As part of our coverage for International Women’s Day, we are speaking with a number of women across Gamma for their perspective on what the Day means for them – and what they think needs to be done to encourage more women into the tech industry. Today we’re going to be hearing from Katie Baron, Senior Business Development Executive.
Women in Tech – Katie Baron’s story
I’ve been at Gamma for five and a half years now. I came in via the Graduate programme as an Internal Account Manager when I was 23, and I’m now a Senior Business Development Executive. I sit in the Cloud & Infrastructure team, so my role is slightly different to the rest of the Indirect Channel business, in that I enable Service Providers to make their solutions work.
I have always been managed by men throughout my career, which personally has never been an issue for me – but I do often wonder whether having a female mentor in the workplace would have enhanced my journey as a graduate coming into the industry for the first time. It’s incredibly daunting starting a professional career, especially as a young female in an industry that is still male dominated.
When I first joined Gamma, I was exceptionally shy and definitely not your ‘typical’ salesperson. What was quite refreshing was the conscious effort Gamma had made to hire an equal ratio of male/female grads, so the sales desk was a great environment to learn.
However, being the youngest person in a customer meeting, and being a woman, definitely made me feel like I stood out. My lack of confidence demonstrated this. I don’t think I was necessarily prepared for that. It took me a long time to stop doubting myself and speak in meetings without being afraid that what I was saying wasn’t important or even correct. I’d be quite happy being scribe and sitting silent, well within my comfort zone. This wasn’t because anybody had intentionally made me feel that way, but when you’re in an environment with those of the same seniority level and they’re all male, it’s very easy to fall into this dynamic and not be included in the conversation.
I knew I needed to begin to build my own personal brand so that I could gain credibility with my customers, gain enough confidence to participate in meetings, and for this fear to disappear. We joke in my team that I’m a nerd and I love to learn, but I found upskilling my knowledge really helped with this. If I understood what was being talking about, I’d naturally feel more inclined to say what I thought! But it definitely took time, and I often think a female mentor to reassure me that I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling would have helped. It’s so hard to discuss something so taboo – you don’t want it to come across as offensive or detrimental to men in any way. I’m so grateful for the men who have supported me in my career. But unfortunately I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Initially I used the things I knew I was naturally good at, as an account manager, like building rapport with customers whether they be male/female, but I knew in order to develop, I’d have to challenge myself and work on things outside of my comfort zone.
Fast forward to now – I’ve pushed myself professionally, I’ve been promoted 3 times, and I’ve been above target consistently, which is great achievement. If you’d have asked me to present on stage to over a hundred people five years ago, I’d have said never in a million years! However, last week, I did it for the third time at our Service Provider roadshow.
I decided to take this new found confidence and focus it on helping build that ‘female role model/mentor’ environment that I’d hoped for when I first came into the industry. Gamma are part of the Comms Council UK, and so I decided to reach out to Tracey Wright, MD of Magrathea (who is on the board of the Comms Council UK), and pitch the idea of a Women in Telecoms Networking Group. The rest of the board agreed it was needed and something the industry was lacking, so the group was created.
I’m the chairwoman of the group now, which is such a personal achievement for me. I never thought I’d be able to do something like this. I wanted to create community for women who either want an ally, support, new friends, or inspiration from other women in the industry. Progression is really important to me, so I’ve personally found it extremely useful getting to know women who have been in the industry a lot longer, and getting advice and support from them. It’s an empowering community and a very safe space, and I’m proud of how it was created.
There is no magical solution to building confidence. I just found the best way to do this is to throw myself in the deep end and have faith that I could do it. I remember attending the first few Gamma roadshows and seeing our female speakers on stage and thinking wow, I would love to be able to do that! But I look at what I’ve managed to accomplish now and I’m really proud of myself.
Being a woman is incredible – by no means is the industry the equal and diverse place it needs to be yet, but I’m hoping in time we will get there. More awareness is being raised in schools/colleges, about the opportunities that exist for women in telecoms and technology, not only in sales roles but in engineering, operations and many more departments. As women we should empower and support each other, embrace our emotions and use them as our strengths. I’m hoping this new networking group helps build a community within the telecoms industry, that women haven’t had before, in which we can all do that.