As part of our Women in Tech segments, we generally talk to only one person in a company. Today, we had the opportunity to have a round table discussion with the team at LOQEX, a Wildix partner located in the UK but serving business needs around the world. Shelley Banks (Operations Manager), Farah Nazir-Chapman (Head of Business Strategy) and Joanna Palmer (Financial Director) joined us to have a chat about their perspectives on being women in the communications industry.
Shelley: Since I joined the telecoms sector about 3 years ago, I’ve been quite lucky that I’ve never come across any judgement because of my gender. I’ve always worked in male-dominated industries prior to coming into telecoms, so it’s never fazed me. It has always been pretty normal for me to just make myself known and gain the respect of my peers. However I think Farah may have a different opinion on this.
Farah: So my view is slightly different. I’ve been in telecoms for over 20 years, predominantly as an engineer. I completed my first technical accreditations in the late 90s, where I was always the only woman on the engineering courses, so there was quite a lot of misogyny, sadly. On site visits, I’d arrive on-site with a whole load of kit to be told, “Oh, sorry we’re expecting an engineer.” This was 20 years ago, though, and times have changed, thankfully.
However, although we have seen a rise in the number of women in technical roles, we’re still dramatically underrepresented in comparison to other areas in STEM.
From our perspective, this disparity has motivated LOQEX to support a business mentoring program with local schools, in particular girls’ schools, to help raise awareness of this exciting and diverse sector. We believe if we don’t address the gender balance and highlight the opportunities available in the channel, how can we expect the situation to change.
It’s helped that tech is more widely available now — you see small children accessing and being immersed in tech from a young age before gender roles start to really kick in.
Joanna: I think Farah’s put it very well there; telecommunications has been a very male-dominated industry. As time’s going on, things are changing, and we’re seeing more women enter the tech industry. At LOQEX, we’ve built up a team where everyone is seen as equal, and all ideas and opinions are treated as valid.
Because we’ve often been brought up to be meek and mild compared to men, I find that women need to shout a little louder to be seen and heard.
It has got better — women are seen as equals now. I haven’t had any experiences recently that undermines that.
Farah: I think it gives us a competitive edge in certain areas as our thought processes are quite different when it comes to technology. It’s the coming together of different viewpoints, which allows our solutions to be different from others in the same space.
This has been driven by LOQEX having a very strong female-led team — 75% of LOQEX is female, which isn’t the norm in this sector. It gives us that solutions-driven competitive edge. We’re consultative and focus on building relationships rather than looking simply at the volume of sales. Quality is the driving force behind our connections.
Joanna: I love the fact that we’ve built this really good team at LOQEX. Everyone brings their own ideas and qualities to the business, so we’ve built this foundation of trust. We can get on with our own duties safe in the knowledge that everyone around us is also getting on with their tasks.
We have a very harmonious team.
Shelley: We do have a really good team where we have built the foundations to grow.
Personally, I’ve learnt so much since coming into the industry. Especially from the team. I’m still quite new compared to others here. I sit back and think “I can’t do this” sometimes, but then I go out and actually do it. Every day is a learning day. The tech develops so quickly that there’s no time to stand still. I’ve learned all this in such a short period of time. The fact that tech moves on so quickly is a huge advantage as well — you don’t have time to get bored or stagnant. Everyone’s also having to learn and adapt, so you’re all in the same position.
Farah: I love helping organisations untangle the mess caused by legacy systems. We pick apart the lines, the hardware, the services and discover what value there is in them. People often want to keep parts of the system they see as “irreplaceable” but in most cases, it’s better to unpick everything, tailor the solution and deliver true value.
I cut my teeth on legacy systems, so that makes it so much more interesting to me. We don’t walk away from technically challenging situations, either, where some competitors would. We brainstorm as a team and come up with an approach that works for our client. That’s what makes it really exciting for me.
I am predominantly a remote worker and I think that the future of UCC is very much in home and agile working, with more integrations, bring your own device, and AI, which everyone is talking about. But when you consider massive vendors such as Samsung and Panasonic who were key players for many decades, have completely withdrawn from this race — the pool of providers has already reduced dramatically. You’ll end up with leaders in the area, and whilst others will fade away.
Microsoft will continue to expand in this space, but you’ll still need innovative, disruptive players such as Wildix to make the landscape more challenging and bring new technologies and ideas to market.
Joanna: Moving back to the home working topic, I’m a single parent. Having the ability to work from home so I can be here when my daughter comes home from school is huge. I can go to the office, come home and carry on working full-time whilst being here for her. That’s a real bonus of UCC — the same goes for if she’s poorly, or off school. The future for me is about being able to work my home life around my work life without compromising on either.
Farah: Flexible working allows working families and people who have naturally fallen out of the workforce — particularly women who have had a child, to work unrestricted. It opens the pool to people who wouldn’t be able to naturally find a job that fits into their schedule. And it’s easy to forget that a lot of roles don’t really need to be performed around the standard 9-5 workday as long as the work’s done.
Things like flexibility and agile working are no longer considered a “perk” but more of a necessity. However, there’s absolutely value in building those relationships in the office. UCC makes the office into a more inclusive workplace for people.
Shelley: It’s also helpful when we have our international customers (APAC, Canada and the United States) as their time frames are different to ours. When we’re at home and they have an issue, we can answer it without having to go to the office. It becomes a moving office.
During Covid, of course, there was a big blurring of work and home life balance because you were stuck in the building the whole time. Now, it’s easier to set up a structure between the office and home, such as Farah does — there’s a point at which you have to switch off the office work. The end of your work day needs to be the end of your work day.
Joanna: It is very important to have boundaries when you’re working from home a lot. Because there’s no physical exit from the office, it’s easy for your time to overrun. You end up coming back to the computer at the end of the day, because it’s so easy to do that.
But when managing employees as well, it’s important to be a good manager and have empathy for your team. This is where being a woman is a big advantage. Even when it comes to remote working, it’s essential to be open to conversation when there’s something that needs to be discussed.
Shelley: Agreed. A good manager needs to get into the thick of it, not just dictate job roles and expect everyone to get on with it and it just happens. I’ve had it in previous roles where a job was just dictated and dictated and dictated because I was a woman — it was always, it’s fine, she’ll do it. And they’d expect it to magically happen by the end of the day. But they weren’t willing to do any of it themselves.
And too often, these were jobs that I was expected to do because I was there and a woman.
Joanna: I think as women, we sometimes want to take on more than we can manage, so it’s important for us to say when we have too much to do. Particularly when we’re near the limit of our capacity.
Shelley: Part of it is the idea that we’ll do it because then we know it’s done. If no one else is going to do it, then you’ll do it … but then it has a knock-on effect that just snowballs.
So we need to know how to set boundaries and understand our limits. But as I said, as a manager, I have never given out a job that I wouldn’t do myself.
Farah: I completely agree. Having managed teams of engineers and a large business development department, it’s at the hands of a bad manager that you learn how to be a good manager. If you genuinely have the best interests of your employees at heart, a team will always work together to hit your shared goals. However, employees will always leave a bad manager.
It’s only through age and experience you learn from that, and you don’t want to exhibit those traits that we’ve all seen in the past. LOQEX has a strong and passionate team, who work cohesively to make a difference.
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