On February 18th, we hosted our WTF event at NANOG 75 in San Francisco which had one of our highest turnouts in the history of WTF events! Close to 80 women showed up for networking and listening in on a panel discussion around diversity & inclusion.
We were also fortunate to have Rebecca Stanic join us and share some words with our attendees. Rebecca works in peering for RETN (which we learned can be pronounced as “reh-tin” or spelled out by letter: R-E-T-N) and is a board member for France-IX. It was enlightening and refreshing to hear her thoughts on the importance of having female representation on boards and what her experience has been with the NANOG community. In true WTF fashion, Rebecca is able to cut through the BS and tell it like it is without coming off as preaching, oftentimes sharing opinions that we all have but can’t articulate. We’re very grateful and excited to be able to share some of Rebecca’s opinions as well as really sound advice for moving closer to closing the gender gap in our industry.
Continue reading below for our Q&A with Rebecca:
You were recently 1 of 2 women appointed as a board member for France-IX. Big congrats! How has that experience been thus far and why do you think it’s important to have female representation on boards?
I think—or I would hope—the answer to “why is it important to have female representation on a board” is obvious. Quite simply, boards should represent the community that they serve and also be a representation of our society.
What is perhaps less obvious is the multitude of advantages of having women on a board, both to the company and to the membership that they serve and also to other women in tech. If we just had boards made up of the same demographics—for example white males in their 50s—then they’d possibly not be providing and implementing the most creative solutions to challenges faced.
However, I don’t really like to make a gender distinction. I think what is needed is a mix of talent and experiences. Women bring skills that an all-male board quite possibly can’t. My campaign for election focused on the areas in which I believed I could bring a new point of view.
Firstly, I work for a Carrier and the board was primarily Content-provider heavy.
Secondly, with the exception of our President, the entire board is French and I am not French, so I had something to add there. While Peering may be regional, business needs to be global.
Thirdly and finally, I was the only person with a commercial background as opposed to a technical background. This is a skill set that I personally believe is incredibly important when growing your IX and attracting new members from new regions.
Honestly, I think I was less focused on my gender being the diversity play that I was potentially bringing to the board. Of course, it was glaringly obvious; France-IX had not had a woman on the board previously and they wanted to change that. They did this by approaching several women in the community and asking them if they would consider running. So, yes, undoubtedly, the issue of gender diversity was a topic and I most definitely reached out to women I know in the industry and asked them for their support. But I’d like to think that Florence [Lavroff] and I won on more than gender. Otherwise, we’re really not solving anything.
In terms of the advantages to other women, some were more obvious to me than others. What I found the most surprising was finding out that other women had turned down the opportunity because they were worried they wouldn’t be elected. It’s not that I thought I would definitely be elected to the board but I thought, “at least it’s an experience.” I do wonder if as many men that were approached would say no, or if they’d have more confidence, more courage, more certainty. If that is the case, then we really need to work on this as a group and start to really believe that there is nothing wrong with failing and understand why men are more open to taking professional risks.
After I was elected, a lot of women approached me and asked me about the process: how to get nominated, how I’d gotten elected, and if I knew of other board positions that were coming up. So, if by being elected, we help just to get a message out, and then to move to the next step—to get more women serving on boards and thus proving to those boards and companies the value that women can add through their skill sets and ways of approaching problem solving—we’ll have more sponsors and allies who don’t just think we’re the token female with nothing to say. It’s about creating critical mass, step by step, where we can.
Luckily, at France-IX, being seen as the token females isn’t an issue. From day one we were welcomed, we felt that our ideas and comments were taken seriously and that we’ve brought a different side to the discussions and new solutions to problems faced. If the male contingent on the France-IX board would be representative of men in the tech industry, quite honestly, I don’t think we’d have many problems closing the gender gap.
Nevertheless, even if we had been “diversity hires”, I’m a firm believer in it not mattering necessarily how you get in the room, as opposed to what you do with that opportunity once you’re there. Once you’re sat at the table, it’s up to you to make your voice heard.
I think it would be interesting to understand how many attendees of this year’s event are serving on boards and then, in a year from now, ask the same and see how many more have been elected, or just taken the chance and run for a position. Hopefully, we’d have an incremental increase in the number of hands that are raised.
Our industry as a whole has a pretty large gender gap. But I’d imagine the divide is even more glaring in the Internet engineering, architecture and ops side of the industry. What has been your experience with the NANOG community and attending their events? Has it helped you make valuable connections or did you ever feel like being a woman played a part in making that more difficult?
I’ve always worked in roles and industries where there is an obvious gender gap. So in a way, it’s the norm for me.
Regarding NANOG, I think the great thing about this conference is the sense of a close community that they have built. However, that can also be quite daunting when you’re first attending meetings and everyone seems to know each other so well, on professional and personal levels. Breaking through that barrier isn’t always comfortable.
Luckily, I had already met several people in the NANOG community before my first meeting, so I didn’t feel that I stood on the edges of the room, wondering how I was meant to meet the people I needed to and how I could interrupt their conversations. I do understand how it can appear to others outside the NANOG community, but generally once those first initial introductions are made, people are friendly and want to help. I don’t think you ever forget the people that eased your introduction to the NANOGers and I’m glad to say that a great many of them were other women.
As far as being a woman and whether that made it more difficult, I think being a sales person caused me more difficulties and I’d very much like to see the gap between technical and commercial reduced just as much as the gender gap and any other bias we might be fostering.
What do you think is driving the gender gap in engineering?
I was recently discussing this with a female colleague and how many instances we knew where people were still not encouraging young girls at school to even consider engineering and technical roles. Typically, these young girls are still being pointed in the direction of Marketing, Media and Hospitality when in search of internship and job opportunities. It’s a mindset, and it doesn’t change overnight but we all have a part to play. We also need more role models. I think women, on the whole tend to be more humble and less self-promoting, but we need to be better about sharing our successes.
Additionally, I think we need to openly acknowledge that male-dominated industries are not always the most conducive environments for women. This is probably where I should reel off the instances of my WTF [what the f*!$] moments. But more than that, I believe it’s about creating awareness with our male colleagues and championing diversity programmes in our places of work so they are more welcoming environments for women. So often situations arise simply from ignorance and this is something we can combat.
What’s something that has helped you tackle the gender divide in our industry and succeed in your career?
Undoubtedly, I have been judged before I opened my mouth because I am a woman. But then when I was younger, I was judged because I looked too young. At technical meetings, I’m judged because I’m commercial. In every situation someone is judging you based on some pre-existing bias. I’ve tried to concentrate more on what I can control, which is my own knowledge and experience. I’ve studied, I’ve asked questions, I’ve found mentors that are happy to sit down with me and spend time helping me to understand.
I think as women we need to play to our strengths and not necessarily emulate what are seen as masculine personality traits. We’re empathetic, we’re great networkers, and we’re “allowed” to be vulnerable with less judgement than our male counterparts. Understanding that at times you have to ask for help and that’s ok is something I’ve found very powerful. No one can know everything and admitting that at times and seeking out people to support me has meant that I’ve been able to move forward in my career instead of struggling alone.
Another trait that has really helped me is being open to challenges. So, if someone asks if you want to run for board election, don’t over think it, quiet your doubts and just say yes.
How do you see WTF helping the gender gap in our industry?
For me, personally, what I see as the value of WTF is in enabling women to meet and network. I’m not sure that we’re all great at doing that within our own gender and this forum provides us with a reason to start a conversation. It gives us all a bit more courage to step outside of our comfort zones and meet new people.
What I’d like to see is that women in tech build a strong community so that newcomers feel like they have someone who can help, support and if needed, mentor them, so that they don’t ever feel like they’re standing on the edge of a large, noisy, room with a community of people that are too daunting to approach. If we can do this, then I believe we have a far stronger foundation to start to chip away at some of the larger, more serious issues we all face on a far too regular basis.
What is a WTF (in the original meaning) moment you had to endure as a woman in your career and what did you learn from it?
Too many to list here. But encouragingly, the most WTF moments of my career were not in Telco. More and more, I believe what we need to do is create a dialogue and bring awareness. By having a community of women who support each other, we have a network of women we can speak to when we’re in a situation that makes us uncomfortable or frustrated. We have a lot of supporters in the male community of NANOG who are also willing to make sure that the dialogue isn’t just kept in forums like this and permeates across all segments of the community, regardless of gender.