A formal mentoring program helps groom high-potential female engineers for leadership roles throughout the cable industry.
Created in 2011 by Women In Cable Telecommunications (WICT), the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) and Women in Technology honorees, the Women’s TechConnect program consists of monthly mentor-mentee meetings and graduation in October at the SCTE-International Society of Broadband Experts Cable-Tec Expo. Mentors and mentees last year also read and discussed How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job (Hachette Books, 2018).
SHRM Online spoke to two women about their experience in the yearlong program: Patricia Martin, senior vice president at Atlanta-based Cox Communications, and Jennifer Watterud, director of mobile development at Altice USA (formerly Cablevision), based in Queens, N.Y.
Martin was director of engineering at Cox when she was mentored in 2011-2012 by a co-founder of Women’s TechConnect. She credits the program with helping her secure her first executive position as vice president of engineering and operations for Cox Northeast Region.
When the position opened, Martin’s mentor recommended her for a job interview, walked her through potential interview questions and helped bolster Martin’s understanding of new technology. Martin has stayed active in the program and mentored Watterud—who was nominated for the program by a senior vice president at Altice—from October 2019 to October 2020.
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing Organizational Leaders]
The following comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.
SHRM Online: What did you hope to gain from the mentorship?
Martin: As a mentee, it was about finding a community who was like me. I loved my community within Cox and product technology, but to be surrounded by women who are mothers taking care of their families [and were involved in] work—the same things I go through—it was really nice to find that community.
As a mentor, I wanted to help give females in tech the same experience I had as a mentee. And, I enjoyed getting to know others in the same field but at different companies within the industry. The networking is a fantastic opportunity not just for the mentees, but the mentors as well. I have to stay sharp as a leader, and reading How Women Rise with someone from another company and talking it through was beneficial.
Watterud: For me, it was about connecting with other women in our industry and other female leaders who have navigated a bit more successfully. And learning how to tackle day-to-day issues with more grace, with greater impact, hoping to get others to take my role and contribution more seriously. I’ve been in my same position going on 14 years; I feel I’ve hit a ceiling, so how to achieve career growth successfully was definitely something I was hoping to get out of the mentorship.
Where I work, there are few women in tech roles at any level. There’s really a deficit of engineers, programmers, directors, vice presidents in general. Often, I am the only woman in the room. All my direct reports are male; we have a couple of female contractors on my team. I don’t have any struggles with sitting at the table; I’m confident in that regard. However, often there are challenges associated with being a female in a tech role and getting the credit you deserve. Are the ideas you bring given the same weight as your male peers?
It’s a matter of being patient and persistent. If at first your ideas are not being considered, don’t necessarily back down. Be confident. Repeat yourself if necessary. Don’t shy away. Gracefully navigate and take credit for your achievements. There are times when you have to gracefully swallow defeat.
SHRM Online: What was your mentoring experience like during the pandemic?
Martin: It helped me hear a point of view from my mentee that I may not have heard as fast from my organization. It helped me be a better leader to understand how important communications and connections were in the midst of the pandemic to my organization, and how critical it was to explain the “why” of decisions we were making, even more deliberately than before.
Watterud: The nature of our meetings shifted quite a bit, and I’m so grateful to have had that lifeline outside of my own company, but I almost would like to redo the mentorship when we’re not in a pandemic. Some of the networking opportunities, or the way you go about them, have changed, so I think I would have had a different experience—focusing on long-term goals and career as opposed to the day-to-day job.
SHRM Online: Mentorships often involve working with people in one’s own organization. What are the benefits of mentorship with someone from another company?
Martin: Being paired with somebody from outside my company in the midst of an international pandemic was outstanding to making me a better leader. I was hearing somebody’s experiences as an employee at a cable company and realizing what that meant to my employees.
Watterud: I found it extremely valuable because when you work for one company, you have this view of only that company, and you kind of question, ‘Is this right?’ Perhaps there’s something to learn from the experience of people in other companies. Are they handling diversity and inclusion in a similar fashion? Are they handling the pandemic in a similar fashion? What has changed for you because of the pandemic? What is your access to your senior leadership during the pandemic? It was so good to compare notes across all these different levels, which I definitely would not have gotten if I was paired with someone in the same company.
Where Are They Now?
Watterud has been appointed to a leadership position within one of Altice’s affinity groups, where she plans to shape a mentorship program around generational diversity.
Martin and a Cox colleague are creating a mentorship program in-house and signed up more than 300 product and tech employees. It’s a mentoring program, she noted, “on steroids.”
In the program, male and female technology leaders conduct mentoring circles with eight to 10 female technologists. They discuss How Women Rise, and mentees network with people they may have not otherwise met in a virtual world.
“We were very deliberate in pairing the women up with male leaders they might not usually get to work with to introduce people from other areas of the company. The female mentee could be in our Rhode Island market or our California market, for example,” Martin said. “We are very excited to build relationships through this opportunity.”
Other SHRM resources:
Disrupting the Tech Profession’s Gender Gap, All Things Work, May 2019
Promoting Gender Diversity at SAP: A Q&A with Shuchi Sharma, SHRM Online, October 2018
Women at Tech Companies Still Struggle to Reach C-Suite, SHRM Online