Q&A with Sandi Mays: Bridging the [Gender] Gap

Get inspired by our very own Sandi Mays, CIO at Zayo. Sandi, who has been with Zayo since its inception, was recently named Most Inspiring Women in Comms at Light Reading’s Leading Lights Awards.

Q:You have hired 50% women in two years and have a team that is 63% women. Has this been a conscious effort on your part?

SM: Gender balance is a priority for Zayo because it’s good business. Research demonstrates that diverse companies are more innovative and achieve better financial results. We make a concerted effort to ensure we include women and underrepresented groups in our consideration sets and then hire the best-qualified candidate. Zayo is also active in nurturing the pipeline at all levels, from high school students to college interns to the talented senior leaders in Colorado.

Q:How can other companies make recruiting women a priority? What worked for you?

SM: Zayo’s commitment to recruiting women begins at the leadership level, particularly with our chairman and CEO Dan Caruso but also with our board of directors and executive team, and from our perspective the senior leadership level is where it needs to begin for every company. Our board of directors includes two women, which puts us in the top echelon on a percentage basis of public companies nationwide. Zayo’s senior executive team includes women in key leadership and technology roles.

Our recruiting strategy focuses on establishing deep and meaningful relationships with a manageable number of universities and organizations rather than casting too wide a net. We are actively engaged with Colorado’s universities, the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, the National Center for Women in Technology, the Colorado Technology Association, and Colorado’s startup community. As a result of these relationships, we’ve developed an organic reputation as a great place for women to work.

Q:What can we also do to improve the pipeline of female candidates for the comms industry?

SM: It’s important for companies to be both visible and active in their communities. For Zayo, this runs the gamut from speaking at events, to participating in university panels, to hosting our own events, as we recently did as part of the Women Inspiring Leadership Development (WILD) event. We also support STEM organizations with resources and volunteers to expose girls to exciting careers in science and technology. And we make a point to stay personally connected with the top female talent in Colorado.

Q:Retention is the other big challenge. How do you ensure you are continuously retaining and promoting women at Zayo Group?

SM:The basics include a competitive compensation and benefits package, with family friendly benefits. Zayo offers quarterly bonuses and ownership for all employees through restricted stock unit awards. In addition to competitive health benefits, we provide paid parental leave for both men and women and generous paid time off. We focus on creating an inclusive work environment and culture, where everyone’s opinions are valued. Training and development are a priority, and we have a strong track record of giving our people meaningful challenges and responsibility and promoting from within.

Q:What advice do you have for women in tech?

SM:The advice I generally give the women who work for and with me- and those I encounter at technology events around the world is to be fearless: fearless in your approach to interviews, fearless in the job once you’re in it, and fearless in actively pursuing promotion and leadership opportunities. Women in the technology industry are some of the smartest and most capable professional women of any industry, and we should never be shy about leveraging our intellectual, technical, and leadership skills. Women in tech have the inherent capability in spades to effectively negotiate a raise or promotion, push a sales deal though, create a new IT structure, or stand up a new division within a company- they just need to recognize that ability and be fearless about executing. Women in IT and other technical fields should also be thoughtful and strategic in identifying potential employers that provide both a fantastic professional opportunity and have an active commitment to female diversity. In the same mold as Zayo, CH2M — and its CEO Jacqueline Hinman — is a wonderful example of a company based here in Colorado with a commitment to female diversity that is second to none. CH2M has four women on its board and has a number of established, strong female-focused internal and STEM programs. The track record is particularly impressive in a male-dominated industry.

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