Five Minutes with Tami Erwin, Former Verizon CEO
Former CEO at Verizon
Hi Tami, please tell us what inspired you to pursue a career in the technology industry, specifically Verizon.
I'd love to tell you that I was inspired and I had a very intentional plan, but it was really just good luck. I’d moved back from Silicon Valley and was looking for a role. Wireless was brand new, so somebody said, “Hey, why don't you interview for this job?”. At that point, people were saying wireless was never going to take off, after all, who was going to carry a phone around with them?
But I ended up working for an incredible woman, who inspired me to believe I could achieve anything I set my mind to. As I grew up in this business of telecommunications – now technology – I watched how it changed the way we all live, work, and play. It exposed me to leading and managing large teams while being able to provide tools and resources to help others succeed.
Over the course of your 35-year career, can you pinpoint some of the most revolutionary changes you’ve witnessed?
There have really been so many changes. For example, the journey from analogue to 5G now, and, of course, we're working on the development of 6G. There’s also the integration of satellite communications beginning to come in and fill the gap to ensure we’re able to be connected at all times – specifically relevant for rural communities and developing countries.
I've also seen a really interesting cultural transition in that 35-year period. The industry is much more focused on DEI and how we make sure that there's respect for every age, race, and gender. Although there’s still a lot of work to be done, there’s definitely been a significant change.
On a similar note, what was your experience being a female leader in a male-dominated sector?
In many ways, I've had incredible support as a female. I've had great mentors and sponsors, but I've also seen the struggle that so many women face – for example, not having the same opportunity that their male colleagues have. It tends to be that women progress to a place where they achieve a certain role, but it takes them longer because they have had to work harder and prove they're capable – as opposed to male colleagues, who often just need to demonstrate the potential of being capable.
As we find ourselves having deeper conversations around what's involved in scaling for women and people of colour, we're finding we all have to be active about driving change. I also believe that this is not a women’s issue; this is a leadership and economic issue that we’re all responsible for resolving. So we need to stop talking about the problem and lean into actions to scale the opportunity for equity and equality.
How did you boost DEI at Verizon during your career?
After digging into DEI data, I decided to create a programme called Women of Wireless, which yielded incredible results. I helped women build their confidence and personal brands while encouraging them to take sales jobs, so that they could enjoy the compensation opportunities.
This ultimately transitioned Women of the World, where we saw 15-20% improvement in women in the sales environment. To me, this just goes to show that we can't just admire the problem – we've gotta take action.
Tech is changing the world as we know it, so it’s super important that we diversify the space. If not, we’ll see chatbots that are biassed and technology that works better for men than for women, just to start. But diversification goes beyond gender – we also need to consider age and race, for example, so with this in mind, it’s paramount to close the digital divide.
What future plans can you share with us?
After leaving Horizon, I committed to taking six months to do nothing – but I’m not really a ‘do nothing’ person. I've had a lot of really interesting exploratory conversations with people about my next steps, but I am looking to broaden my board member portfolio and currently take great pride in my position on the John Deere board. I'm very proud of the company as they're doing incredible work using technology to transform the yield of our food source, which is so important in a food-insecure world.
I've joined Aptiv as an advisor on their tech and strategy council, which is very exciting as they’re exploring how to transform gas-managed vehicles into electric vehicles. I’ve also joined the York Space Systems’ board to assess how we can accelerate satellite communications to fill that layer cake as we think about connecting the world anywhere, anytime.
In the future, I may even look to take on a different CEO role!