Cheri Beranek’s insights into what success looks like for women in technical fields are invaluable. As a woman in the C-Suite who has grown Clearfield from a concept to a market cap of more than $500 million, she advises female leaders trying to get their foot in the door.
Women in technical fields face a unique set of challenges – whether it is making their presence felt, career progression, or struggling to balance work and motherhood, coupled with the fact that entering the tech, engineering, or telecom fields in the past was a matter of access and experience.
Historically, field positions have been male-dominated spaces, but with so many from the old guard ending their careers right as new technologies are booming, positions are opening en masse.
Today, the demand for technical competence is exploding, and a career for women in technical fields is increasingly available. The hands-on skills of the job only require the right training, so anyone can master them and join the field. In fact, now is a great opportunity for women to enter and excel in tech, engineering and telecoms.
People are still surprised to see women in technical fields as far as they have come, so when a woman demonstrates a high level of competency, she can get quick recognition among the rest. Even at my company, as more women joined our team of technology workers, I paid attention to their growth and learned that each had a unique approach to being a working woman that made them stand out in a typically male world. Embracing that with confidence helped them better navigate problems, overcome challenges, and rise into leadership positions.
These women each took a different approach to their career in a technical role, and we can learn something from all of them about how to overcome these obstacles. Here are their stories:
Be “one of the guys”
Right from the beginning, you could tell our training manager joined the team as “a guy’s guy.” Coming from a field tech position climbing telephone poles, she was prepared to match the team’s competitive male energy with confidence. Anything they could do, she could do better, faster, and with nail polish.
By approaching her role in male-dominated positions as someone who would stand up for herself and prove her worth, she quickly earned the respect of others. This respect is crucial as a training manager because she needs those learning from her to trust in her capacity to help them improve their work. Her approach to being as good as or better than anyone else on the team lets them trust that she can do her job and do it well.
By showing you can match or exceed the skills and abilities of those who have come before you in these tech roles, you can prove that you deserve to be the and bring something necessary to the team that it wouldn’t have without you.
Let nothing hold you back
The engineer who runs our certification programme represents a lesson in never letting anything hold you back — she can do anything she sets her mind to. Not only does she have the best personality and a great laugh, but she also runs our certification programme, rides horses, and farms the land. Did I mention she was also born without an arm?
Her personality is so powerful that nothing can stop her. Meeting her leaves an impact. She excels in her responsibilities and in dealing with people because her confidence carries her wherever she wants to go. Neither overtly trying to be one of the guys nor exuding femininity, she just found her unique brand of woman and entered a male-dominant field, and it was her confidence in this that helped her succeed. This woman is living proof that always being yourself and overcoming challenges with a smile will enable you to accomplish anything you want in life.
Find a speciality
The packaging engineer at my company wanted to be a beautician when she was a little girl and entered college believing she would become a teacher. However, after taking a few science and maths courses in college, she was introduced to a new potential career path as a packaging engineer. As there are only five universities in the country with this degree, she entered the tech world with a speciality that made her stand apart from the crowd. What’s more, her confidence, flexibility, and go-getter attitude opened doors for her that she didn’t even know to look for.
When you keep your options open and stay on high alert so you can spot those perfect opportunities when they present themselves, even if you’re not completely sure about what you’re doing at first, your hard work and ability to go with the flow can take you exactly where you need to be. Less than a year after joining our firm, our packaging engineer had her second daughter – and then the pandemic hit. But she never missed a beat. Her success today shows that if you keep moving forward with confidence, you’ll find that these tech fields are bristling with opportunities for women – and you can demonstrate a model of success for the next generation.
How we get there
Of course, there should be more ease of access to learning what kind of tech and engineering jobs are out there, especially as the market for new staff in these industries is booming. At the same time, women can be proactive, look into career fairs, and know their options. Then, they can learn some skills for the jobs that appeal to them and try their hand to see what comes of it. If you embrace this with confidence and put all your effort into doing your best job at each skill, those opportunities will undoubtedly find you.
With tech use ever-increasing in our lives, women looking to enter a new career path or already on their way have a real opportunity right now to stand out and take the lead. All it requires is learning a particular set of skills. Even if it means exposing yourself to something new, take classes and learn how to get better. Keep your brain charged and thinking differently. Whether it requires a full college degree or hands-on training in the field, you can set a new path from scratch and quickly grow it into a career. These three women and their stories are proof that it can be done.
Cheri Beranek is President and CEO at Clearfield, a leading provider of optical fiber management and connectivity platforms for broadband service providers.