A Woman Leader Shares Her Service Story | Future of Field Service
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A Woman Leader Shares Her Service Story

In a session from the Austin Live Tour, Sarah welcomes Sonya Roshek, VP Field Services at B+T Group for an open conversation about what it’s been like to work, progress, and lead in male-dominated industries. She discusses what she’s learned, what she wants others to understand, what has evolved and what still needs to evolve.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today’s podcast is another session from our Austin Live Tour event. This one is featuring Sonya Roshek, who is the Vice President at B+T Group. Sonya has spent her entire career from her start in the military all the way through to her role at B+T. Being very often one of few if not the only female in male dominated industries and spaces. In this session at the Austin event, she shares some of her firsthand perspective. I think stories like Sonya and our collective willingness to listen to them and understand what women’s experiences are like, is very important when it comes to making changes and evolving in a way that ultimately will help us to get more women into field service. So, I hope you enjoy.

Sarah Nicastro: Alright. So Sonya has had a really interesting progression of being a woman in roles that you were probably not surrounded by many other women.

Sonya Roshek: Or none.

Sarah Nicastro: Or none. And so I can’t remember who it was earlier. They asked about, “How do we get more women in service?” So, we’re going to dig into that a bit. And I do think that, I said at the beginning of the day today, “I’m a big believer in the power of storytelling.” I think one important thing for folks like yourselves to do is to hear stories of women that are in service and understand, “Okay, so what got them here? And what can we learn from that? What has happened that maybe they didn’t leave because of, but could dissuade other women from being a part of the industry, et cetera?” So, we’re going to dig into a bit of that. But before we do, tell everyone a little bit more about yourself, your role, what B+T does, and anything else you want to share? And I know it’s post lunch guys, I get it. If we had cots, I would let you all take a quick 20 minute nap before we kicked off, but we don’t. So if I see any snoring, I will call you out. So just be aware. Okay.

Sonya Roshek: So, I’ll start with B+T. B+T Group started as an engineering company for telecommunications and then has moved more into, I call it complimentary services or construction. So, we do all of the construction for towers, on the towers, in the huts, fiber, small cells. There’s lots of new small cells going in. So basically anything that makes your phone tick is kind of what we do. I was brought into to actually run the construction. And I think there’s maybe one other woman that I know of, of my same grade or caliber, if you will, that works at T-Mobile that still works in construction. There’s a lot of women that are in different positions, but they’re more in administrative. There are very few that are actually on the construction side.

Sonya Roshek: I started my career, coming out of college and going into the army, which I still can’t really figure out how I ended up that way, other than it was a good way to pay for college. So coming out of the army, I went into work for US West back in the old days in the central offices. And those were those big buildings that had those massive computers, essentially that would fill this entire room, to service basically a city like this. I’m not even sure how I got hired because as the job description said, it had all kinds of technical things on there. And I was a nuclear chemical and biological officer, I didn’t know what that was. So, I think to your point, I remember getting hired and they’re like, “Okay, you’re going to start.” And it was in Portland, Oregon. And I remember calling HR and I’m like, “Can you read me the job description?”

Sonya Roshek: I had no idea what I got hired for, and it turned out okay. But they were hiring people coming out of the military. They were hiring people of different diversity. And there was a huge age gap. Because that was back in the time where people would start a job and stay in the utilities or the telephone company for 30, 40 years. Matter of fact, there had been so many layoffs, my least senior person had more years of service than I had at age. So I think I was 24, 26 maybe. And they all had 28 years of service or more. So, not only was it a generational gap, but also quite a gender gap as well. In the central offices there was more women, but not a lot. And especially as you went outside into the field services, there was very few women. Matter of fact, you can count them on your hand.

Sonya Roshek: So, as I kind of progressed through that, I moved into, Alcatel-Lucent was, they hired me and I ended up doing the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Building the fiber optic rings there. And again, I think I had a 350 installers out in the field and might be five or six women at that point. And I actually remember having my supervisor in Idaho, he’s like, “I don’t want to hire women, they can’t lift.” I’m like, “Our job description says 50 pounds, go get a bag of dog food, put it in your office. They can pick it up, put it on their shoulder, you’re hiring her.” I mean, so just the discrimination and the mindset of, women can’t do this. Not, “How can we engage women?” It was just, “Women can’t do this.” And so when I look at women in the workplace, I was talking to somebody in the back there and the reality is, it starts when we have children. We give girls a doll and we give boys a hammer and drills and a toolbox and let them go take things apart.

Sonya Roshek: We don’t do that with girls. I mean, so why are we expecting girls to be in field services and be technical, because, we just don’t train our girls to do that? I think it’s getting better. Title IX helped a little bit. But even now dads don’t want to see their girls dirty. And I think that’s just a generational, I think it’s a girls wear pink, boys wear blue. Why can’t we just wear green and yellow? Or so I think that’s where initially I think we need to start looking.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, no, that makes sense. So I think we’ve been at conferences together a few times. But what made me reach out to Sonya, because I’ve never interviewed you before. So this is happening in real time guys. But what made me reach out to you that I loved so much was, at the last Palm Springs event or maybe it was November, was it November or April?

Sonya Roshek: Palm Springs, April.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So, you were on a panel, and I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus here. But this is just the realities of this topic. And it was about diversity and et cetera, and Maureen, and I love Maureen, but she, without realizing it. And I don’t remember the specific question, but she was almost reinforcing some of the stereotypes in the way she was asking the questions to where I was kind of cringing. And you were the only person that was like, “Ah, actually I think no, and here’s why.” And I was like, “Okay, I love her.” Because honestly, I mean, if anyone here knows Maureen, who’s the event planner for that event, she’s a fantastic human being. And that’s the problem is a lot of this bias is unconscious. A lot of the stereotypes we have we don’t even realize we have, and or are reinforcing. And I’ll be really honest in saying, I have two boys and I’m not having any more kids.

Sarah Nicastro: And sometimes I get sad about the fact that I don’t have an opportunity to raise a daughter in today’s world. But I also realize that there’s an equal opportunity for me to change this through my sons. And I recently had a big falling out with a family member who told my younger son to stop crying like a little girl, boys don’t cry. And I was like, “Absolutely not. You can shut that down right now.” And he hasn’t talked to me since. But it’s important for me as a mother to stand up to those things, because that’s how that change happens. I don’t want them thinking that they can’t have emotions, or they love to wear pink and rainbow, like cool, I’m totally here for it. So, I absolutely agree with everything you’ve said.

Sarah Nicastro: And I think that you’re right, that if we all really want to make a change in this topic, one of the things we need to do that has a longer term payoff is reflect how are we as individuals, even in our home lives and our family lives, reinforcing those stereotypes or those biases without realizing it. So because it is so baked in, especially like you said, this delineation of boy versus girl and what boys are allowed to do, say, where et cetera, and it starts with really reflecting on how we’re living our lives and how that impacts what the next generation is growing up believing. I wanted to ask you, you mentioned that first role you applied to, excuse me, you had to then call them and ask them to redo back the job description, which I think is hilarious. But you also said you knew you didn’t have all of the qualifications.

Sonya Roshek: I didn’t have any of the qualifications.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, I want to ask you then how you had the confidence to apply anyway, because research shows that women won’t apply for roles unless they meet almost a 100% of the qualifications listed for a job. Which is one of the issues we have with casting that wider net that Roy was speaking of. So, what made it different for you to just apply anyway?

Sonya Roshek: It was actually through a recruiting firm that did the young military officers. And so it was one of those places where you go and there’s 30 or 50 different companies that are interviewing and it’s like speed dating. You did seven interviews back to back, to back. So you didn’t even know really what you were getting into. And then if they liked you, then they called you in for another secondary interview. So, I remember the recruiter though. I think you said character hiring for character. And the recruiter’s like, “We’re looking for somebody who’s got the fire in the belly. I can’t teach that. I can’t change that. I can’t create that. That fire in the belly of somebody that cares or that wants to go learn or understand things. We can’t harvest that.” So when they found somebody with fire in the belly they’re like, “We want you.” So, that matriculated a secondary interview where I think actually my boss at the time fell asleep in the interview. It was weird, but the long and the short of it is, he hired me and-

Sarah Nicastro: Also goes to show culture wasn’t as important then.

Sonya Roshek: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Because that would have been a red flag, right?

Sonya Roshek: Right, it was. And I mean, I didn’t even know there was things called a central office and the mainframe computers. And I remember walking in there and it was so filthy. One of the technicians was training me, basically having me chase literally a piece of wire through the entire office. And I had a white sweater on and she goes, “Hmm, maybe we could get some cleaning around here.” I’m like, “Hmm, evidently.” So I think that, did I interview, or did I try to hire? At that point I was just coming out of the military, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I know I didn’t want to be in the military anymore. Not that it wasn’t a great experience.

Sonya Roshek: But to your point, the military was even more gender biased. I mean, you had, it was 10% women at that time. And as a woman you had to be not only the top 10% of the women, but you had to be better than about 70% of the men. So you had to perform better. You had to carry as much weight, otherwise you were just pushed aside. So, I mean, there was times where I literally, this big six foot guy he was like, “That radio is really heavy.” I’m like, “Give it to me.” And the cadre or the captains looked at me and he goes, “Hmm, you’re going to be able to carry that?” “Yes, sir.” Crying. You can’t show fear. You can’t show emotions. You had to buck up like the guys. And is that the best tactic? No. Is that how I survived? Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, do you feel like the Sonya we see here today, so I can tell you have that fire in the belly, that’s very clear. Do you feel you had that and that allowed you to succeed in the military? Or do you think the military shaped that?

Sonya Roshek: I think I had that. I mean, I think that’s just innate to part of my personality, which I think goes to show that you can’t train that. But I think that actually started with my dad. I mean, my dad would say, “Okay, come on, we’re going to go do a chore today.” I’m like, “Okay, are we going to go re-roof this house?” “We? Okay.” I think I was 10. And it was an old, we called them the slums, but there was like seven layers of shingles on that. And we were ripping them up. And pretty soon I fell right through and my feet were dangling and my dad’s like, “Well, got to get out of there.” And I said, “Aren’t you going to help me?” He goes, “Well, I’m going to fall through if I go over there and help you, get out.”

Sonya Roshek: So, I mean, I think he shimmied the board over, but that just kind of goes to show that my dad was like, “You’re coming with me. We’re going to go retile.” He didn’t have in his brain … Maybe I was the boy child that he wanted in the first time, because my older brother wasn’t willing to go do that. So he didn’t have in his brain a gender bias. And I remember even saying, or he used to say, he had the attaboy, he’d be, “Attaboy, girl, let’s go.” And to this day, I still think that’s how the phrase should be said as, attaboy girl. And it just kind of stuck, so. But my dad was definitely part of that, “I’m not going to put a boundary on you. Let’s see if you can go figure it out.”

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now, the fire in the belly, I would imagine is what kept you progressing through. So obviously you started in that initial role. You’ve worked in the field. So, tell us a little bit more about the trajectory?

Sonya Roshek: Coming out of the central office, and I think the other key that we don’t do with women or that women and girls don’t do is they don’t put their hand up and say, “I’ll do it. Let me try.” I’d worked in the central office for about a year and a half and we were switching out the mechanical switches to a digital switch. And I’m like, “Well, I’ll try it.” They’re like, “Well, you don’t have 30 years of service. How are you going to figure this out?” I’m like, “Well, can I have this person and this person and this person and this person to build the team?” They’re like, “Well, you’re going to need a team, but what makes you think you can do this?” I’m like, “Did anybody else raise their hand?” So I think that’s another piece that if you just try and you raise your hand, you’re going to fail.

Sonya Roshek: There was a lot of things that we failed on, but giving yourself permission to fail and trying and standing back up is really a key. After that I went, got hired by the equipment manufacturer and ended up doing the services piece for the Salt Lake City Olympics, which included the fiber optic ring, the International Sports Broadcasting Center, they call them cows or cellular on wheels. And 9/11 hit during that time. And I remember getting a call from the VP and she says, “I need, how many cows can you send out to New York?” And I’m like, “None, it’s four months before the Olympics. It takes about three to five years to build the network for an Olympics.” And she said, “Well, you have them built, right?” I said, “Yeah, but if I send them out to New York, I’m never going to get them back.” And about six months later, sorry. About six months later, I think I got it.

Sarah Nicastro: No, I just saw it fly behind you. I was hoping so.

Sonya Roshek: I know, here it is. Six months later I get a call. She actually moved me to Michigan, which was the most evil thing a person could do. And she came and had dinner with me and she goes, “I just had to meet the person that told me no in a national crisis.” And I’m like, “Well, nobody would have cared four months later.” She goes, “That’s a good point. I didn’t think about that. But she said, “That was probably the ballsiest thing I’ve ever had anybody do.” And I think it was 28 maybe at that age. And she goes, “And did you just get out of school?” I mean, she literally couldn’t-

Sarah Nicastro: Who are you?

Sonya Roshek: Yeah, that’s kind of what it was. “I just had to meet you.” And my boss was like, “Why is she wanting to meet you?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” But so after that I started into Michigan, went, did a tour in Israel doing system integration of their voice over IP switch and then came back Stateside and ended up doing a Greenfield build in Canada and microwave overlay. And now I’m running the, or rebuilding all the small cells and towers. So career wise, I think I’ve, I’m going to say stumbled through it. There wasn’t like, “Okay, this is what I need to do next.” It was, I remember being in Seattle when the first 3G network kind of came out and my boss said, “We’re going to cut the staffing in two thirds.” I’m like, “I think that’s a terrible idea.” And I gave him three different options. “Maybe we should come up with an interim term.” And he’s like, “Nope, we’re going to cut it all off.” I’m like, “Okay, you tell the customer that.”

Sonya Roshek: And I remember sitting in that room and briefing the customer and every page of the PowerPoint, dead PowerPoint, went flawlessly until we got to resources. And he goes, “Well, we’re going to cut by two thirds now that we’re towards the end of the project.” And I remember that customer, he was from AT&T, and he didn’t hit the table. He’s like, “Jim, every time you speak, you make me angry.” And the whole table’s like slid under. So we get out and he says, “Go ahead.” I’m like, “Yeah, what, I told you so.” I’m like, “You thought you were right. I’ll let you stumble.” So, I think having the courage to kind of stand up for what’s right, not necessarily what the company needs or what you feel is right, but actually what is right for the end customer kind of I think definitely propelled me throughout my career.

Sarah Nicastro: I love that. So I want to give a shout out to Marnie Martin who is in the back of the room. So, in my former role, which I was in for, like I said, 11, 12 years, I was part of a culture that really disliked the same things about me that you’re saying. Like speaking up, not because you want to be right, but for what’s right. And having opinions and wanting to think differently or do things differently. And it was really frustrating and really soul sucking, and Marnie and I had known each other for a number of years because in that role, so I was a part of a publication. And so our advertisers were different technology providers in the field service space. And so I knew Marnie through one of her former roles. And so she reached out to me and that’s how this all started. And it’s been fantastic to have a mentor and a support that doesn’t just appreciate that, but encourages it.

Sarah Nicastro: And I would say, the culture of the organization overall, in pockets, it is a little more challenging, but generally speaking,  is a world of difference in terms of a company that actually values diversity of thought and is willing to allow people to have a little bit more of a voice and et cetera. So, I think it’s, when you all think about who are you bringing into the company and who’s staying, who’s thriving, who’s leaving, you also need to reflect on, you can have the goal of diversity and even diversity in a specific category like women, but do you have the work life, the employee experience that supports that goal and kind of dig into is the reality matching up to what the vision is?

Sarah Nicastro: And I think it, I have a lot of respect for you, because I can just tell that grit of never knowing what backlash is going to come out of being the person that is not the yes, man. That is always willing to say-

Sonya Roshek: Or woman.

Sarah Nicastro: … what someone doesn’t want to hear. Yes, the yes, woman, it does take a lot. And I mean, I feel like I spent a lot of time battling, so anyway. Okay, so let’s talk about, so you progressed all the way from the military into sort of your initial role all the way up to the VP level, all the while being typically one of you, if not the only woman. What have been some of the hardest parts of that? When have you felt the most challenged, or have you ever felt discouraged, or what have been the tough parts?

Sonya Roshek: I’m going to say this and probably regret it, but there is a lot of truth to the good old boys club and not being able to be part of the good old boys or them saying, “We’re going to drop you off, because then we’re going to go out.” And of course do some sort of suspicious activity. Or they go play golf and they don’t think that women can play golf. So, I think that that’s been my biggest frustration is it’s not that, there’s nothing I can do about that. That is just the culture. The other piece I think is sitting in a boardroom and I’ll say something and nobody even acknowledges that I said anything. And about five minutes later a gentleman will say the exact same words, “Oh, that’s a great idea. Fantastic. I wonder where you came up with that one.” It’s shocking to me how often that happens, and-

Sarah Nicastro: Still.

Sonya Roshek: Still, still. I appreciate my boss now for the fact that he does listen and will say, “I disagree, or I like what you’re saying, let’s talk more about it. Or it’s not quite what I’m looking for. How can we change it?” So, and he’s an engineer, of course engineers are always right. And I actually had somebody ask me that when I was interviewing, they said, “How do you talk to engineers?” Like, “With my voice. Is there a certain way you’re supposed to talk to them?” They’re like, “Well, if you’re not an engineer, how are you going to get your mission or your agenda across?” And I’m like, “I can read a set of drawings. I can look at them and tell them what’s right and what’s wrong.” But it’s still very frustrating to me that there is a believed credibility gap. So, I think that’s by far my frustrating point of the locker room talk and the, it’s getting better, but by far we’ve got a long way to go. Especially at the executive level.

Sarah Nicastro: And Sasha, I mean, you said this about your objectives for creating that at the executive level you have better parody, but then as you go down it becomes less so. And to your point, it is really hard to change that good old boys club type of vibe if those numbers are staying in the 80 and 90%, right? Which then gives the 10 or 20% of women in those roles an experience that they’re probably not enjoying. So then it becomes almost like a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Do you have any thoughts on, I know you said you as an individual living it can’t change it, but do you have any thoughts on how these folks in the room as leaders in their businesses can help make progress?

Sonya Roshek: I think-

Sarah Nicastro: Specifically, sorry. I was just going to say, specifically with like the good old boys club mentality and then the perceived competence?

Sonya Roshek: I think it’s really just sitting down and asking for opinions. It’s getting other women engaged, not putting limitations on them, not presumed limitations. It’s, I think people don’t even realize when they start having the locker room talk or the good old boy network, they don’t, it’s totally unawareness. And I’m not saying that we need to change all of our rhetoric into politically correct or any of that sort. I’m just saying, acknowledge that in fact you have that natural bias and people naturally will open a door for you. It’s like, “Can I open a door for you?” So, I think it’s just a consciousness and it’s society has ingrained in us so much that women aren’t capable or are not available or not willing to do things. And most women are willing to do that.

Sarah Nicastro: I think it’s a really good point of having the conversations and listening. I mean, that’s why I said the value of stories, which is why I’m thrilled to be here with you all today. I think there’s so much benefit in hearing each other’s perspectives. And to your point about being politically correct, I think none of us are perfect and none of us are going to do it right all the time. So I think with that, when you talk about diversity, equity and inclusion and what you can address and how, when you actually dig into what are the things working against us, like the good old boys club and this and that, the goal does not need to be perfection or political correctness. It just needs to be, I think it comes down a lot to intent and authenticity, like is the person trying to make the change doing so out of good intent and are they authentically caring?

Sarah Nicastro: Because I think people sense that so much. And I think there’s experiences that can happen that aren’t perfect. But if the intent is good, it’s okay if it’s not politically correct or perfection, it’s just, there’s good intent. We’re learning together. We’re making progress. I think one of the biggest challenges is this is another topic area where everyone says they have the intent. Everyone says they want to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, but there’s a difference between the businesses that are just saying it and the ones that authentically have the desire to change it and the actions they’re taking. So, it’s just a totally different ball game. So I asked you about the challenges. Have there been any positives of being the only woman or one of few women in any of your career experiences?

Sonya Roshek: Yeah, first of all, I can go to any conferences, and everybody knows who I am, I don’t know who they are. Roy, same one. It’s like, “There’s the one African American guy right there. I know who he is.” So, I think that’s a positive in some regards is they definitely know who I am. “Well, yeah, we introduced ourselves six times. Sorry.” I think the other positive is I get to have those little micro changes and have some of that change within just individuals. I used to always get put on the diversity panel or the diversity, whatever. And it’s like we do better just having a conversation around the water hole than actually trying to force people to sit and listen to a panel on diversity. That doesn’t help any, it’s really sit down and ask the question. What’s your background? How did you get here? What do you like? What do you don’t like? Because I think that brings not only the cohesiveness, but the inclusion and helps you understand where this person’s coming from, versus, “Let’s sit on a diversity panel and talk about women and men.”

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And I think it’s, there’s power in you being a strong enough woman to live some of these uncomfortable experiences and make those micro changes that will help other women. You know what I mean? I think about that a lot like myself. So, I get really frustrated with gender stereotypes, particularly as it relates to the dynamics of a marriage and motherhood. Because I, every time I’m traveling someone inevitably says, “Don’t you miss your kids? Isn’t it so hard?” And I’m like, “Yeah, but I also love what I do.” And so there’s that, like it’s okay for me to have a career. But there are also times it’s really hard for me personally.

Sarah Nicastro: And so I always try and remind myself that I can’t want for a different perception of what motherhood or what parenthood looks like if I’m not actively taking part in creating that perception. So on the days where it does feel really shitty to be away from my kids for a long time or something and I’m kind of in my feelings, I will just remind myself that it’s part of changing that perception. So yeah, I think it’s interesting though how slow moving these changes are. So, how much or little do you feel things have evolved since you started your career?

Sonya Roshek: Honestly, very little, especially on the field services side. I think there’s a whole lot more on maybe some more administrative, or retail, or that sort of thing. But I mean, we’ve talked about it before. It’s like, “Oh, they have kids and they go take care of it.” Well, when COVID happened, a lot of the mothers did go back and support their kids or do schooling. And why is that? Because women make 76 cents to the dollar. It’s more cost effective for the woman to stay home than it is for the man. And I’ve even had an interview where a man literally said, “Well, I’m the man. I need to make this much money.” Well, your qualifications don’t say that.

Sonya Roshek: So, I think until we really stretch out and say, what is, and I’ve had to catch it in our own organization where it’s like, we’ve brought in women to be project coordinators. And then we raised them through the ranks, but they’re significantly below a construction manager, even though they’re doing the construction manager’s job or all the prep for the construction manager. So, why are we still putting them in a subordinate role? Why aren’t we giving them that title and giving them the pay? And I mean, my poor HR gal, she knows that whenever I call she closes her door and takes me off of mute or off of speaker. She goes, “You are the reason why I stayed in business.” I’m like, “You’re welcome.”

Sonya Roshek: But even having, I’ve had to change her mind of what to expect from women and leadership. And it’s even interesting for her to have that change in dynamic where she’s like, “I can’t believe that we’re still today in this time and we’re still having these conversations.” I mean, again, growing up I didn’t have somebody that told me I couldn’t, so I did. But I think we tell our girls, “You can’t.” Whether it’s via words or actions.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So, coming back to the question that got brought up earlier, what thoughts, I mean, let’s do some brainstorming. How do we get more women into field service roles? Do you have any ideas?

Sonya Roshek: I talk about it. I mean, people ask me what I do and I talk about it. I brought more women into our industry than probably men, mostly because I talk with women and they’re like, “Well, what do you do? How do you do it?” I’m like, “You want to do it? Let’s give it a go, because it’s not rocket science.” So, I’ve brought in three women that climb towers. They actually didn’t stay with our company, but moved to another company and they had an entire crew that’s all women. Because it’s a pretty intimate time where you’re with that same four or five people for three or four weeks at a time staying in hotel rooms. And there’s not porta potties out on the site. So, I mean you get pretty intimate and you have to kind of break those barriers. So I think it’s just talking about it and giving people the opportunity.

Sonya Roshek: I have a young gal in Texas, and every day I talk to her I’m like, “Oh my gosh, that’s me 30 years ago.” I shake my head and I just throw more at her and see if she catches it. So I think it’s really just encouraging those women in general and say, “Hey, do you want to try this?” I think when we think of leadership roles we think of men, we don’t think of women. When we look for promotions, we think of men, we don’t think of women. It’s shocking to me when you are in those conversations and they do bring up a woman, they go, “She’s kind of bitchy.” “Well, you call it bitchy, I call it strong.” You know, I think that-

Sarah Nicastro: And those are the type of unconscious biases that really exacerbate this problem. It’s, I mean, it’s so true. It’s, at my old job I had a note in my file that I had poor emotional control, which wasn’t true. I just was very, I had very strong opinions and I would voice them and they are, coming from a man that was fine. And coming from a woman, it was-

Sonya Roshek: Correct.

Sarah Nicastro: … out of step. So it’s, what are our expectations or our perceptions that we have that maybe we’re not surfacing and examining? I do think you brought up a really good point. Other than just talking about it more and addressing what Roy pointed out, which is sort of like the marketing problem, I think leaders are in a position to help the change in terms of looking, proactively looking for people to become a part of it, women to become a part of it. I’m curious for those of you here, like Sasha spoke this morning right off the top about the metrics of male versus female in different categories of the business. Do you all know those by heart? Everyone? Yes? No?

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Because I think that’s another good point. We change what we measure. So, does a company, or does an individual even care enough to know what those numbers are to work toward change? I think, the other thing, so I think Roy brought up a really good point when we get to travel. So if we talk specifically about field technicians, I think there’s some potential depending on industry to get creative there. So maybe you can do a rotating schedule. Maybe you can do a four day work week. Maybe you can do, I don’t know what, right? But again, I would urge each of you not to just stick with the historical and the assumption of, “Well, it is what it is and it can’t change.”

Sarah Nicastro: And I would also say like, I travel a lot. I mean, I’m not a field technician, but I travel a lot and my husband stays home with our kids. I mean, he works, but he doesn’t travel, and I do. And so that isn’t the norm, but it’s also not necessarily a deal breaker if we’re doing a good job of explaining the opportunity that exists in the profession, particularly as it relates to that path and the trajectory. So, I think those are some important things to think about. All right, so if you were to take your lessons learned and give that woman you said you see as yourself 30 years ago some advice based on your experience, what would it be?

Sonya Roshek: Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t. I mean, she’s living proof that, I mean, she started as a coordinator three years ago and she’s now running a major program in north Texas. So, it’s asking questions. It’s, don’t be afraid to say, “I want that job.” When I interviewed, I just promoted her, but when I interviewed her I had never really, she was three or four levels below me. So, when I pulled up her resume I was actually shocked. She had her master’s degree out of London, and I also had her personality profile and I was like, “Her degree didn’t match her personality profile.” And I’m like, “What? This doesn’t make any sense?” And she goes, “Yeah, I hated that degree, did not fit.” I’m like, “Okay, now it makes sense.”

Sonya Roshek: But I think just, I mean, what I thought was going to be a 15 minute interview of, “You don’t have enough experience. You don’t have blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” All the reasons why I was going to dismiss her all of a sudden just turned. So listening and putting herself out there saying, “I think I can do this.” And she has just blown me away every time. And it’s interesting when you want something done detailed, a lot of times we give it to the women, because they’re very detailed and they’re very conscientious of what it is they need. I won’t really give it to a guy because they’ll go take a hammer and smash it. So, and again, that’s my own biases, but I think is also real and we do that a lot where it’s like, “Oh, I need my assistant.” “Oh, okay. It’s a woman.” Rarely is an assistant a man. So, but I just, don’t let anybody say you can’t.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. If you had to give these folks one piece of advice on what they could or should do differently or in addition to what they’re doing, what would it be?

Sonya Roshek: Understand and know your own biases, because even what comes out of my mouth sometimes I go, “Ooh, I shouldn’t have said that. Or that’s not what I’m thinking or that’s not what I feel.” But we’re so ingrained with messages on TV or on Facebook or ads that it subconsciously just works in your head. So, I think you have to actively change the way we think.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. What are your current areas of focus at B+T?

Sonya Roshek: A couple years back we did, the industry as a whole had a huge safety problem. We had people falling off the towers left and right. And a lot of that was based on the fact that before you didn’t have to tie off and now you have to tie off. Shocker, you don’t fall. So, I had my safety guys coming into the office and yelling at me saying that people aren’t climbing safe and we had hired literally into the industry hundreds of people and trying to train them and get them up. And the only thing we kept saying is, “Make sure you’re tied off in two places.” And sure enough, the guy was tied off in two places, but he was not tied off accurately. So we kind of retrained and said, “What do we got to do something different?”

Sonya Roshek: And the safety guys locked me in a room with all the directors and went through all these safety issues. And I was like, “Okay, I don’t need a checklist. I don’t need a PowerPoint, because they don’t read and they will pencil up all your checklists. So we need something that’s hands on, that’s tactile that we can teach and learn.” So we kind of came up with a, I called it safety-based skills training. That changed, about six months later we got the entire industry engaged and it’s now a certification. So, and I think I’m the only female that’s certified all the way up through foreman, but it is a tower of communications certification. It’s ANSI certified and it’s no different than the crane operators. They have to go through, after about six, eight months of training they actually go through a test, both written and practical, and have to pass that. That’s now also getting written into the contracts with AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile of having to have somebody certified on the job site.

Sonya Roshek: It’s already in the last five years changed how incident rates, safety falls significantly. And I know it’s cliche and I’m not probably the biggest safety person in the world, as I climbed on a ladder and used a chainsaw to cut down a fence. But I think that the reality is people go to work to provide for the family. They don’t go to work to get hurt and become potentially life crippled. So to me that’s kind of changed the passion and how I view what I expect out of people, whether it’s they’re limiting their hours to 60 hours a week so that they don’t fall asleep driving, or don’t cut themselves because they’re not paying attention. So, really what I’m trying to do is change that culture so that it’s not like a safety guy walking around saying, “I’m going to save your life.” But more of, “I value your life. I value what you’re doing and how do you do your job safely.”

Sonya Roshek: So, and the other piece of that is just mentoring. I used to kind of be a knuckle-dragger and power my way through everything. And now I kind sit back and just ask questions, “And well, how come we’re doing it that way? Why are we ordering it this way?” Instead of saying, “I know what the answer is.” But letting them get there and doing a lot more mentoring. So both for women and men. I wouldn’t have got through my career without some amazing men in my path that had gave me a chance. Sometimes I didn’t let them, but I just told them I was going to do it. So, but I mean, safety is paramount. If you get hurt, your production goes down, everybody gets down.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. 

Sarah Nicastro: Alright, I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Sonya. I really admire her “fire in the belly,” as she refers to it, and her willingness to share so openly, So Sonya, thank you for that and thank you for tuning in. Be sure to visit us at futureoffieldservice.com for more. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @thefutureofFS. The future of field service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.