sales of wireless, video, and broadband services nationwide. Previously, Jennifer was President of the East Region in AT&T’s Entertainment Group, where she oversaw sales across 20 states and the District of Columbia. She led more than 11,000 employees in over 5,200 company owned and authorized retail locations. Phew!

Wendy Drummond, CEO, Premier Locations

If we had one word to describe Wendy, it would be: awesome. Maybe because her least favorite phrase is We’ve always done it this way” or maybe because she wears so many hats. Wendy is CEO of Premier Locations, the largest US Cellular agent in the country with 42 stores in 7 states. She’s also an attorney, a business owner, and does charity work. She estimates she spends 50+ hours a week managing, traveling, and motivating her 250 employees. When asked if the barriers for women are just as prevalent as when she started as a receptionist at her attorney office:

Absolutely. Do I have a small chip on my shoulder? Yes, because it happens once or twice a week. But, my National Director of Sales at the cell phone company is a woman and many of our top leaders are women. We joke that women are taking over the world. We have some great men, too.”

Carolyn Brandon, VP, Policy at CTIA

As a well-respected telecom lawyer and former clerk for the FCC’s office of plans and policy, Carolyn Brandon joined CTIA in 2004. As the VP of policy, Brandon worked closely with CTIA member companies to ensure that the association is positioning itself properly on issues. She worked with more than 200 members to develop strategic, national public policies for the U.S. commercial wireless industry. She formed the consulting firm Whitworth Analytics LLC in 2011, where she provides decision support and strategic policy counsel to companies in the high tech, broadband, and wireless sectors.

Tiffany Baehman, VP and CMO, Cricket Wireless

Tiffany has an impressive resume. With 25 years experience, she leads Cricket’s marketing efforts, including advertising, promotions, sponsorship, product management, acquisition and retention, retail merchandising, and consumer insights… to name a few. Cricket is one of the fastest growing companies in prepaid wireless, and during this time, Tiffany has overseen a company-wide brand redesign, award-winning ad campaigns, and innovative pricing plans. Before she joined Cricket? No big deal, but she was AT&T’s Vice President and General Manager.

Sue Monahan, CEO, Small Cell Forum

Another CEO with nearly 30 years industry experience, Sue is the CEO of Small Cell Forum and held previous roles at AT&T, Verizon, and Tecordia. During her tenure, she has steered the Forum through a transition from a largely residential market in 2014, to one where small cells are connecting the unconnected in rural and remote environments and underpinning large enterprise and public access deployments.

Catherine Smith, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel, Brightstar

Catherine is responsible for leading the global legal operations for the world’s leading mobile services company. She worked with Brightstar founder and former CEO Marcelo Claure on a series of acquisitions that helped secure SoftBank’s $1.26 billion investment in Brightstar in late 2013. With over 20 years of industry experience, Catherine previously served as VP and Lead Counsel for Motorola, Inc. and Motorola Mobility. She speaks globally about the benefits of diversity in the workplace. 

Cynthia Walker, VP Client Success & Operations, Curate Mobile

Formerly Director of Account Management at Verizon, Cynthia oversees all advertising operations, account management, and creative services of Curate Mobile. She brings 20 years of experience in leading client service and operations teams across brand and performance at some of the world’s top companies such as OMD, BBDO, Downtown Partners and Microsoft, most recently using her skillset to manage client services and ad operations at Verizon.

Anne Chow, CEO, AT&T Business

Anne is the first woman to hold the CEO position at AT&T and is now the highest ranking Asian American. With nearly 30 years in the industry, she strove to break the ceiling with non-traditional roles that spanned direct and indirect sales, to operations, to P&L management. Anne created one of AT&T’s fastest growing Employee Networks — AT&T Women of Business — which has 4,800 members across 27 countries

More room at the table, please

That’s 14 women we just added to the 1 other that made the list (hi, Stephanie!). That rounds it out to 15 women that could have made this list, which would have given us equal representation.

If I’m honest, I was a mixed bag of emotions compiling this list. On the one hand, I couldn’t help but be inspired looking at all the women who’ve not only taken their careers to incredible heights, they did so in a male-dominated field. I can’t tell you what it means to me to see women just like me in roles that hold power, influence, and meaning.

On the other hand, I felt all kinds of frustration. With every name I added to our list, I felt a familiar resentment, the kind of knowing bitterness that women everywhere have learned to temper. Like when a male conference attendee asks you if you’re at a tech conference with your husband or boyfriend. We keep our rage tucked behind smiles and patience, but inwardly we are all throwing battle axes into in the air and yelling cries of injustice whenever our authority, expertise, or presence at the table is questioned because of our gender. 

What was it about the 25 men that FierceWireless voters saw that was so different from these 14 women? They all have similar titles, experiences, accolades, and come from well-known schools or backgrounds or respected companies. What did they have that these women don’t?

It’s disappointing to see how powerful women like these are contributing to tech and wireless and not getting the same kind of attention or recognition. It’s like having both men and women work on building the chairs that surround that table and watching as only men get awarded seats.

Don’t call it a pipeline problem”

If we are going to talk about closing the gender gap in tech, we have to remember why the gender gap exists, and it’s not a pipeline problem (the belief that there are not enough minorities and women graduating with degrees in the STEM field). 

The pipeline problem is a myth. The real issues are far more complex.

As women who’ve been working in this space for years know, gender disparity in tech can’t be reduced to not enough women are interested.” 74% of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science (yours truly included). But by the time they graduate, those numbers diminish. Only 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees and 26% of computing jobs are held by women. At the executive levels? Just 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women.

And it’s not surprising as to why.

Girls as young as elementary school show equal interest and aptitude as boys when it comes to coding, but start to see subtle and not-so-subtle signals that technology is not for them. They feel pressure from parents and teachers to be perfect, to get all A’s, to succeed in school, to be nice and polite, popular and well-liked. Girls looking for role models in STEM see men in hoodies coding alone in their basements and hear that the tech industry is not for them, reading accounts of bias and harassment from the women who do make it.

The pipeline problem is a misleadingly simple narrative that ignores the larger issue for the gender gap problem in tech, which is a large, deeply complex problem that asks us to turn the gaze inward: To fix the bias, discrimination, and harassment, we need to fix what is so deeply ingrained in society.

Instead of asking why more women aren’t interested or why women opt out, we should be asking: how can we all work to improve women’s participation in the tech industry at every stage of their education and careers?

And how can we ensure that women feel supported, safe, and empowered?

Working towards equal representation

We’ve come a long way. But we’re not there yet. The good news is that there is work being done to make some kind of meaningful change; and we aren’t just talking mandatory workshops and unconscious bias training.

One solution is by having institutions make conscious decisions to use their platforms and power to take down barriers standing between women and a more equal industry.

For instance, Shoptalk 2020 just served the entire retail industry notice: it will feature an all-women speaker lineup, which includes track session and main stage keynotes alike, with the goal of having a 50/50 male and female speaker ratio for 2021.

Gender parity in 2020 would have been relatively easy, but it would not have shifted the dialogue in the way that Shoptalk has done consistently. Is this all-female speaker approach extreme? Absolutely, but we think extreme problems require extreme solutions. Our goal has always been to drive the industry in the right direction, and we feel the time is long overdue for women to be leading the dialogue.”

Other solutions involve looking towards more inclusiveness, like Techies, a photo project focused on sharing stories of tech employees in Silicon Valley who tend to be underrepresented in the greater tech narrative. This includes (but is not limited to) women, people of color, folks over 50, LGBT, working parents, disabled, etc.

Bold, brave, and just the kind of action that we expect to see.

Are you a woman who wants to speak at the 2020 Meetup?

On that note, we too want to continue to make room.

If you’re a woman in wireless, tech, or retail, or, if you have a woman in mind that you’d like to nominate, then we encourage you to fill out a speaker application for iQmetrix’s 2020 Meetup in Austin, TX!