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Rachel Weber, left, 702 Communications customer relations manager, and Christel Schmidt, 702 Communications managed service supervisor. Images: Courtesy of H2M

A new decade powered by women in leadership

MOORHEAD, Minn. – The gap in male to female employment in technology fields has narrowed over the years. For local telecommunications company 702 Communications, based in Moorhead, Minn., the new decade brings with it the rise of two female community members from within the organization. 

H2M recently interviewed the two women, Rachel Weber and Christel Schmidt, about their journeys and perspectives on the current landscape of women in technology.

Rachel Weber

702 Communications Customer Relations Manager as of August 2019

Q: How did you find yourself in the tech industry? 

A: This was my first job when I moved to Fargo so this industry wasn’t necessarily a choice, but as soon as I was here, I knew this is where I wanted to be. We are fast-paced, and our business evolves with technology. There is a strong sense of belonging here and it’s exciting to be surrounded by people who strive to deliver their best.

Q: You were recently promoted to customer relations manager. What would you attribute to your success in your career?

A: Endless curiosity, self-reliance, and calmness under pressure. I believe there is more to learn. It motivates me to research and ask questions so I can be better equipped at understanding the big picture.

Q: What did you find most challenging about your career path?

A: Maintaining patience and work-life balance. I had a desire to lead and be on the executive team here at 702, but I had to wait awhile for that opportunity. Over 18 years I held many roles: CSR, marketing specialist, and now customer relations manager. All the while, trying to make sure I was doing the right thing for everyone (family, coworkers and organization as a whole). I’m glad I stayed the course and that my superiors felt like I was the right person for the role.

Q: What do you most look forward to in your new role?

A: Helping to develop the long-term goals for 702 and working with the team members here.

Q: In the past the tech industry was predominantly populated with male employees. Over the years have you noticed a shift?

A: Early on, I would attend conferences and feel like women were all in customer service or administration jobs and more men were in the executive roles, but this has changed. 

Telecom has many women role models in the industry holding top management positions. Here are a few of my favorites: Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA; Kristi Westbrock, CEO of CTC in Brainerd; and Staci Malikowski, CFO of Arvig in Perham. 

Women in technology have always been behind because young women study science, technology, engineering and math in lower numbers. There is a movement now to change this and to encourage women to pursue these majors.

Christel Schmidt

702 Communications Managed Service Supervisor  as of February 2020

Q: How did you find yourself in the telecom/tech industry?

A: I started as a software and technical trainer. That led to the start of consulting for companies and assisting with their networks. I really enjoyed being hands-on with customer networks and moved on to a local telecom provider as their local network administrator. 

Q: What would you consider to be the greatest hurdle you overcame to get where you are today?

A: A big challenge is balancing family, friends, and career. Days fill fast and it can be overwhelming to get it all done. I still find myself drawn to the “killer to-do list,” which includes not only my own tasks, but what needs to be done for others in my life. I have allowed myself to focus more on “what is the priority” rather than “how I can get all of it done.”

Q: What would you attribute to your success in your career?

A: The ability to adapt quickly and not be afraid to take on challenges even when I was given little to no instruction. In technology, everything around you changes in the blink of an eye and often the instructions come later. 

Q: What do you most look forward to in your new role?

A: When I started, it was just a concept to provide additional network support for our customers. Our recent acquisition of Computer Wrench is allowing us to expand our offerings and strengthen customer relationships. I look forward to leading this team to deliver exceptional IT services to the area.

Q: In the past, the tech industry was predominantly populated with male employees. Over the years have you noticed a shift?

A: In a room of IT professionals, I am typically the only female. I see more gender bias out in the field when it is a first meeting. Customers often address network and security questions to male sales-counterparts. It never takes long before they realize I’m the technical consultant. 

Personally, I have not known many network engineers in the area; however, someone I consider to be a successful female in the tech industry is Lisa Bortnem-Wiser. As an engineer for the railroad and owner of Mid States Wireless, Inc., she has shown me that as a female in male dominated industries you CAN be successful and lead others with grace, intelligence and maybe a little sassiness on the side.

H2M is a marketing agency based in Fargo, N.D.