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Profile: Catherine Lefèvre, Associate Vice President in AT&T’s Information Management team

“Mentorship, acceptance, and trust are really important in fostering gender diversity in the workplace”

Gabriela Motroc
diversity
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Catherine Lefèvre, Associate Vice President in AT&T’s Information Management team.

Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Catherine Lefèvre, Associate Vice President in AT&T’s Information Management team.

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Catherine Lefèvre, Associate Vice President in AT&T’s Information Management team

Catherine Lefèvre is an Associate Vice President in AT&T’s Information Management team. Located in Belgium, Catherine is responsible for the software delivery and scaling of ECOMP, the platform that powers AT&T’s software-centric network. She is also a member of the AT&T “Virtual Network Function” Governance Board and is co-leading the open sourcing of the ECOMP Platform (ONAP).

Catherine began her career in 1996, working with Alcatel as a software development engineer.

She joined AT&T in 2013. During her time with AT&T, she has focused on developing its software-defined network. This includes working on software development best practices as well as early prototypes and proof of concepts of AT&T’s Domain 2.0 technology. She has also supported AT&T’s move from concept to scaled production development of the technology as well as integrating the DevOps Culture for increased collaboration between the development and operations teams. She is also part of AT&T’s EMEA Women’s Network, mentoring young women about careers in STEM.

Catherine received a master’s degree in computer science as well as a qualified teaching degree in computer science in 1996 from the University Of Namur (FUNDP).

Catherine is Belgian, an avid horse rider and photography enthusiast.

What got you interested in technology?

At 14, my father gifted me my first personal computer, Sinclair QL. I had hoped for a video game console, like the Commodore 64 or an Atari 800, but my dad thought it would be more fun for me to code my own games. And he knew me well – each time he would travel to the UK, he brought me back a QL World magazine that contained the source code of popular arcade games (like Labyrinth, Snake, and Battleship) written in Basic programming language. I coded all of them, and that’s what inspired my interest in studying computer science.

My parents played a big role in motivating me towards pursuing a STEM career – my mother was a math teacher and my father was an electronics engineer so STEM subjects were a familiar territory for me from an early start. I would like to add, however, that being born to an engineer doesn’t automatically make you one – you need to work hard towards your passion to achieve your goals. At a personal level, I have always been a little reserved and I had a misconception that if consistently delivered outstanding work, the rest would naturally follow, but I realized in time that you need to actively pursue what you want, otherwise you won’t go too far.

I have a very strong support system – my parents are the cornerstone of my success and my husband is my pillar of support and anchor in life. I have so much to thank them for – I dedicate all of my accomplishments to them.

Being born to an engineer doesn’t automatically make you one – you need to work hard towards your passion to achieve your goals.

I have always been determined to advance and learn more, and with that attitude, nothing can stop you from reaching your goals. Considering the rapidly changing world of technology, we must keep on learning so we can adapt to new changes quickly or we will be left in the dust and unable to reap the rewards that change can offer.

A day in Catherine’s life

As an Associate Vice President of AT&T Labs, there are several elements to my job – I am responsible for software delivery of AT&T software-defined networking components, the Rules-Based Process Automation Platform, and the Service Provisioning Platform (Voice, D2 Network/Service Elements, etc.). I also co-lead the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) released under the Linux Foundation.

Essentially, I work on AT&T’s software development best practices and integrating the DevOps Culture for increased collaboration between the development and operations teams. I also play an active role in mentoring young women about STEM careers as part of the AT&T EMEA women’s network.

Every day is a different day and my tasks vary a lot. I usually organize my work week by splitting it into two – during the first three days, I work from 9 am to 11 pm (and sometimes even midnight), and on Thursdays/Fridays I work from 9 am to 6/7 pm. On a day-to-day basis, I usually spend the first 30 minutes catching up with my local team and then prioritizing my activities around any urgent matters that might have emerged over the night. Then, it’s all about planning ahead – jotting down new ideas and brainstorming with my teams in Belgium and across the world, defining the long-term strategy, calling and meeting people, reviewing my budget, and of course, catching up on emails and staying on top of the news.

This is typically my day when I’m in Belgium but I spend a lot of time abroad – mostly in the US – visiting all the different teams, attending ONAP worldwide events, etc. I typically travel once per quarter except for Q1, which is always busy – I have already traveled two times this year and another trip is looming end of March.

I am proud of the various awards won by myself and my teams, including the AT&T Science and Technology Medal and the Technology Development President’s Award. I am most proud of my team because they are the real drivers behind all of our projects. I spend most of my time with my team – trying to develop their sense of responsibility, cultivating and supporting their ideas and initiatives, and giving them feedback and encouragement on their achievements. Seeing my team flourish is what makes me most proud.

We should make it a priority to establish mentors for women, and men alike.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

The problem is deep-rooted and stems from traditional gender stereotyping of technology and engineering careers. We have a culture of labeling subjects and careers as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ – that needs to change. At present, we have fewer women studying STEM subjects and choosing STEM careers, which is why employers have a limited female talent pool to recruit from. And even when women choose to study a STEM subject, they find themselves outnumbered by men, which is why it is so important for more women in leadership roles to mentor young women.

Gender diversity benefits companies in great ways. Several studies have shown that businesses with a diverse workforce benefit from a more creative workforce and achieve higher overall success. Getting more women in the workplace and in leadership positions can also help inspire more young women towards joining STEM careers and help build a strong network for women at all career levels.

[Change] depends on how much change we can achieve at the grass-roots level. Can parents and teachers motivate more young girls to pursue STEM education? Can more companies offer flexible work arrangements? Can employers promote more women to take on leadership roles? And can women in leadership roles inspire more young girls to follow technology-based education paths and careers?

Obstacles

I think there is a lack of mentorship available for young women to help guide them through the early stages of their career. I think we should make it a priority to establish mentors for women, and men alike. Supporting one another and celebrating diversity in the workplace can lead to some of the greatest ideas and inventions ever created. Mentorship, acceptance, and trust are three areas that I think are really important in fostering gender diversity in the workplace.

Tips & tricks

I would like to tell all women to pursue their dreams with passion. Hearing from other women working in the industry is also a very useful tool – I will be participating at several Girls Day events organized by my company, as I have in previous years, where I’ll be sharing my personal experiences as a leader in technology and innovation, demystifying my role and removing misconceptions related to STEM careers.

My goal is to facilitate informed career choices by girls who are at the critical point of making important decisions about their education and career in STEM.

Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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