Each month we have the honor of interviewing WOMEN WHO INSPIRE US. This month we talked to Severina Pascu, Deputy CEO and COO of Sunrise UPC. Growing up in Romania, Severina has traveled the world and found her place in the telecommunication industry. Learn about her inspiring career path and how Sunrise UPC is on a mission to bring more diversity to the tech industry.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your current position.
My name is Severina, turning 50 this year, I am married and I have two wonderful children. I feel very fulfilled, lucky and privileged in my life, surrounded by family and friends that I am very closely connected with, even though my extended family lives away. I grew up in Romania in a little mountain village in the middle of the country. As a child I played a lot of sports, downhill, cross country skiing, handball almost on a professional level. Sport have taught me a lot about winning and losing, about not being disappointed with failure. This is a lesson I have learned early on in life.
Despite my mom’s dream for me to be a teacher, I ended up studying economics and finance at the University in Bucharest. After a short period working for KPMG I had my first encounter with technology in early 2000 and ever since spent most of my professional career in tech, traveling across Europe and working in various management positions. I lived and worked in more than 10 countries which is very much a childhood wish of mine to travel the world and see new places, meet new people, experience new cultures.
For the last 6 years I have been working and living in Zurich which offers me the perfect environment to do what I love professionally and personally. I find that Romania and Switzerland have a lot in common, both countries cherish the traditions and this is really important, you need to know where you come from to have a strong sense of identity. Here, the legacy is being carried forward, and I believe there is a lot of power in this.
What brought you into the tech industry?
I liked (more anecdotally) technology ever since I remember as one of my early memories as a child is linked to technology and telecommunication in particular. I typically spent the holidays with my grandparents and they didn’t have a phone at home, so to talk to my mom we walked to the telephone center. I remember watching the lady operating the switching analog board and had butterflies in my stomach in anticipation to talking with my mom.
Of course, don’t claim that was the driver of me ending up in tech space but I still remember this story when someone asks this question. But what I can tell is that I always looked at technology and telecom as an way to bring people together and make our lives better. Therefore, when the opportunity to join a tech company came my way I didn’t hesitate and I made the step.
For me technology is core to everyone’s life, as connectivity is vital to all of us and technology enriches our lives in so many ways. I like to focus on what technology enables us to do. It is bringing you closer to your loved ones, making you achieve your potential, learning, and connecting you with what you love most. We tend to reduce technology too much to the utilitarian aspect but instead should aim to portray it with a focus on the benefits it brings.
In Switzerland, there is a lot to do when it comes to cultural & structural change in support of diversity, driving higher representation of women in tech.
What is the most exciting thing in your professional life right now?
First, the tech space is a very exciting place to be in as we are on the verge of a technological revolution. While the industrial revolution had a massive impact on the progress of human life, we are entering a new chapter of life enabled by technology where the future looks very exciting.
Second, what we’re doing at Sunrise UPC is equally exciting. I always looked for places with good energy, ambitious goals and bold moves. These are the opportunities where you learn, grow and have fun although sometimes it may feel that you may be out of comfort zone. If you’re too comfortable, you don’t make enough progress. The key is to be comfortably uncomfortable. The merger of Sunrise and UPC Is a great opportunity to do things that you don’t do every day and that I very much enjoy and get excited about.
Lastly, I am also very excited about being involved in YouBelong!, our diversity, equity and inclusion program. There is a lot of good energy on this topic and we are very committed to have impact. We are leading in many ways in this field, we are very international organization with 69 nationalities and are for example a certified equal pay company which we know how important is in order to attract and retain women in the company. I am very happy to see also a lot of other initiatives in the market, more and more companies make this a priority and also the level of awareness at society level increases with every year. Still a lot to do but I am positive and optimistic.
Is there anything you wish you would have done differently in your career?
I am very happy where I am, hence cannot say I would have liked to do things differently. Of course I made mistakes but I believe they are part of who I am today. Also, without making mistakes you don’t learn, you don’t evolve. I am the kind of person, once I make a decision, I power through. If it doesn’t work out, you change but it serves no purpose to wish you had chosen differently in the first place. I reflect and try to always learn from my mistakes, but I never regret the steps I am taking.
What valuable advice did you get during childhood?
I believe advice is valuable, but role modeling is even more valuable. I was lucky to have some strong role models in my life from whom I learned very valuable lessons. My grandmother always said you must work hard in life, talent is not enough. She also worked hard and I could see that every time I was around her. For me advice & the role modeling go hand in hand.
Growing up in Romania, men and women were doing all the jobs equally. A construction crane in a nearby neighborhood where I grew up was operated by a woman. I remember seeing her when passing by as a child. I learnt that there is nothing that a man can do and a woman cannot do. The environment around you from a young age is shaping who you are.
Essentially we want to be ourselves the change we want to see around us. As a company, we need to look internally first and formost, we need to change ourselves first.
You come from a country that has a large representation of women in business, what are some of the reasons behind such high rate?
Indeed, the representation of women in tech in Romania today is one of the highest in Europe (editor’s note: over 40%) and this is in many ways the results of a legacy being carried forward, it is very much cultural and structural. We grew up in Romania with the reality that women equally participate and do any job out there. Growing up, it was absolutely normal for girls to choose STEM and actually I was contemplating at some point studying engineering. It as normal and encouraged and this continues to today.
Structurally, the system in Romania is very accommodating to balancing working and having a family. You can have a child and continue working because child support is very easy, either at the kita, baby sitting is affordable or grandparents that got very involved in raising their grandchildren. Young women are not at risk of having to stay at home.
As a result, overall the environment also is much more used to having women in all sorts of jobs and positions due to the cultural acceptance, and a set up that allows them to manage both careers and family.
Do you act for diversity in tech yourself, and if yes how?
In Switzerland, there is a lot to do when it comes to cultural & structural change in support of diversity, driving higher representation of women in tech. Of course we can wait for new legislation and more structural changes, however, companies can actually have an impact right away. We can help each other to realize that our behavior needs to change, that our policies need to change, that our approach to hiring and promoting, training & development needs to change. The entire HR ecosystem needs to evolve to support women better in the workplace.
We launched the YouBelong! program at Sunrise UPC last year in September. This program looks across all elements of diversity, next to women looking after ethnic groups, LGBTQ, disability, transgenerational or neurodiversity. The goal of the program is to increase awareness that a diverse workplace drives rich conversations and better outcome for everyone. We ultimately want to create a working environment where everyone feels they can be themselves.
We have a clear set of measures to support representation of women in Sunrise UPC, and we focus on internal measures first. We are looking at questions such as how we can change the recruitment process to attract more women. How do we improve benefits systems and talent management to keep and grow talented women? We have an internal program called “Inspire Me” where we tell and recognize powerful stories of women in Sunrise UPC to raise awareness and raise their profiles within the company. We have set up mentoring & sponsorship programs to encourage women and help them advance their career.
In March we tackled the biases with the theme #BreakTheBias, where we created more awareness around different types of biases. What I can see in short period of time since the start of the program is that we created a stronger community of women, we raised awareness on the topic and saw many AHA moments for our employees. The goal is to make people think differently around bias, and motivate them to change their behavior for the better.
We are also looking at commitments externally, e.g. with the partnership with Advance, through which we signed the Advance Diversity Charta or by supporting Equal Voice United. Like this, we also want to add our contribution to the external world. Sunrise also sponsors and organizes classes for kids in school. On a regular basis, we plan to open up our joint innovation center for kids to learn about different technologies and make them more tangible. We have only started to find our voice for the topic and I am confident we have impact both internally and externally.
Essentially we want to be ourselves the change we want to see around us. As a company, we need to look internally first and for most, we need to change ourselves first. Only this way we will be credible.
You have to be able to look back and remember less about the actual work, and more about the friendships you made along the way and the impact you had on people (not the business).
What advice would you give other women in tech?
Some would say it is a men’s world but this is far from the truth. There may be few women in tech but this is a space that we as women need to be present in as this is the future. For me personally, tech is emotion, as technology is core to our beings and such a big part of our lives. When you realize the emotional component of technology and understand the endless opportunities that technology opens I am sure you feel a higher affinity to it. And then you can make it your own and find your path.
Once you have your path, be passionate about what you do and make sure you have a seat at the table. It is not always easy but finding and using your voice helps pave the way.
Whatever you are doing, it has to be fun, you have to enjoy it. A goal or a purpose shouldn’t blind you. You should have fun while pursuing your passion. You have to be able to look back and remember less about the actual work, and more about the friendships you made along the way and the impact you had on people (not the business). It’s easier to see this when looking back then when looking forward. But it’s important to keep this perspective in mind always.
We would like to thank Severina for supporting our mission to bring more diversity in tech, for being a role model who is making herself visible and for sharing her valuable advice. Thank you Severina for being a woman who inspires us! 💛
Author: Lisa Stähli