Hilary MineI am Vice-President & Market Unit Leader for 11 countries across the Nordics, Baltics & Benelux at Nokia.

In this role I lead sales, delivery and operations across the region ensuring our customers, stakeholders and employees are as successful as possible. I am also deeply honoured to have been elected the first female President of Digital Europe earlier this year, a role I hope will inspire women exploring a career in tech.

It was while completing my bachelor’s degree in Economics that I developed an appetite for technology. I was the editor of my college newspaper and I drove the transition to a digital format.  It was 1981, so this was on punch cards and a DEC mini. It was the beginning of my love affair with technology and the impact it could have on our everyday lives.

My first management job was as an Administrator at UC Berkeley in an engineering research institute.  My parents were starving musicians and I did not even know the word “engineering” before that. During the day I managed a pool of technical typists, edited technical papers, ran the budgeting, helped raise money and so on, but in the evenings I worked on completing my MBA. It was around that time also that someone explained the concept of fibre optics to me, and my eyes lit up.  This was going to change the world.

From there I carried on building my expertise in techno commercial modelling, traffic engineering and market forecasting and ran my own analyst and consulting company for several years. I was subsequently recruited by Alcatel to run marketing and strategy for North America, and over the course of the next seven years was given more and more responsibility. That included running the business in Australia, New Zealand and eventually North Asia as well. I left Alcatel to become CMO at Thompson which I helped rebrand as Technicolor, took a short break to care for my family, and then came back to Alcatel-Lucent in 2010 to develop its cloud strategy. Following that I ran the consulting business worldwide which is now part of Bell Labs.  After Nokia acquired ALU, I moved to Amsterdam to run sales and delivery in Nordics, Baltics and Benelux.

Now, at such a crucial time for telecommunications I am focused on growing the business as well as harnessing the power of 5G to create new and exciting opportunities. The current pandemic has demonstrated the critical need for high speed connectivity in safeguarding business continuity. The shift, almost overnight, requiring us to all work from home saw a dramatic spike in the capacity needed on the networks. Our industry managed well but this has underlined the need for next generation fibre optic and 5G networks to provide better video quality and higher levels of security.

Fully integrated, end-to-end networks are essential for building a safe and futureproof system guaranteeing better connectivity.  The ongoing development of new technologies such as AI, robotics and machine learning will enable complete, seamless connectivity that is so important to our customers such as Telia and Elisa in Finland and Proximus in Belgium with whom we have collaborated on numerous Industry 4.0 trials and early implementations, including automated factories, port operations digitisation, and consumer applications including e-gaming.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My only plan was knowing my career would be my life’s work, I wanted to be sure I chose something enjoyable and engaging. I didn’t ever sit down and plan my career, but I have always been aware of the opportunities available to me. I am a big believer in having the courage to take risks and to avoid closing doors. At one point in my career I left a senior, well paid job to start my own consultancy. It was terrifying at first, but I doubled my income within a year and learned an enormous amount. I have also demoted myself three times to achieve a better quality of life or to learn new things and have never lost sight of the bigger picture. For example, when my mother became ill I knew I wanted to be there for her and my daughter. I took a 40% pay cut and left the company to do what I needed to do for my family. I have never been afraid to take risks or take career breaks and it has always paid off. If anything, I should have done it more. My favourite quote comes from the American actress Ruth Gordon who said: “Courage is like a muscle; we strengthen it with use.”

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these? 

I like to be liked but I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, so the first challenge was to learn to be successful as a manager – to not micromanage, but to also drive for great results.   Another key challenge was learning to give clear, concrete and fact based feedback and to have difficult conversations.  Not my strength as a young woman for sure.  But it helped to go into  sales where you have to lose your ego to be successful and learn to listen really effectively, and then it helped to manage large projects and have to face customers with every hiccup,  You learn quickly that it’s always best to give bad news fast, and always with a plan.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I used to talk about big project wins and delivery, but at this stage in my career, for sure my greatest achievement is having supported many amazing people into broader roles. Seeing so many people whom I have managed, mentored and encouraged to blossom, has been extremely satisfying.

I am also really proud of the work we have undertaken at Nokia and Digital Europe in promoting diversity. At Digital Europe, 40% of the board are now women and at Nokia we have pioneered programmes to accelerate the number of women in our leadership team. Our outgoing CEO, Rajeev Suri has been instrumental in this and set up a programme called Panorama to personally support the careers of promising leaders in the organisation. He pushed for 30% to be women which for our industry, where just 7% of top leaders were women, was unprecedented. The programme has been a huge success and has personally inspired me to improve diversity within my own team.

We also invest in encouraging women and girls into STEM education by fostering programmes that develop and nurture talent – hopefully driving the interest of 11–15 year-old girls. We collaborate with Greenlight for Girls, a non-profit organisation focusing on driving girls’ interest for STEM through interactive and fun workshops, including coding. The girls get to participate for a whole day in workshops designed for them, and importantly talk with women who have been in their shoes.

In addition, we pursue pay equity by closing the ‘unexplained pay gap’ in 2019 and achieved a perfect 100% in the ‘equal pay / gender pay parity’ category of the  Bloomberg Gender Equality Index (GEI) for 2020 – well ahead of the average, which was 50.12%.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I’d put my success down to three key areas:

  • Courage – having the mettle to push boundaries and challenge myself has helped me get to where I am today. It doesn’t come naturally to me but is something I’ve worked at and has paid dividends in the long run.
  • Listening to people and learning from others – this has really helped to develop my judgement and is also a great way of building a network.
  • Working hard – put simply, you cannot excel unless you put in the time and effort needed to do a great job.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I think my top tips would fall into three main camps:

  • Breadth is important. If you are only ever looking down a narrow path you will always follow that track. Seek out new opportunities where you can add value.
  • Curiosity is king. Never be afraid to learn more about the way things work, especially in tech!
  • Define what success means for you and don’t be afraid to make changes in your career to achieve it.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Overall, I think the sector is progressing, but some barriers still exist. As I see it, the first is confidence and self-belief. Regardless of ethnicity, research finds that women are more likely to be unsure of their own abilities in computer science than their male counterparts, with their confidence level at roughly 70% of that of men. This tech confidence gap of 30% is much higher than in other fields – 11% in business, 7% in humanities, and 5% in the social sciences. This lack of confidence is the primary reason more women are not participating in the tech industry.

The second is personal networks. While young girls and boys have similar levels of formal access to computer science classes and programmes as those people who work in tech, a gap emerges in college and beyond. Between the ages of 18 and 25, young men’s social circles develop in such a way that they are 1.5 times more likely to know someone working in the field than young women. The social and professional circles of young women are more likely to be filled with people working in fields other than tech.

The third is a negative perception of the industry and the tech culture: Given the poor perception of their own computer science abilities, it’s not surprising that females are 2.5 times more likely than males to say that people who work in tech are “nerdy” or “not like me”. Women also drop out of pursuing computer science at every stage of the journey, at rates 1.2 to 1.7 times higher than their male counterparts.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Companies can offer initiatives for inspiring future engineers and computer scientists either in partnership with existing education-related programmes like CODE2040 or Black Girls Code, or by developing their own programmes. Initiatives to encourage computer science education in local schools is also worthwhile – perhaps you have staff who could volunteer to help tutor students or donate equipment to schools in need?

Then there is the topic of how to change the perception of technology. Children and students know that taking biology classes potentially puts them on a path toward becoming a doctor or medical researcher and at a very young age they can see that this impacts society and people directly. No such line of sight exists between taking algebra, calculus, computer science or engineering and how those subjects result in a career that clearly impacts society, friends and family.

It’s important to try to reshape the perception of computer science and engineering among young women and girls, so at Nokia we encourage our employees to be role models or mentors for tomorrow’s technologists. We have a programme at Nokia Software called IdTech, which combines leadership development of women leaders with mentoring of young women with an interest in STEM and with socio-economic challenges. This enables our Nokia female employees to gain an education on what good mentoring looks like, how to transfer their knowledge to others in a digestible manner and how to support young women. They then use this knowledge to support other young women.

In general, better education is necessary, not just for women but for men too. Unless we have male advocates championing the roles of women as well as men, we won’t achieve genuine parity.

Currently only 17% of women work in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

If you look at STEM degrees, 51% of students are now female but if you look at engineering degrees in isolation only 10-15% are women. We need to start within schools as we lose girls at roughly age 10. They don’t see the power of engineering in changing lives in the same way they see biology as paving the way to a career in medicine with a clear and obvious impact on society. If I had a magic wand, I would encourage all girls everywhere to see engineering as a way to change the world for the better, and as an approachable and family friendly career path.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

My one piece of advice would be to read everything you can about your industry. Knowledge is power!


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