In this post, we continue our series in which we hand over the blog to one of the many great women that work at Arelion. We’ve already seen some great pieces giving interesting perspectives on the world of work and Arelion, and this post is no different. Today’s post is from Sumita Sharma, our Head of Transmission Networks based in London.
I started my career in telecoms over 20 years ago with an internship at India’s biggest telecoms research group, after my Master’s degree in computer applications. I’d started my higher education focusing on economics, but the world of technology pulled me away! It was during the internship that my interest in building networks and connecting the world really grew.
I’d spent my whole life in India to that point and contrary to the common notion (about Indian Culture), I had seen women in my family and around me take an equal or even leading role in making important decisions. Seeing that was formative for me and gave me the confidence to know I had the freedom to make my own choices.
That said, once my career in telecoms started, it was clear that the telco sector was still a very male dominated world. When the time came in my career to move to London, my perception was that ‘The West’ would be more equal. But I quickly realised that, whilst it was different, biases still existed – they were just projected in other less obvious ways.
I have been fortunate enough to work with amazing companies and have had the opportunity to work with some truly inspirational people. But at the same time, on odd occasions I have also had to deal with backlash for being a tough negotiator or for standing up for something – neither of which was easy as a woman. Sometimes, I have seen people react and respond to me very differently (often perhaps unconsciously) to how I have seen them respond – even in the same meeting – to male colleagues.
I have a two-step strategy for dealing with these situations: 1) Cool down and remind myself that I have faith in my competence. 2) Voicing my concerns. It may not be easy, but we must address the issue at hand head on. It helps to get it off your chest, for your own sanity, and then it sets clear boundaries for what is acceptable in the future.
One thing I have learnt about biases is that we all have them. They are formed quickly based on our own life experiences. They are often subconscious, not only in the way that they are formed, but also in how they are projected. We cannot completely control them or avoid them. However, having that awareness is an important tool in learning to educate yourself and try to ensure that bias has less influence and doesn’t impact the decisions you make.
There are three things that I feel can make a real difference to bias in the longer term that should be taught from an early age, but are also essential to the modern workplace:
- We need to learn by exposing ourselves to diversity. The more exposed to the beauty and differences that exist in the world, the sooner we learn to look beyond them.
- Make waves. Whatever the work situation – it is important for women to get in and then start making them. We don’t need to be shy about it. Arelion is passionate about this, and a diverse workforce is of huge benefit to productivity.
- We must speak out. When we see a bias we must address it. Standing by and being quiet is not an option. We all have a responsibility to do this, and it will create a path for the future and those that follow.
At Arelion, since the teams are so geographically spread-out, I think it helps in organically embracing diversity and all colleagues learn to value differences very quickly and easily. It is true that we have only a few females in my department, but my personal view is that this is due to a societal bias and a genuine lack of female resource availability in the highly technical telco space. It is one that all employees have a role in changing.
Whatever aspect of diversity you can think of, we need champions – professionals in all careers who demonstrate that how you identify, and those characteristics that make you diverse, are not a barrier to any role.
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