As a woman, I am not sure if I am more or less qualified to author an article on Women in the Channel. But perhaps that is the point. I am likely no more or less qualified than is a man; simply my perspective and approach to the issue likely is different than is a man's. When that difference is not predetermined to be better or worse, then we may no longer have need to consider the question, or authoring articles such as this for that matter. For now, however, there is still cause to consider the status of women in relation to that of men in almost every area of the world and every aspect of society, including the telecom channel.
Over the last several months, in preparation for the inaugural Women in the Channel Workshop at the Spring 2011 Channel Partners Conference & Expo, I have noticed an increasing attention to women's issues — from the provocatively titled Atlantic Monthly article "The End of Men" to the recast Newsweek-Daily Beast premiere issue featuring Hilary Clinton and 150 other "Women of the World" to the United Nation's 56th Commission on the Status of Women to the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. I am not sure if the momentum is real, or if I simply am taking greater notice. Either way, I am at attention. Perhaps this special report will do the same for you.
The focus on women in telecom and technology is a function of their rarity, particularly in leadership roles. A visual survey of any executive conference table will confirm that it's well below half even though the U.S. Department of Labor shows 47 percent of the total labor force in 2010 was composed of women.
"I still find myself too often the only woman in the board room," said Jan Sarro, executive vice president of corporate services for Fusion Telecommunications International Inc. Indeed, lack of female peers and mentors was reported frequently as an occupational hazard for women that Channel Partners spoke to for this report. For some women being a novelty was an advantage in technology sales, but lonely nonetheless.
Perhaps that is why there is no shortage of groups for women in technology fields. Here are a few: Women in Technology International, Alliance of Technology and Women, National Center for Women & Information Technology, Women in Telecom, Women in Cable Telecommunications, etc. Their aims generally are two-fold: Support women already in the field and encourage young women to follow suit.
But what about the technology channel? This is an area that is as much about sales as it is about technology. There is an established group here as well. It's called Women in Channels and was started in May 2007 to promote the advancement of women in IT channels. While kindred spirits, the gals in the telecom channel are just beginning to organize something of their own. Presently it's an adhoc group that is running on the energy of volunteers; its most vocal champion and unofficial leader is Nancy Ridge, vice president of sales for master agency Telcombrokers Inc., who tapped Channel Partners to help orchestrate the spring workshop. Energized by the event, which drew more than 100 people, women in the telecom channel are signing on to donate services (PGi has provided conference bridging, for example) and to organize or attend virtual meetings on professional development topics.