Breaking Down Barriers as a Woman in IoT

An interview with VP of IoT Sales at Vodafone, Lisa Uhrmacher, encouraging women to never underestimate the attributes and perspective they bring to the technology industry.

Shannon Lee
Lisa Uhrmacher
Illustration: © IoT For All

Lisa Uhrmacher, an IoT industry veteran, has spent the last seven years at Vodafone. For the last four years, she has served as VP of IoT Sales. She spent 16 years at Sprint Nextel prior to joining Vodafone where one of her many accomplishments was managing the partner development and nationwide launch of the first 4G service in the US. Lisa is an Australian native who currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri.

IoT For All (IFA): Tell us about your current role and journey into the IoT/Tech space.

Lisa: I am currently one of the sales leaders for Internet of Things (IoT) in North America for Vodafone. In my role, I lead a team of passionate IoT sales professionals and work with different parts of Vodafone’s business to uncover IoT needs for customers and potential customers.

I took a rather untraditional path to a career in technology. While I didn’t initially seek out a career in the industry, through the years I found a true passion for it. I have a natural curiosity that has driven my interest in technology and has helped guide me to working on very interesting and cutting-edge projects.

I work closely with my team on unique customer engagements in many different industries, which is one of the reasons I find it so rewarding. I get to work creatively with customers to solve challenges and get positive outcomes–for example, one day we could be working on IoT sensors for cows, the next day we’re solving challenges around pre-term babies in Africa and the next tracking blueberries in Chile.

IFA: What do you think about the current state of IoT and its future? What makes it exciting?

Lisa: There is no doubt that both the current and future state of IoT is exciting. We see it every day at Vodafone with the handful of examples that I shared in my previous answer. What’s also really exciting is seeing how critical IoT is becoming to organizations. In our recent Vodafone IoT Barometer report we found 72% of IoT adopters said that business-critical initiatives, like digital transformation, are impossible without IoT. Also, as IoT adoption continues to grow around the world, 95% of those already using IoT are seeing tangible benefits from their IoT deployments. That’s exciting!

IFA: What do you wish you had known prior to joining the industry?

Lisa: I wish I had known how exciting and ever-changing this industry would be. I would have jumped in earlier. The range of customers, the huge variety of applications and Applications, and the transformative nature of what we do continue to astound me. Some of the Applications, such as pre-natal monitoring or flour supplementation in Africa, or exoskeletons for spinal cord injuries, inspire me to be more creative and more engaged with our customers.

IFA: What is the greatest obstacle facing women interested in joining the IoT space today?

Lisa: I believe that work-life balance is one of the biggest obstacles for women in any industry. While I believe it would be great to say that women can have it all, it’s ultimately a balancing act. I feel that sometimes women must give more to their career or sometimes more to families and it’s a balance of being a wife, mother, caregiver and professional. I believe that women can overcome it with the right mindset, but I know for a lot of women today it’s still a difficult negotiation.

IFA: What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially with your experience in male-dominated environments?

Lisa: Breaking in–especially since technology is such a male-dominated environment. While that is changing somewhat, it can still be difficult for women to create mentoring relationships. For example, many women have different social and evening priorities, which can leave them out of certain activities. It’s important for women to engage successfully, but without having to compromise who they are.

IFA: In a management position, how have you found is best to promote and nurture women in the workplace?

Lisa: In tech, there is an imbalance of women in the workplace to start with, so it is very important to find or develop a network of women from whom you and your team can learn. In addition, finding strong women role models for my team is vital.  Even more important, there is a need for women to mentor men, and for men to mentor women in order to break down the traditional barriers. I also encourage women to find mentors and leadership opportunities outside Vodafone, including board participation to enhance their leadership skills. Vodafone is committed to gender parity, so there is a conscious effort to promote and nurture women, especially in the succession planning process. The final piece is developing and maintaining a strong network within the industry in order to find women to fill open roles when they become available to continue building the bench.

IFA: Are there particular areas in IoT where you see a lack of women and representation? If so, where and why do you think that is?

Lisa: I think there is a real lack of diversity in the engineering ranks in IoT. We all know that women are underrepresented in engineering in general, but in my 10+ years in the industry, I have met very few women engineers. The ones I have met have been incredibly talented, but I think I could list them on one hand. Women engineers are heavily recruited and actively retained in all tech industries. I am not sure that IoT has been widely taught at the tertiary level, so perhaps there is a lack of awareness of the opportunity.

IFA: How are you addressing increasing diversity and inclusion in IoT?

Lisa: I’m proud to work for a company who has made diversity and inclusion a critical part of the success of the business. For example, Vodafone has a volunteer-driven Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) committee which seeks to enhance understanding and awareness of culture within the organization. At Vodafone, we also have the Vodafone Women’s Network–a companywide forum for women to come together, inspiring them to maximize their potential for business and individual success through career initiatives, community service and personal growth. The network is also open to men to join who want to be a part of helping women feel more empowered, which I think is critically important.

However, outside of Vodafone, I work with the local school’s career program where my children are currently doing internships in business and STEM. Much of that work centers around helping them develop resume writing and interview skills so they can be ready to take on opportunities in the workplace and not feel intimated by STEM careers.

IFA: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received and one piece of advice you would give our readers?

Lisa: Women need to be forgiving of themselves. They don’t have to be perfect or know all the answers–especially when men don’t have the same expectations. Women tend to be self-critical and if they don’t think that they will be 100% or don’t know all the answers they are less likely to volunteer.

My advice is to go in with the mindset that as a woman you have enough of the skills and abilities and ultimately aren’t selling yourself short. Women should never underestimate the attributes that they bring to the technology industry: women are creative, excellent multi-taskers and can help men in the technology take a step back and add a different perspective.

IFA: What are you currently reading?

Lisa: I am currently reading “How Women Rise”, which was given to me by a female friend who recently completed her PhD. It is a really inspiring book with lots of great research and advice for women in management.

IFA: What’s the best piece of management advice you’ve ever received/read?

Lisa: The best piece of management advice I have received is to take a risk. If there is an opportunity, even if you think you are only 70% qualified, seize the moment and go for it. You are smart, you learn quickly, you can find smart people to help you and you have the skills to be successful. Don’t wait until you tick every box on the requirements list, or your options will be limited, and most of the other applicants won’t have all the boxes ticked either.

IFA: IoT can be stressful, how do you decompress? Any tips or tricks?

Lisa: I work out every day, usually in the morning in order to clear my mind and focus my energy. I eat a very healthy diet and try to get enough sleep, even when I travel. I also learned that there are things in my life I can control, and many more I cannot. So, I focus on those things I can influence, and let the rest slide. I am far less stressed this way, and people often compliment me on how calm I am, even under pressure.

IFA: What is your experience with and/or thoughts on imposter syndrome? Particularly in the tech world.

Lisa: It is a very dangerous thing to allow yourself to self-doubt. I love to learn and I am always listening to customers and industry peers. It does two things, it keeps me current and relevant, and it boosts my confidence and cements my position as a thought-leader. Women can sometimes sell themselves short, and I continually work with the women on our teams to build their confidence and position them as thought leaders.

IFA: What’s the networking landscape like in the IoT industry? Are there opportunities for women to meet/mentor where you’re located?  

Lisa: I am lucky in Kansas City. We are a very entrepreneurial city with a lot of wireless and IoT innovation. I am actively engaged with women in IoT both here and wherever I travel to stay connected. I often find other women to have coffee with at conferences, in other cities, or via my network. I recently connected with a new woman-owned IoT company here, and have started to network with her team, which includes some really interesting women from all phases of the IoT journey. Of course, Vodafone also has some amazing women among our IoT ranks, and we network both in person and virtually.

    Shannon Lee
    Shannon Lee
    Former full-time marketing communications professional with a specialization in technology, startup, and corporate communications. Active marketing freelancer and medical cannabis science health professional studying to become a Psychedelic-Assist...
    Former full-time marketing communications professional with a specialization in technology, startup, and corporate communications. Active marketing freelancer and medical cannabis science health professional studying to become a Psychedelic-Assist...