GWITTAS - Meet the 2020 Advocates - Sabine A. Sitterli

GWITTAS - Meet the 2020 Advocates - Sabine A. Sitterli

21 August 2020 | Natalie Bannerman


We're back with the first of many interviews with our advocates for the Global Women in Telco & Tech Summit and Awards 2020. First up is Sabine A. Sitterli, vice president of network infrastructure EMEA & site leader Munich Office, Akamai, on why she chose to back this initiative.

What inspired you to become a ‘Women in Telco and Tech’ advocate? What was it about this particular initiative that resonated with you? 

Being in the Telco and Tech industry for over 20 years, we need to try harder to change the awareness of diversity and inclusion, being embedded into our DNA of Growth Mindset to build an agile, inclusive and global Tech Community where everyone is respected, listened and have equal opportunities to excel in their career paths. I started joining events organized by the Capacity Media team over a decade ago and no surprise, was one of the few women joining the event, which by the way, was not only at these types of events. Also, the more growing into my career path, I didn’t come many women across which is changing, and since then had many “aha” moments which took me hard work to learn and experience, and I’d be more than happy to share these.

We still have lots of work ahead of us to change and evolve the mindset of Diversity and Inclusion in this industry, that’s why I am convinced Capacity Media is at the right journey, to work across companies and looking at thought leadership. We have reached a point, where it’s not only from a pure gender perspective but through many nuances of diversity. For many years we looked at increasing the gender diversity, but we need to zoom in – independently on female, male or diverse – on our different cultural backgrounds, communication style preferences, habits, values, etc. With that we need to nurture our common language and try harder to raise awareness to view things “from someone’s else perspective”, but also be curious to try to understand to better overcome our own unconscious bias and life is journey of ongoing journey. Especially now, within all the learnings going through the pandemic time, advanced circumstances eg balancing work-life with family and/or private time, and racism, just to name a few. We need to take accountability as everyone plays a part in the Tech Industry becoming more diverse and inclusive.

What are some (if any) of the biggest challenges you faced as a woman in the telco/tech industry and what did you learn from those experiences?

If someone could have told me 20 years ago…my biggest challenges were a) Self-confidence, b) not being heard and c) balancing work and family.

Self-confidence: for many years I was the Subject Matter Expert but before chiming into a conversation or speaking up, I was trying to flesh out all the details in my mind as I didn’t want to fail or look “stupid” giving an answer. The time I was ready to respond, the conversation already moved on. I believe being a non-native English speaker contributed to that too. Sometimes I was being told, that I have a “cute” German accent which even further pushed me into my thinking loop, as I didn’t want to sound “cute”.

What did I learn from that? I know that I am a non-native English speaker and I don’t care anymore. If I have to say something I speak up and sometimes I’m really mad at myself, that I didn’t have that viewpoint earlier in my career

Not being heard: So, overcoming speaking up, and bringing up a cool idea which was dismissed / ignored and not being picked up and the discussion/meeting went on. After a while, when a guy brought up the idea, everyone chimed in that’s such a creative idea.

What did I learn from that? If I feel my idea is brought up by someone else, I’m not shy to bring that up and also outline the facts/data/research which I had done before; if I want to bring up the idea the first time, I’m looking for allies to brief upfront who can help to chime into the conversation, last but not least, build reliable, trusted and supportive working relationships to support you when required.

Balancing work/family: my bad consciousness had been and still is always travelling with me. Being on a career path means to be a good team with your partner, especially when there are children in play.

What did I learn from that? You can have it both: career and family; Trust your partner 100%; it’s ok not to be perfect; prioritize as there is never enough time to finish all work and all family items.

What skills and/or career experiences have helped you in your career to date that you feel others can take on board?

Awareness on how you communicate, Data and Analytics, Mentorship: being a mentee and mentor and in you Private Life – continue to be curious and learn from all people you meet.

How do you aim to help the next cohort of women as they progress in their careers? E.g. mentorship, advice, inclusive working environment etc. 

I am a big believer of mentorship which had also helped me greatly to become more aware of the bigger picture and my journey, and happy to give that back to the community.

Also, a diverse and inclusive working environment is key, which already starts investing in creating a diverse talent pipeline, internal ships, company specific programs and forums for new talents to join.

Are there any changes or great initiatives that we’ve already seen?

This is a broad question. If a company, community, team or individual really wants to change the journey and create a more inclusive and diverse environment, they need to invest time and budgets

Let me share how we drive Diversity & Inclusion at Akamai, as we have several initiatives established, for example:

The Akamai’s Foundation program which is dedicated to encouraging the next generation of technology innovators by supporting STEM education, with a focus on the pursuit of excellence in mathematics in grades K-12.

The Office of Diversity & Inclusion who works to build a global community and culture with Akamai where all individuals are welcomed, respected, and are provided opportunities to excel and flourish in their careers.

Employee led Resource groups which have become an increasingly important part of our global Diversity and Inclusion efforts. They have hosted numerous events, enriching the Akamai experience for employees.

The Global Diversity and Inclusion Executive Steering Committee which is setup to connect the D&I office to the broader business strategies and goals. They provide direction and guidance to the Office of Diversity & Inclusion in their priorities and initiatives to meet Akamai’s goals as a best place to work

The EMEA Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board which actively supports inclusion and diversity in our teams across EMEA to help support the Mission Critical Goals and the diverse nature.

What things can we do on an individual level to help push forward for diversity and inclusion in our industry?

Talk about with and in your team what would it make a more diverse and inclusive environment

Make a personal commitment to contribute to a more diverse and inclusive environment (and talk about it)

Pick up topics which are coming up in the news

Figure out what could be your own biases

Talk to people whom you are not familiar eg different culture, language, gender etc how they feel about diversity and inclusion in their work and private life

Once you are done with the above items, start with (1) again J Diversity and Inclusion is a continuous journey.

In your own words, why is it important that our male colleagues are also involved in initiatives such as this?

Let me quote two “aha” moments I had in my career path stroke me most why we need include our male colleagues in these discussions:

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation with one of my male peers who asked me at some point, why we only include women in the women events we are organizing, and then explained that he’d like to better understand where the challenges are and that he wants to support the initiative.

Sometimes I believe we and not only I are “tapping” into awkward, sensitive and uncomfortable situations with colleagues which I have to admit happened a couple of times in my career path, and for a long time I was asking myself why me? At some point I brought up the topic to one of my most inspiring mentors and my dear mentor only commented that it’s the guys who have to learn.

So, to summarize, it’s important that our male and diverse colleagues are involved in initiatives like this to create awareness, foster end evolve a diverse and inclusive environment ensuring everyone feels appreciated, safe and have a voice in the system.