GTWN: The story continues

March 1, 2022
Interviews by Vicki MacLeod GTWN Secretary-General

The changing culture of communications .....from generation to generation

The motto of the GTWN encapsulates both the spirit and the purpose of the organisation. As a group of senior women in the telecommunications and broader digital media sphere, we believe in using technology in a way that is appropriate to human culture, in all of its forms. We also see our role in the industry as providing mentorship to younger women who are charting their path and careers in this complex modern environment.

We are therefore very pleased and proud to welcome to the GTWN Board in 2022 a number of amazing women entrepreneurs and industry leaders, whose diverse backgrounds and experience will inject new thinking, new perspectives and new energy into the organisation. We are looking forward to working with them over the coming years to address some of the many challenges facing the industry, as well as society at large.

Keri Gilder, CEO Colt

The GTWN is proud to welcome our new Global President, Keri Gilder, CEO of Colt Technology Services. Keri is a highly experienced and renowned senior executive in the ICT industry and is well known for her work on driving greater inclusivity in the technology sector.

Keri has been involved in ICT for the past 21 years. “When I first entered the industry as a sales Engineer after previously working in the Enterprise space”, explains Keri. “, it was heavily dominated by men. I was in my early 20’s, and my initial thought was – this is an ‘old boys club’ and not very interesting.” She was, however, fortunate at the time to have Pat Russo as her CEO. Pat was a champion of women in tech, but even so, the industry culture felt somewhat alien. “I was one of only two female sales Engineers in my sector”, adds Keri. “I definitely felt like a ‘unicorn’ as one of only two female technical Engineers covering the segment in the USA”. This period in her career convinced her that the industry had to change to reflect the spectrum of human experience and to retain relevance to society as a whole.

Keri has been fortunate to have had a broad experience across the industry. “Throughout my 20 years, I have had the opportunity to see the industry develop from the hardware/ software vendor, service and now ICT provider point of view”, says Keri. She has seen the industry making enormous leaps from fixed low bandwidth infrastructure where a 10Mb circuit was considered “high bandwidth” to multi-terabit. “We have moved from hard boxes to software defined, consumption- based infrastructure. We have moved from niche hardware to virtual network functions and software defined wide area networks (SD WAN). Now we are taking a massive leap into the Intelligent network as we start to build the platform infrastructure to support the digital economy.” Keri has recognized that, at each stage of these advancements, we have been able to engage another aspect of our communities – lower bandwidth costs, advanced satellite and FTTX infrastructure now reaching rural communities, enablement of innovation across country borders, which in turn has enabled our populations to live through a major pandemic. “I am really proud of how our industry enabled us to make some extraordinary connections, enable the world to run, enable women to start businesses, enable doctors to continue to serve customers with remote medical care, enable financial markets to thrive while riding over our networks across multiple exchanges around the world”, remarks Keri. “We have served our communities well and will continue to drive advancement across them.”

Looking ahead to the next few years or decades, Keri believes that one of the industry’s biggest challenges is talent. As Enterprises move to digital infrastructure and engagement with their customer base and COVID continues to accelerate this migration, talent that was only required by the ICT market is now required across multiple Enterprise verticals. “Couple this with the ‘great resignation’, COVID’s effect on female workers and the industry reaching a retirement cliff in five years – we are close to a talent crisis”, says Keri. “It is critical that we imbed ourselves into business cases and case studies for every area of our business, whether engineering, computer science or accounting.” Keri would like to see the industry present in tech schools and universities and build apprentice programs for those who do not have the privilege to go to one of these schools but still have massive talent. “I am working with the tmforum to develop a talent consortia that would have some of these elements: Cohorts, Convocations, Communities, Commencements and even possible Certifications. If we can get the consortia going, it could create a great way for us to bring talent in, keep talent happy and drive the next generation toward ICT”, adds Keri.

As to what actions leaders in the industry should be taking, including the GTWN members and colleagues, to address these challenges now and into the future, Keri has a clear vision. “It comes down to what we have always done and what we are REALLY good at – making connections. We must use our partnerships, relationships and the ecosystem to drive our brand as an industry to the next level.” For Keri, this means taking our learnings from COVID to enable a strong understanding of cause and effect: on our overall wellbeing associated with things like commuting and isolation; on our overall need to ensure females are enabled to advance in underserved communities as they are the ‘life blood’; on our overall privilege of handling our customers’ data; on our overall core purpose to connect the world. “If we drive our companies with purpose and truly believe that we can change the world – there is nothing that can stop us.”

Rosalia Gitau, CEO Bixie Pte Ltd

From a background in corporate law, Rosalia worked for ten years with the United Nations in crisis management and relief in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. “I felt that I was going from one crisis to another, not making any substantial difference to the lives of the people that I was trying to help”, says Rosalia. “Then I started giving small amounts of money to start-ups, with the goal of changing lives and bringing women out of poverty”. These efforts were successful, and led her to become interested in how financial literacy and access to capital could improve the lives of women around the world.

“One thing that is a universal challenge is that women, irrespective of education, race, culture or income, are not financially literate and they do not have access to capital, like men do”, adds Rosalia. “When I worked in blockchain, I realised that women were missing out on all of the opportunities that men enjoy because of their lack of knowledge, their lack of confidence, their lack of a network, and their lack of the tools to ensure their financial security.”

Bixie is an AI enabled platform which empowers women to know their own worth and to grow that worth. “We call it the financial home for women”, says Rosalia. “During the pandemic women realised that what really matters is capital- money making money- and that they did not control it. Once again, women around the world suffered the worst impacts of the pandemic, because they were workers, not entrepreneurs or investors. I want to change that, so that women in future are more resilient.”

Rosalia believes that women need to work together, to create our own reality. “Organisations such as the GTWN are critical to women entrepreneurs and industry leaders, as they enable cross sectoral co-operation and support”. Rosalia believes that blockchain will drive the future of finance, and therefore the whole economy, and women need to be ready to ride the wave. “I would like to see women working together on blockchain initiatives designed by women, for women. Blockchain is the infrastructure of the next 20 or 30 years; we cannot afford for 50% of the world’s population to be locked out of the benefits of this economic transformation.”

Deepa Kalikiri, Vice President, Head of Legal, Boku, Inc

“I was very interested in technology from an early age and joined GE in Paris after completing my legal degree from university and qualifying around twenty years ago now”, says Deepa. “I was attracted by the global nature of the company, and the emphasis on innovation and applying technology to improve businesses and lives around the world, she adds. “I then moved on to work at Visa in London, where I became fascinated by the intersection of law, finance and technology, and the promise of big data and AI”. Deepa then became Head of Legal at Sinch (previously known as mBlox), the mobile messaging and customer engagement platform. “You could say that I was now able to bring all of my experience together, in terms of the legal and regulatory framework, my understanding of mobile platforms, and my commitment to better customer experiences”, comments Deepa.

Deepa is now Vice President and Head of Legal, as well as Company Secretary at Boku Inc, and lives in London. Boku is a leading global mobile payments solutions provider (mobile wallets, direct carrier billing and real-time payment schemes) which was founded in 2008 to enable people to make purchases using their mobile phones. “In my current position at Boku, my team and I have the opportunity, on a daily basis, to help the company deliver on its promise to create innovative and effective payment solutions to support merchants and carriers around the world”, says Deepa. “Whether consumers are aware or not, they are probably using a Boku-enabled mobile payments service to pay for their purchases”, adds Deepa. “This means that Boku has become an integral part of their daily lives, by facilitating the ease of mobile payments, which is now a vital part of both face to face and online commerce”.

Deepa was born in India, but grew up in Paris, and speaks French fluently. She finds that her global perspective, gained from her legal studies in France and the US, enable her to see the bigger picture and to understand the importance of cultural context when developing solutions for different clients and different countries.

Deepa is above all passionate about ethics and the rule of law, and how she can apply this framework to her work in the field of mobile payments. She is also a strong believer in the importance of mentorship and has been fortunate to have had a great mentor in the earlier part of her career, who supported and inspired her to grow and to achieve. “Because of this experience, I belong to a mentor network, where we support younger women who are entering the legal sector, and who will benefit from having a sounding board, and coach in their early years.”

Deepa is also very aware of the burden often placed on younger women in their careers, when they may be caring for children or for older family members. She is the mother of two little boys under the age of 6 and knows only too well the difficulties of striking a good balance between work and family life. “Women these days are starting to understand that it is not possible, or desirable, to be superwoman and to try to be all things to all people. That is why employers need to ensure that the working environment takes account of the different circumstances and needs of their staff, and that there are support and encouragement, as well as flexible work options, available. “At Boku we have been very supportive of flexible working throughout the pandemic, and as we begin to return to the office, we want to ensure that gains in flexibility are not lost”, says Deepa. “This has been a lesson for us all – that productivity does not depend on hours spent in a physical space; it is a mindset, and a commitment to being the best you can be in all of the roles in your life”.

Vrinda Kapoor, CEO and Co-founder, 114ai

114ai is a data infrastructure company, which builds tools to make AI more accessible and usable. The company was established in 2019, after Vrinda experienced the use of AI enabled technology in the healthcare sector. With a background in life sciences and healthcare, rather than computer science, Vrinda became increasingly interested in the digital transformation of patient management systems, in both the public and private hospital systems in India. “I realised that the AI aspect of big data was a game changer, enabling the more effective use of pathology to diagnose and treat disease”, says Vrinda. From there she became interested in addressing the challenges of AI systems, which were preventing the promise of AI from being realised.

“At the moment, data scientists, who are highly trained and a limited resource, are using 80% of their time trying to manually clean up data and make it usable, because it is generated from incompatible systems which can’t talk to each other”, says Vrinda. “While everyone champions the benefits of a connected smart home, the reality is that the data from your frig, heater or light, cannot be combined and analysed seamlessly, as proprietary systems are not interoperable. At 114ai we are building a transformation layer, which is completely automated, to solve this problem.” While some companies, such as Uber Tesla or Google, are working towards interoperability across systems, others such as Apple want to retain their proprietary platforms. This means that the potential gains from smart technologies are either unachievable or can only be achieved in a very inefficient and costly way.

As she works at the intersection of many male-dominated sectors – AI, defence and national security – Vrinda is often the only woman in the room at senior meetings, which can be a challenge. She hopes that enabling more women to work in AI related areas will normalise the involvement of women in this specialised area. “I would like to see the industry make an effort to inform young women graduates about the full range of work opportunities that are out there for them – not just those who study computer science, or even STEM, but women from all the liberal arts”, adds Vrinda. “We need all of the diverse perspectives we can get to work on making AI more explainable and trustworthy to the general public – of which women make up 50%, after all.”

Of the challenges facing us over the next ten or so years, Vrinda sees cybersecurity as a major one, especially for individuals who tend not to understand how vulnerable they may be, as smart devices are brought into the home environment, especially around children. Everyone needs to understand the risks associated with these new devices. Having women with a better understanding of the technology will allow them to take a more realistic view of the benefits and potential dangers of AI based systems.“I would like to see senior leaders in the industry, including the GTWN members, working together on making AI more understandable and building back trust with the community. Education is key here – not just in a formal sense, but also in an information, ongoing way, where the industry is more transparent and honest about the risks and benefits of the technology”.

Leticia Latino-van Splunteren, CEO Neptuno USO, Corp

“When I was a very young girl in Venezuela, we used to accompany my father on family outings to see where a new mobile phone tower had been put up”, says Leticia. “I often say that I was really born into the tech industry, as my father founded the mobile tower construction company before I was even born.” Leticia now heads up Neptuno, a tower manufacturer with over 10,000 towers in the Americas. The business has expanded to cover all aspects – from construction to innovation, including software, asset tracking and 3D Tower Mapping.

For Leticia, the main change that she has experienced over the 25 years of her career, has been in the transformation, slow but progressive, of the culture of the digital tech sector from a male, engineering dominated one, where it was not easy to be a senior woman, to a more open, diverse and inclusive one. “But there is much more that needs to be done”, adds Leticia. “One of our main challenges is to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce and to attract and retain many more female STEM graduates. This is why I have devoted a lot of my attention and time to contribute to advance this ongoing issue. In 2019 Leticia was appointed by the FCC Chairman to Chair the BDAC Job Skills and Training Working Group, in 2021 she was appointed to the FCC’s Committee for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and in January 2022 she was appointed to the FCC’s Telecommunications Interagency Working Group formed as a directive of the US Infrastructure and Jobs Act.

“I am also very committed to overcoming the digital divide and not leaving anyone behind”, adds Leticia. “There are many places now in Florida, where I live, where you can’t park a car if you don’t have a phone payment app. This is very difficult for the elderly or the poor.”

Thinking about the next 25 to 30 years of the industry, Leticia believes that every aspect of our daily lives will be transformed by digital technology. It is therefore very important that in this process we do not lose who we are as human beings. “There is currently a lot of buzz about SmartCities, IoT, AR, etc. We as industry leaders need to think more of the users as we design and embed technology in our cities. Cities must be accessible to all citizens – from the very young to the very old.” Leticia believes that we need to work together as a matter of urgency to ensure that we make smart cities accessible and equitable for all. “To me the ‘Smart’ in Smart Cities is not about technology, it is about how we, as humans, implement it to make sure that it will better serve our society. What is the point of having a technologically connected city with socially disconnected human beings?”

Isabelle Paradis, President and Founder, HOT TELECOM

Isabelle has been in the digital communications industry for almost 30 years now, starting immediately after completing her engineering degree and an MBA. “When I started, it was a very exciting time, as the industry was on the verge of deregulation and companies were very profitable. There were innovative new players entering what was once a very traditional, highly regulated market. It was a very dynamic and exhilarating time”. Isabelle joined the recently privatised Canadian international telecommunications provider Teleglobe, as one of a group of young graduates referred to as ‘catalysts of change’. “There were lots of firsts, new types of solutions, many new players. It was very buoyant”, says Isabelle. “As Teleglobe was a major international player, there were a good proportion of women, although at that time they were mainly in support roles, including in marketing or HR. There were no women at Board or C-level. Since then so much has changed.”

After the first major wave of innovation, with many new players entering the market, new types of solutions and business models being introduced, the industry went through its second wave of innovation with the introduction of mobile technology. “This brought with it a whole new suite of players, technologies and products”, recounts Isabelle. “Once again the industry needed to re-invent itself and get used to constant change, but now at a much faster pace than ever before.” After that came what Isabelle refers to as the “IPification” of the digital tech industry, with the introduction of IP all the way to the handset. “This innovation has had a significant impact on our society as a whole”, comments Isabelle. “For the first time, users were given the power to control their experience.”

We are now going through the Digital wave, with everything moving to the cloud, everything being virtualized and automated. This, coupled with the introduction of 5G, is triggering another transformation. “I like to call this stage the “verticalization” of our industry. “This stage will bring about the hyper-personalization of everything”, says Isabelle. “It will give us even more control over our lives at all times.”

Looking ahead, Isabelle sees the main challenge in that we will all have to get used to constant change and to learn to thrive in chaos. Chaos is now the new normal and is here to stay. “We must also learn to foster constant innovation, which is a great challenge for traditional companies such as telecom operators.” In response, industry leaders need to stop talking and start taking the necessary steps to harness the power of everyone to power innovation. “Our industry is building the world of tomorrow and therefore the people involved should be as diverse as possible, in terms of age, gender, culture, philosophy and so on. Then and only then will the telecom industry be able to play its pivotal role in building our future.”

Vicki MacLeod is an ICT specialist with considerable industry and government experience in Australia and internationally in a variety of telecommunications and digital technology fields. Currently providing independent consultancy services, Vicki is also on the Board of Directors of OWNSAT (Oceania Women’s Network Satellite Pty Ltd), a Singapore-based satellite investment arm which was the first investor in satellite broadband startup Kacific. She has been Secretary-General of the Global Telecom Women’s Network (GTWN) since 1998 and is the Editor-in-Chief of the GTWN’s publications, including its annual magazine The Mobile Century: Life and Work in the Digital Era. ( Vicki is a former Executive Director of the International Institute of Communications in London, and has had a considerable career in the telecommunications industry. After commencing her career with the Australian Government in Canberra, including in the Department of Communications as part of the group opening the telecommunications sector to competition, Vicki spent more than ten years as part of Telstra’s regulatory policy group. She went on to represent Telstra as an active member of the OECD’s Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) for more than a decade. She was also Senior Advisor, Innovation Culture in Telstra’s Chief Technology Office.