A veteran at Rohde & Schwarz, Kerstin Jüttner, the focal point of international relations for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), exclusively shared her professional life and personal views to Telecom Review.
Interacting with people from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa through the years made Kerstin appreciate the need and importance of digitalization and being connected. Her overall two cents on the topic of empowerment focuses on the fact that keeping an open mind to new challenges, being a motivated team player, and working passionately in everything is what matters, regardless of gender.
How did you get started in the telecommunications industry? Can give you us some background about your career?
After I left the hotel business and finished my assignment at a call center at a software solution company in the Netherlands in 1999, I took the opportunity to start working at Rohde & Schwarz, a leading German high-tech company headquartered in Munich, as Assistant for Sales, Service, and Projects. Until then, I had no experience in the ICT sector and no deep knowledge about the wide range of products, services, and solutions offered by Rohde & Schwarz.
I always wanted to learn more, to challenge and develop myself. I believe that everything is possible, provided there is enough interest and you are willing to put in the hard work. Having said that, I should also mention that it is important to be part of an organization that gives you the chance and support to grow professionally. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who believed in me and supported me throughout these years.
In 2008, I moved to the ITU sector and became an interface between Rohde & Schwarz and ITU. After more than a decade working in this field at ITU, I had learned a lot about the ICT world, the requirements, the regulatory frameworks, the importance of creating a digital world, and the need to connect people who aren’t connected yet due to inadequate infrastructure or the absence of education and financial means.
For me, interacting with people from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa helps me appreciate the need and importance of digitalization and being connected, and makes me determined to understand their needs and work with them to achieve a better world.
What are the most challenging experiences you have faced — personally and professionally — while working in the ICT industry? How did you meet these challenges?
When I started working in the ITU sector, I realized even more just how much ICT is a "man's world".
I truly believe, and this is how I have been able to deal with it, that if you are open-minded, travel the world, are open to different cultures and traditions, and are always interested in new ways or technologies, you don’t need to ask yourself whether you are in the right field or not. I never once asked myself whether starting to work in such a male-dominated company or sector would be problematic.
You always find people, regardless of whether they are female or male, who will support you once they believe in you and trust you. “Connectivity” is so much more than being able to talk about a product or solution. We first need to create trust between each other. If you are able to stay true and honest to yourself, you create trust with them.
Africa is a highly-coveted nation for digital transformation and ICT investments. What is your five-to-ten-year outlook on the region’s technological progression?
To ensure Africa´s technological progression over the coming 5 to 10 years, I think it is important to promote and further emphasize the need for focused engagement in terms of political, financial, and educational support from the world´s major economies towards and across the whole continent of Africa. Furthermore, it will be necessary to push forward existing Africa Technology Initiatives such as "Smart Africa" to name one that Rohde & Schwarz is proud to support.
ICT and technology companies can take a leading role in improving education – this also includes equal education and professional careers for women.
Having been involved in ITU’s international relations for more than a decade, what are the most prominent changes over the years with respect to facilitating international connectivity across communications networks?
There have been two apparent changes: First, the evolution of digitalization and connectivity which has taken place over the last decade, and second, the dramatic change we have witnessed in terms of male dominance.
I remember in 2008, ITU had created a simple webpage showing general information for all three sectors; about the Secretary-General, his deputy, and the directors of all three sectors. It included information about workshops, conferences, and activities in all kinds of study groups and working committees with text and some nice generic pictures. We could also find information about the ITU Telecom World tradeshow, which has since changed to ITU Digital World and will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021.
The change in name of this international governmental tradeshow alone is an indication of the huge digital transformation our world has undergone. The change which has occurred over the years from a simple information channel to a digitization, information, and get-connected channel, together with all social media, has been very obvious. The dramatic and very dynamic global COVID-19 pandemic which began in early 2020 has resulted in a massive change from F2F tradeshows, meetings, and conferences to virtual shows and online webinars, etc.
However, the real change was with respect to male dominance – a change that I can absolutely confirm. Women are able to drive a car just as men are able to take care of the kids at home. In the ICT sector, a lot of activities and programs have started such as “Girls in ICT” or “Network of Women (NoW)” in ITU. Each ITU Region has a Network of Women and I am part of the one in the Europe Region. NoW organizes training courses on women in leadership roles, national events in administrations addressing gender issues and digitization as well as events around the Girls in ICT Day. We are planning to organize fireside discussions and additional training courses to give ITU-D women delegates of Europe the opportunity to learn and to support each other at these conferences and during these activities.
This is a very important and necessary step as it tells women that being a woman is no barrier to working in ICT.
As a woman, how can you empower other women to join the ICT working scene and what skills/values should come in handy to be competent in this sector?
This question may seem simple, but it definitely can't be answered in just one sentence.
In my point of view, it is important if you still believe in and cling to traditional male and female roles. For me, it is all about balance – if there is good teamwork, it doesn’t matter if it's men only, women only, or mixed genders.
If you, as a woman, believe deep in your heart that you can do something, then go for it! The train of life will bring you people who support you, stay with you, believe and trust in you even if there are still people around who don’t.
If you look back to my own experience, then you can trust yourself to do anything. Be open to new challenges, be a team player, be motivated, and be able to work passionately in everything that you do.
I would like to encourage every young woman, not necessarily in ICT, to go to a university or to join advanced training courses if they have the chance.
Education, in general, is something that should be available to all human beings and not be gender-dependent. The only thing that matters is what you are interested in and if you want to explore and develop yourself. Always stay curious.