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Dominating in a male dominated industry, with Carolyn Hardwick

Name: Carolyn Hardwick

Location: Atlanta, GA

Occupation: President, Engineering Division

Carolyn, how did you go from being a teacher to working in telecom?

In 2000, I was teaching middle school in South Carolina and sought a summer job to supplement my income. A colleague knew the VP of Engineering and Operations at Airgate PCS (later Sprint) and knew that the company wanted to hire a project coordinator in Site Development. At the end of the summer, I was offered a full-time position at Airgate with the plan to train to become a project manager. I have been in telecommunications ever since!

Telecom is heavily male dominated, but you have said that your first two bosses, both men, took the time to help you grow. What did that encouragement in the beginning of your telecom career do to propel you forward?

At the time that I took a full-time job in telecommunications, some doubted whether or not I would be successful, labeling me as technically-challenged. My manager and the VP of Engineering and Operations took the time to answer my questions, gave me literature about telecommunications infrastructure, and showed a lot of patience as I learned. These bosses always encouraged and gave me confidence, stating that "not everyone knows everything about telecom and technology." They also recommended me for higher positions when they saw my passion for learning and management of projects, and I ultimately became the Site Development Manager for that territory.

Communicating your desires to your bosses is super important in your career. What advice would you give someone on how to advocate for herself?

I believe it is crucial for an employee to be transparent and relay her professional desires to her manager(s) and HR. Not everyone wants to move up in an organization, but if you see yourself in a higher position or different division, it must be communicated. We also must be specific and give timelines. When that specific time block has passed, it is easier to approach a manager to remind and state the accomplishments achieved during that time, justifying a higher position or salary.

Carolyn (far left) at Women's Wireless Leadership Forum Event

How have mentors impacted your career? And what advice would you give someone who is seeking mentors?

Mentors have played a huge role in my career. If I had not been mentored, educated, and encouraged during my first three months in telecom, I would not still be here. No matter how long you have been in an industry, if you feel that mentoring would be beneficial, I would advise seeking a mentor. Not every company is large enough to support a formal mentoring program, but there are always people who are willing to offer guidance. Look for someone you respect, who embodies the leader you want to be, and who has the time to spend with you to aid with your professional development. If you do not have many industry connections, reach out to an acquaintance who can make recommendations or a connection on your behalf. I also recommend joining professional women's organizations, where there are always phenomenal leaders and mentors.

Prior to becoming the president of the division at your new company, a former boss told you, "be okay with the status quo of what you do now," and "you're never going to make as much as your male counterparts". How has that fueled you?

I have always believed in being transparent with my managers, and I was once employed by a company where I felt underutilized. I wanted more from my role, even if it meant making a lateral move within the company. I was told that I should be "ok with the status quo" and "think of it this don't have to work as hard". In another case, I was told that I would never make as much money as my male counterparts. Both of these cases became challenges and caused me to look beyond that company to find a more fulfilling job. When I interviewed at SQUAN, one of the things that I told the CEO and the senior leadership team is that I am a driven, optimistic person who wants to be part of a healthy team culture. I certainly found that at SQUAN!

What have you done to stay true to yourself in a male dominated industry?

I do not let people intimidate me. Most of the folks I meet are male, but we are all in the same industry and have our own skills. I also think about my own story, remembering that there may be someone who feels inadequate in a role and who might need some encouragement. I have worked hard to get to my current position, and I have maintained my integrity along the way.

In the midst of all the success of growing from a school teacher to the president of the engineering division, you now have people advising you not to bring up your professional title, president, when dating for fear you will be intimidating. What are you doing? And what would you tell other career oriented women to do when it comes to owning their professional successes?

There are more situations that I anticipated when I am advised not to disclose my position as President of the Engineering Division, as it may be intimidating. People also think that I may be unapproachable, but that is not my nature. I don't want to apologize for how hard I have worked to get to this point in my career. I do not think that anyone should be intimidated or view this as a negative quality; rather, I hope that a person would view my professional track as an accomplishment. I want to show other women that you CAN become the President of a division and you CAN reach the C-Suite of a company. With the right attitude and drive, I believe anything is attainable, and to apologize for it would show ingratitude.

Anything else you want to share with us?

I want to encourage women to be confident in an intentional way with their professional aspirations. Often, we become our own stumbling blocks because we doubt whether we "have what it takes" to apply for a position or ask for a promotion. If you are in a dead-end situation professionally or a negative culture, don't be afraid to leave. Our industry needs more women in leadership, and your next step may put you on a trajectory to eventually lead a company.

Carolyn volunteering with students in The Republic of Georgia

A question we ask everyone...what do you want to be known for?

I want to be known for my faith in God and my compassion for others. I am the epitome of "a people-person". I value time spent with friends, family, and colleagues, and I cannot imagine where I would be in life without the support and encouragement from the folks in my life. Above all, I am thankful to God for the ways He has blessed me.

My favorite quote is...

“I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well." - Diane Ackerman

Connect with Carolyn on LinkedIn and learn more about the volunteer association, Women's Wireless Leadership Forum, where Carolyn is currently serving as President.

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